John Alexander takes final bow after 44 years with with Pacific Chorale – Orange County Register

Retiring Artistic Director of the Pacific Chorale John Alexander, left, with his successor Robert Istad in Costa Mesa on Tuesday, May 2, 2017. Istad has been the chorale’s assistant conductor for the past 10 years. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Pacific Chorale Assistant Conductor Robert Istad in Costa Mesa on Tuesday, May 2, 2017. Istad will replace John Alexander as the new artistic director when Alexander steps down in June after 45 years.(Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Orange County Register/SCNG)

On Saturday John Alexander conducts the Pacific Chorale for the last time as artistic director.  After a 45-year run – one of the longest in American choral music – Alexander will step aside and the group’s longtime assistant conductor, Robert Istad, will take his place beginning next season.

Istad studied under Alexander at California State University, Fullerton, and succeeded his mentor as director of the university’s choral studies program when Alexander retired from academia in 2006. He has worked with Alexander at the Pacific Chorale for well over a decade, learning every aspect of the group’s operation. To all appearances, Istad was a shoo-in to receive his colleague’s baton.

Not at all, Istad and Alexander insisted in a joint interview.

“He wasn’t anointed,” Alexander said. “We started looking more than three years ago. We looked all over the country and had some really wonderful candidates; Rob’s not the only talented conductor around.”

Alexander pointed at Istad and smiled. “But what we finally figured out was the strongest candidate was right here.”

While Istad’s experience with the choir certainly helped his chances, he also has a rare suite of skills that are necessary to helm the Pacific Chorale, Alexander said.

“First of all, you have to be a phenomenal musician to do this job. He is. And you have to be a wonderful person at the podium; people love working with him. And you also have to have…

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