Eric Whitacre is a choir geek and he's so proud of it he's created tee shirts that you can purchase on his web site that read "Choir geeks of the world unite!" Composer Eric Whiteacre is the creator of the Virtual Choir phenomenon, in which people from around the world upload recordings of their own voices, which are then indeed united into one online choir. Whitacre's third Virtual Choir YouTube video launched on April 2, and Whitacre says they received an astonishing number of submissions. "The funny thing is, we intentionally chose one of the hardest pieces I've written, a piece called 'Water Night,' which at one point splits into 14 different parts, thinking that we might actually slow the growth of the virtual choir, just trying to get the best possible music out of it. And we still doubled our numbers. There's something happening that is a wonder to behold!"
"Water Night," is also the title of Whitacre's latest disc. On it, he leads his own choir, the Eric Whitacre Singers, and he conducts the London Symphony Orchestra in an orchestral version of the title track "I've had this secret life for years," Whitacre admits. "I love writing instrumental and orchestral music. 'Water Night,' was originally a choral work, written in 1995, and the string transcription to my ears sounds totally different than the choral version. Not just the timbre of the instruments, but the message. There's this quiet melancholy that exists in the choral version. The string version has a sense of tragic-ness about it that the choral version doesn't have. I conducted that piece with the London Symphony Orchestra for the album, which is one of the great thrills of my professional life."
Right now Eric Whitacre lives in London, where he serves as the composer-in-residence at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. It's a five-year opportunity that arose from his brief term at the college as a visiting fellow. Whitacre composed two pieces for the chapel choir while he was there, including one that makes use of liturgical text, something he thought he would never do. It was his experience with Dr. David Skinner and the marvelous Chapel Choir that inspired Eric to compose "Alleluia," the piece that opens this recording. "It was the very first time I'd understood the wisdom and the beauty of the Christian liturgy. I'd never experienced it before. And especially that word, Alleluia, which is so ancient. It's Hebrew, and my wife is from Israel and, there was this deep connection to the words themselves. And the piece very organically melted out of me. "There was another piece called 'The River Cam,' that I wrote for the cellist Julian Lloyd Webber. It's for cello and string orchestra. The River Cam is the river that runs through Cambridge--in fact, that's where it gets its name. As I started to compose it, it was very obvious to me what I was doing--that I was hearing these sound, these great English composers. At first I blanched. I fought it for a few moments, and then I just let it pour out. So now I hear a little bit of Vaughan Williams, a little bit of Elgar, but mostly what I hear is just the sound of the river as I walk along it."
Whitacre's wife Hila Plitmann is featured on the song, "Good Night Moon." It's based on the children's book that Eric has read to his six-year-old son more times than he can remember. "I would read it to him nearly every night and I don't know when it was, the five or six hundredth time reading it, that it started sounding like music in my mind. We contacted the publishers and they were so gracious to allow us to set it. I had in my mind this sweet, delicate lullaby . . . trying to paint the words of the book as best I could. Then of course I wrote it for my wife, who is an extraordinary soprano, and that made the meaning even deeper for me. The sweetest [thing] now, I have to say, is when my son sings it. He'll be taking a bath or something and I'll hear him in there singing it, and that just breaks my heart in all the right ways."
There are nine pieces on Eric Whitacre's new recording, "Water Night," six of which are world premieres. As you listen, you'll find that each of these pieces touches your heart in just the right way.