Eric Whitacre Singers make U.S. debut

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Entertainment,Music,Emily Cary

Eric Whitacre grew up in Reno, Nev., where he studied piano and yearned to become a rock star. But at 18 he sang Mozart's "Requiem" and suddenly was bewitched by choral music. Today he is one of the most popular composers and choral directors in the world. His Eric Whitacre Singers, a professional choir assembled in London, makes its American debut at Strathmore. The group's first Decca album, "Light & Gold," was the 2012 Grammy Award winner for Best Choral Performance. It was followed by "Water Night," released in this country last April.

"It was one long, strange trip from Reno to London," Whitacre said. "I was totally honored and humbled to win the Grammy. My wife (soprano Hila Plitmann) won her own Grammy four years ago, so now I have one to put on the mantel next to hers. When I put together 'Light & Gold,' it was the first time I had a chance to conduct my music in my own recording. It lay inside my soul for a long time.

"Seven of the works we'll perform on the tour are my own compositions, and five by other composers were selected for personal reasons. I chose 'Forever Young' by John Corigliano, my teacher at Juilliard, and 'Luci Serene Chiara' by Morten Lauridsen, who has been a huge mentor spiritually and in many other ways. One of my pieces in the program, 'Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine,' is written in the style of Claudio Monteverdi, whose 'Sfogava con le stelle' we will also sing. The two by Bach need no explanation."

Whitacre's own works in the program are set to poems or biblical passages. They include "When David Heard" (II Samuel 18:33), "Animal Crackers" (Ogden Nash), "The City and the Sea" (e.e. Cummings) and "A Boy and A Girl" (Octavio Paz). Rare is the choral singer who does not equate Whitacre with the pop star personality he once envisioned becoming. Even his long, blond locks are fodder for discussion on the Internet.

If you go
The Eric Whitacre Singers
» Where: Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda
» When: 8 p.m. Monday
» Info: $20 to $110; 301-581-5100; strathmore.org

Currently the composer in residence at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, Whitacre lives in London. He wrote his first choral piece while attending the University of Nevada in Las Vegas and his first piece for wind orchestra, "Ghost Train," as a graduate student at Julliard. Along with many choral works performed regularly by student and adult choirs, he has composed for the London Symphony Orchestra, Chanticleer, Julian Lloyd Webber, the King's Singers and numerous prestigious ensembles. He won the ASCAP Harold Arlen award and the Richard Rodgers Award for his musical, "Paradise Lost: Shadows and Wings," and was a co-composer of the Mermaid theme and choral segments for the film "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides."

Some of the 28 singers on this tour were members of Whitacre's original ensemble. All are close friends and have worked with their conductor on various occasions. To achieve balance, Whitacre uses eight sopranos, eight basses, six tenors and six altos. The first half of the concert will be sung a cappella; a piano will accompany the second section.

This small group is dwarfed by his "virtual choir," a concept that began several years ago and today encompasses the world with millions of viewers. It started with one singer sending Whitacre a video of herself singing the soprano part from one of his choral works. So many others jumped into the concept that the one "computer nerd," in his words, who handled the initial group performance has grown to a huge technical staff.

Whitacre first drew attention to this phenomenon at a TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference, a gathering of the world's leading scientists, intellectuals and remarkable thinkers. "I had a live virtual choir consisting of 100 singers on the stage perform with singers from 32 different countries on the Internet," he said. "I've attended two of these conferences and was moved by people and ideas I never thought would move me. Whether the subject was medicine, poetry or physics, the speakers were passionate and illuminating. I hope those attending our concerts will be equally entranced and marvel at the clear, laserlike, shimmering colors and sounds created by the British singers."

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Author:

Emily Cary

Special to The Washington Examiner
The Washington Examiner