Istad's Singers

Students Featured in New Electronic Musical

Istad’s Connections and Previous Work With Students Land Professional Production Opportunity

July 30, 2007

By Gail Matsunaga

Thanks to Rob Istad, assistant professor of music, the Chamber Choir will be featured in the world premiere of Eric Whitacre’s electronic musical “Paradise Lost: Shadows and Wings” at the Boston Court Main Stage theater in Pasadena, through Sept. 2.

Earlier this month, the 24-voice choir went into a studio in Pasadena with Whitacre to record all the choral music for the production, which combines operatic singing with trance, techno, ambient rock and cinematic sounds.

Preparing the choir proved tricky at times, Istad said. “It was very different for us, because the music was all electronic. The score had very little piano accompaniment, so I encouraged the students to memorize it. The challenging part was trying to guess what Eric wanted, like tempo and volume.”

Once the recording session started, the choir pulled it off. “When Eric dropped the first downbeat he turned to me and said, ‘Rob, they sound fantastic,’” said Istad. “I told him, ‘I just teach them the notes.’ They’re very good musicians and good singers.”

Istad’s relationship with Whitacre goes back to their days at Pacific Chorale, where Istad worked as director of operations — he currently is assistant conducer — and Whitacre was a composer-in-residence.

Before joining Cal State Fullerton in 2002, Istad filled in for John Alexander while the now-emeritus professor of music was on sabbatical in 2001. The choir performed “Cloudburst” — a Whitacre composition that incorporates percussion, clapping and snapping — at an intercollegiate festival in Pasadena.

 “Unbeknownst to me, Eric was in attendance and heard the performance,” said Istad. “He thought it was one of the best performances of the work he’d ever heard.

“Although we always love to catch up, we haven’t really interacted much since our Pacific Chorale days. So, it was a surprise when he contacted me last month about using the Chamber Choir on the recording. I was told that we were his first choice.”

An added bonus of the experience is that the choir may be featured on the “Paradise Lost” cast album.

Succeeding John Alexander, Istad currently directs the Chamber Choir and University Singers, and teaches conducting. Until recently, he directed the Men’s Choir.

Istad received his B.A. in music from Augustana College and M.M. from Cal State Fullerton. In 2006, he earned his D.M.A. in choral music from USC.

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