Long Beach’s Camerata Singers Take Next Step To Professional In 50th Year

Long Beach’s Camerata Singers Take Next Step To Professional In 50th Year
By Harry Saltzgaver
Executive Editor – Gazettes

Fifty years ago, a Long Beach educator named Frank Allen had an idea — a choir singing Renaissance and classical music.

It took nearly two years, but the Vocal Arts Ensemble gave its inaugural concert in July 1967 at Los Altos Methodist Church (Allen was music director there), with 18 singers and seven instrumentalists.

On Oct. 25, when Camerata Singers launches its 50th anniversary season, there will be 90 voices and 35 musicians on the Long Beach City College auditorium stage. And that number is only one indication of the transition to a professional choral group, artistic director and conductor Robert Istad said.

“The drive to increase aptitude has always been there,” Istad said. “I’m very excited about how we have been able to add both numbers and quality of singers. Now, I can inspire them as musicians. They’re learning to be expressive as musicians on their own as well as in a group.”

Istad has been artistic director at Camerata since 2009. He is the Director of Choral Music at California State University, Fullerton, and assistant conductor of the Pacific Chorale in Orange County — but he lives in Long Beach.

“I have a unique perspective as a resident of Long Beach,” he said. “I wanted to look at what speaks to our community. Long Beach is remarkably diverse and incredibly open — and open in the arts as well, in the things they are willing to try… We will do Baroque, but we’re not afraid to program music for today.”

That experimental spirit has marked the group throughout its history, according to board president Jan Hower. The 50th anniversary celebration and season will reflect that, she added.

“This (50th anniversary) is a major milestone for any arts organization,” she said. “This is a real coming of age for us. We’re going from a community chorus to a professional choral group. The artistic level is very high, and we’re doing more with collaborations… I think there are many other potential areas for expansion now.”

That milestone will be celebrated Oct. 22 at a gala honoring former Mayor and LBCC President Beverly O’Neill. Hower said that O’Neill’s long support for the arts, plus her roots as a music teacher, singer and church choir director, made her the perfect honoree.

“And we’re going to move into the Beverly O’Neill Theater in 2016 as our new performing home,” Hower said. “We’re very proud to move there. That and our new partnerships help solidify us as a professional group.”

One of those partnerships, with the Long Beach Symphony Orchestra, is on display this Saturday night at the first POPS! concert of the season. Then on Dec. 6, the LBSO will provide the orchestra for Camerata’s ninth annual performance of Handel’s “Messiah.”

A second partnership has been forged with Musica Angelica, a Baroque group performing on period instruments that moved its headquarters to Long Beach this year. Musica Angelica will provide accompaniment at some Camerata concerts.

Istad said that the behind-the-scenes operation is just as important to making Camerata a professional group as the on-stage prowess.

“It’s most important that we have built a board with passion for choral work of the highest quality, and a board that matches that passion with a dedication to building a great organization,” Istad said. “This board has commitment and expertise to raise the money to support the music we are passionate for, and to provide a professional administration.”

Tickets are available for the kick-off concert, “Joy, Fantasy, and Remembrance: A 50th Anniversary Celebration.” The concert, at 4:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 25, is at the Long Beach City College Auditorium, 4901 Carson St.

In addition to Beethoven’s “Choral Fantasy in C Minor” and Tarik O’Regan’s “Triptych,” Camerata has commissioned a new work by composer Jenni Brandon specifically for this concert. Timothy Durovic will be at the piano.

Tickets to the concert are $30 and $40. The Oct. 22 gala may be sold out, but if tickets are still available, they also can be purchased at the group’s website, longbeachameratasingers.org.

Harry Saltzgaver can be reached at hsalt@gazettes.com.