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A Former Percussionist Sings the Praises of Pacific Chorale

Pacific Chorale’s new leader made a mid-career switch from instrumental to vocal music with no regrets.

Rhett M. Del Campo, the new president and CEO of Pacific Chorale, assumed the position on May 1. Photo courtesy of Pacific Chorale/Rhett Del Campo.
 

Rhett M. Del Campo, the new president and CEO of Pacific Chorale, was a professional musician for many years. But he never sang in a choir – or anywhere else.


Del Campo worked for almost three decades as a pianist and percussionist before he ever took a job in the choral world. The Chicago native debuted as a piano soloist with the Chicago Symphony in 1991 and toured Italy with the Chicago Youth Symphony in 1994. He then studied percussion at New England Conservatory of Music and DePaul University, and later played under Michael Tilson Thomas at New World Symphony for four seasons from 2006-10. 


“There’s no throughline that makes a lot of sense,” Del Campo said of his career. “After a lot of performing arts experience, there was a point in my career where I had to make a decision to continue as a freelancer or move on.”


De Campo made the career switch by accepting a position as assistant to the executive director at the Kansas City Symphony. “It was out of a need for a reliable job,” he recalled. “That turned into two-and-a-half years in Kansas City. It was a great training ground to be at a fantastic institution.” Del Campo was there when the city’s widely praised concert hall complex, the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, opened in 2011. He performed in the opening concert.


In 2014 Del Campo landed his first administrative job in the choral field when he became executive director of Seraphic Fire, a Grammy-nominated professional vocal ensemble based in Miami.


“The position with Seraphic Fire came through my work as a percussionist when I was a fellow at New World Symphony in 2006,” Del Campo said. “My name came up because I had played with the vocal ensemble.” The job required getting up to speed quickly. “I didn’t come from the choral world, so I studied choral ensembles around the country.”


Del Campo found his passion for arts education at Seraphic Fire. He created a program that brought music education into Title I elementary schools throughout south Florida and forged three national education-based partnerships.


After eight years with Seraphic Fire, Del Campo left in 2023 to become executive director of iSing, a Silicon Valley-based group that provides choral music training for more than 300 school-age girls from diverse cultures. Like Seraphic Fire, it was a young group, only 10 years old, which influenced his decision to accept the leadership position at Pacific Chorale. Del Campo officially begins his new job today.


“I was looking for an institution that was well established, but one that also has opportunities for growth and expansion,” Del Campo said. “I enjoy working In the community from an education  side. That’s what I see happening (with Pacific Chorale). There was a long tradition of that kind of work under (former artistic director) John Alexander: the education programs and the work they’re doing with students in the second through fifth grade, their choral camp in the summer. They reach a lot of students.”


Del Campo looks forward to working with a choral group of Pacific Chorale’s caliber. Since its founding in 1968, it has presented the world, U.S., and West Coast premieres of more than 35 works, many of them commissions. The chorale shared the 2022 Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance with three other choirs and the Los Angeles Philharmonic for its contribution to the live recording of Mahler’s Symphony No. 8, the “‘Symphony of A Thousand.”


“Pacific Chorale is unique,” Del Campo said. “It’s adaptable to many performance situations, up to big orchestral/choral works, and it works with an orchestra that has a world-class reputation.. There’s so much you can do. Not all arts organizations have that flexibility.”


‘Live performance is key’

Del Campo was also attracted to the close relationship the chorale enjoys with its longtime artistic partner, Pacific Symphony.


“I don’t know the specifics of the agreement (between the two organizations), but I know it’s a unique understanding that they have. When the chorale uses instrumentalists we pick from Pacific Symphony, and when they do choral works we are the people they use. You’d be hard pressed to find a partnership like this elsewhere in the country.”


Perhaps the crucial deciding factor behind Del Campo’s decision to join Pacific Chorale was the chance to work hand in glove with its conductor and artistic director, Robert Istad.


“My job ultimately is to help achieve the artistic vision of the chorale. Most of that is understanding what that vision is from Rob and putting the pieces together to make it possible. One of the things that attracted me to this is how creative Rob is. I love his commitment to new works and commissioning new music. I also like that he’s not afraid to juxtapose different elements into the performance, including digital elements.”

Listen to 'The Wayfaring Project'

One of his most important tasks, Del Campo said, is to finish restoring the choir to full financial health. It suffered during the pandemic and had to get creative during the lean years in order to survive. The problem was especially challenging for choirs, Del Campo pointed out.


“The choral industry as a whole has been affected. In some ways it was the most profoundly impacted (of all the performing arts). Vocal artists – their careers were at risk with COVID.”


