Composer Eric Whitacre presides over a steadily evolving choral music empire, albeit a very democratic one.
Last week Whitacre unveiled his second Virtual Choir at the Paley Center for Media in midtown, a project that began in October when he invited his followers on Facebook and Twitter to submit a video of themselves singing one of four separate vocal lines of his composition Sleep into their webcams. Some 2,052 singers from 58 countries submitted clips via YouTube. The audio was mixed into one track, so all four parts sounded at once as they would in a live concert and the amalgam of voices was posted on YouTube. WQXR.org webcast that event, which was hosted by Jeff Spurgeon.
While much has been said about the power of technology to push classical music into the digital age, ultimately it's the warmth and humanity of Whitacre's music that defines his appeal. "Light and Gold," his first album on Decca, gets its official wide release this month, following an Amazon and iTunes release in October 2010. Many of its 14 ravishing tracks recall the mysticism of Arvo Part and John Tavener but without the dourness that sometimes marks their work.
Take Lux Arumque, a shimmering, delicately shaded work that’s given a clear-textured performance by the all-British Eric Whitacre Singers. Or consider his Five Hebrew Love Songs (1996), settings of brief texts by his wife, Israeli soprano Hila Plitmann, that range in mood from the perky, tambourine-driven "Kala Kalla" to the wistful "Larov.” In the following Three Songs of Faith, which are settings of poems by ee cummings, enchanting clusters of sound give way to a crescendo of ringing, descending harmonies from the sopranos which is quite startling in its impact.
At 41, Whitacre is also a strikingly handsome figure (he just signed with a modeling agency) who is able to speak with considerable ease about his music. Tune in to WQXR on Thursday to hear Whitacre introduce his top five choral works.
Light and Gold
Eric Whitacre Singers
Available at Arkivmusic.com
Q2's Album of the Week, as featured on The New Canon:
It feels somewhat counterproductive, just as we’re tentatively entering spring, to name a Finnish album evocative of the Arctic Circle as Q2’s Album of the Week. Nevertheless, the Kronos Quartet deliver one of their finest recordings (no small feat in a catalog that includes 40 studio albums) with their latest work, Uniko. Fraught with the moodiness of a Bergman film and the textured drama of a Tarantino flick, Uniko (a seven-part suite by accordion and sampler duo, Kimmo Pohjonen and Samuli Kosminen) is nothing short of epic.
The singular combination of accordion and string quartet had been played with by many composers—most notably Wolfgang Rihm—but adding that and electronics to the mix here creates a landscape at once multilayered and desolate, an atmosphere heightened by the driving pulse of the opening track, “Utu.” Likewise, the opening static of “Kalma” calls to mind the despair of Lapland winters where the sun never rises. On the other end of the influence spectrum is the echoes of Finnish composer Jean Sibelius in “Emo.” All elements seem to coalesce in the final movement, “Avara,” which opens with a whir of electronics and strings and ends in one spectacular leap.
Finland has often been regarded as the odd-man-out of the Nordic countries. Halfway between Sweden and Russia, it was long-occupied by both nations and both Scandinavian and Slavic fingerprints remain to this day. Similarly, its language is closer to Estonian, Basque or Turkish as opposed to Swedish, Danish and Norwegian. Perhaps this correlates to the wide-ranging collective of musical threads you can pick out through Uniko. Perhaps these connections are thanks to Kronos’s own multiculti talents. In either case, this pairing is as pitch-perfect to the listener as long underwear and fur-lined boots are to a Helsinkian in winter.
Available at Arkivmusic.com