The Crowd: Pacific Chorale director celebrates 40 years

Not many people in today's world are fortunate enough to devote a lifetime to a career, a singular purpose and a passion. Even fewer people have the talent, the stamina and the vision to sustain that career and that passion for years, let alone decades.

Last week in Orange County one man was honored for 40 years of service to his lifetime pursuit and for the difference it has made not just in this community, but on a national and international scale.

John Alexander, artistic director of the Pacific Chorale, accepted a multi-encore standing ovation from a full house in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall on the occasion, debuting his 40th-anniversary season with the chorus that is considered one of the finest in America.

The milestone event in Alexander's life was marked by a superb Sunday evening program combining both classical and contemporary selections. For many in the crowd, Alexander's conducting of Brahms' "Schicksalslied" was indeed the magical showstopper.

Following the performance in two acts Alexander, who also conducted the Pacific Symphony in concert with the chorale, shared that the Brahms segment was also among his most cherished performance opportunities.

Among the contemporary works most deserving of praise were Morten Lauridsen's "Ubi caritas et amor" and Jake Heggie's "Seeking Higher Ground." Heggie's piece had previously been featured in 2006 for the formal opening of the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall.

Finally, in an appropriate emotional closing encore, Alexander took the orchestra, chorale and audience on a journey to early 19th-century America, performing "Shenandoah." The conclusion of the performance was especially fitting given that the theme of the evening was created around Alexander's boyhood roots, hailing from the "Big Easy" — otherwise known as New Orleans.

Donors underwriting the concert and the chorale were invited to a post-event dinner staged in the Samueli Theatre, which party planners had transformed into "An Evening In New Orleans" theme.

Chaired by major sponsors Phil and Mary Lyons of Newport Beach, both the concert and the dinner were exquisitely orchestrated. Perhaps most important, it was an evening of 40 years of memories for conductor/director Alexander and for so many of his loyal supporters in attendance to mark the occasion.

Among the generous were Martin and Margie Hubbard, Valerie and Hans Imhof, Tom and Vina Williams Slattery, Bob and Kimberly Bernatz, Michael and Karen Caroll, John and Ruth Ann Evens, Mike and Ellie Gordon, Tom Rogers and Sally Anderson, and John and Elizabeth Stahr.

Also generously contributing to the success of the chorale were the gracious Sharon McNalley, Janice Johnson, Carol Dalton and Lenora Meister. Kudos for the perfection of the event go to committee members Randi Larsen, Betsy Moulton and Pacific Chorale President Kelly Ruggirello working with chairwoman Mary Lyons.

The Samueli was beautifully staged with New Orleans-style street lamps, greenery by Creative Plant Rentals, and fabulous table florals by The Black Iris to create a "Garden District setting." A four-course dinner catered by Patina featured crawfish jambalaya with Andouille sausage and petite filet mignon paired with redfish over corn pudding. For dessert, a taste of Southern hospitality as the staff presented bananas Foster with spice cake, vanilla ice cream and a major swirl of dark, decadent chocolate.

It was an evening of fine food and champagne tributes to a much-loved maestro of choral music. In the crowd were Mel and Marcia Rogers, Jan Landstrom, Ed and Dixie Arnold, David and Darrellyn Melilli, William Gillespie, Terry Dwyer, John and Michele Forsyte, Dean and Kaley Corey, Maria Hall-Brown, and very special VIP guests Duain Wolfe from the Chicago Symphony Chorus, Ann Meier Baker from Chorus America and Wayne Brown from the National Endowment for the Arts.

At the conclusion of the 2012 Pacific Chorale season, in July a concert chorus of more than 80 voices will travel to Paris for a series of concerts in a selection of famous churches. Among the anticipated highlights will be a performance in Église Saint-Sulpice, the second largest church in Paris, and Église de la Madeleine, home church of Gabriel Fauré and where his "Requiem" was first heard.

To learn more about the Pacific Chorale please visit

THE CROWD runs Thursdays and Saturdays. B.W. Cook is editor of the Bay Window, the official publication of the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach.

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