The post-pandemic patrons of choral concerts have changed, too, Del Campo noted. 


“Audience behavior has shifted. People are pulling away from subscriptions. Across all parts of this industry people make their purchasing decisions much later. That puts a challenge on organizations from many perspectives. If 80 percent of your efforts go into subscriptions and they’re not being sold anymore, that last-minute effort (to sell tickets) is a little scary. There’ll have to be changes in how we market our concerts.”


Del Campo thinks that there were upsides to the pandemic as well. It forced all performing institutions to explore creative new ways to market and perform and revealed areas that needed improvement.


“It showed … how creative and smart and imaginative this industry is – that (choirs) could pivot so quickly to online performances. It exposed some weaknesses in our ability to produce content digitally. Our digital performances were a bit of a novelty at first. People were excited to see what we’d created. But after a couple of those, which are by the way very resource-heavy to produce, they faded.


“But we were able to reengage with audiences that had gotten to a certain age and couldn't leave home or fans who had simply moved away. It opened our eyes to the possibilities.”



Del Campo wants to incorporate some of those pandemic lessons into the concert hall permanently. “Juxtaposing live and digital elements into the performances, things like that, are more feasible now. We certainly know how to be more creative and experimental.”


The pandemic years taught Del Campo a basic lesson about choral music. “Live performance is key. Nothing replaces that experience, and most people now realize that.”


 
Pacific Chorale’s 2024-25 Season

The Pacific Chorale has just announced its 2024-25 season, which is titled “Resonate.” Specifics for venue addresses and ticket prices are at the end of the list.


Free Event: 16th Annual Choral Festival

When: 5 p.m. Aug. 11 

Where: Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall


Robert Istad, conductor

Member of Pacific Chorale

Hundreds of community members


Haydn, “Mass in Time of War”


Special Presentation: To the Hands

A Theatrical Performance directed by Marty Austin Lamar

When: 8 p.m. Sept. 14; 5 p.m. Sept. 15 

Where: Samueli Theater


Robert Istad, conductor

Pacific Chorale Chamber Choir

String Quintet


Caroline Shaw, “To the Hands”

Buxtehude, “Ad Manus” (from Membra Jesu nostri)

Moira Smiley, “Wayfaring Stranger”

Sarah Mclachlan, “Fear”

Kevin Siegfried, “Lay Me Low”

Ken Burton, “Prayer”

Shawn Kirchner, “Angel Band”

Ysaye Barnwell, “Would You Harbor Me?”


Songs of the Soul

When: 5 p.m. Oct. 26

Where: Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall,


Robert Istad, conductor

Pacific Chorale

Southern California Children’s Chorus

Jung-A Lee, organ


Toby Young, “O Splendour of God’s Glory Bright”

Arvo Pärt, Berliner Mass

Nico Muhly, “A Good Understanding”

Jennifer Higdon, “O Magnum Mysterium”

Sarah Quartel, “Density of Light”

Tarik O’Regan, “Dorchester Canticles”


Carols by Candlelight 

When: 8 p.m. Dec. 7 and 11 

Where: Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church, Newport Beach

Robert Istad, conductor

Pacific Chorale

Piano & Guest Instrumentalists 


tIS THE SEASON!

When: 5 p.m. Dec. 22 and 23 

Where: Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall

Robert Istad, conductor

Pacific Chorale

Members of Pacific Symphony

Southern California Children’s Chorus

The Man in Red, Santa!


Exodus

When: 8 p.m. March 29 

Where: Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church, Newport Beach

Robert Istad, conductor

Members of Pacific Chorale


Bach Collegium San Diego, Ruben Valenzuela, artistic director

Handel, Israel in Egypt


Mozart’s Requiem 

When: 8 p.m. May 24, 2025 

Where: Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall

Robert Istad, conductor

Pacific Chorale

Pacific Symphony, Carl St.Clair, Music Director


Brahms, “Nänie”

Viet Cuong, title TBA (Pacific Chorale-commissioned world premiere)

Jake Runestad, “Into the Light”

Mozart, Requiem


Venue addresses

Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church

2100 Mar Vista Drive

Newport Beach, CA 92660


Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, Segerstrom Center for the Arts

600 Town Center Drive

Costa Mesa, CA 92626


Samueli Theater, Segerstrom Center for the Arts 

615 Town Center Drive

Costa Mesa, CA 92626


Tickets: Season subscriptions available; single tickets, beginning at $32, go on sale July 8. Go to: www.pacificchorale.org or 714-662-2345


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