I’m certainly not the first one to hop on the Eric Whitacre bandwagon, and I definitely won’t be the last. He’s been heralded as the most successful classical composer of the modern era, and both of his albums (Light & Gold in 2010 and Water Night in 2012) have topped the charts within days of their release. On top of that, Light & Gold won the Grammy for Best Choral Performance in 2012. He is also the mastermind behind the innovative Virtual Choir series, combining the voices of thousands of YouTubers across the globe into a single, beautiful choir. Basically, this guy is a big deal. With that said, I’ve been touched by his music in the same way that millions of others have, and wanted to take the time to acknowledge such a tremendous accomplishment on Whitacre’s part. Light & Gold is one of the best collections of choral music that I’ve ever heard, and its large assortment of accolades was not awarded erroneously.
The album starts off in perhaps the best possible way: with the song “Lux Aurumque.” For those of you familiar with the three Virtual Choir projects that have been created thus far (with the fourth one, “Fly,” in production now), “Lux Aurumque” is easily recognizable as the one that started it all. Virtual Choir 1 was premiered back in March 2010, and probably contributed a great deal to the spread of Whitacre’s influence across the world. Not only was the piece beautifully arranged and performed, but it stood as a monument to the wonders that can be achieved through race-wide collaboration between humans from all cultures, locations, and backgrounds.
Inspiration is a word that gets thrown around a lot in the creative realm, but it is not with a casual tongue that I declare Whitacre’s music as one of the greatest sources of inspiration for me (and countless others, I’m sure). A few months ago, I attended a wind ensemble concert where “Lux Aurumque” was featured as part of the program. Although not the original choral arrangement, the piece was riveting. I am not exaggerating by any means when I say that I could not move for the entirety of the performance. There was nothing in the world that could have drawn my attention away from the music that was emanating throughout that reverberant concert hall. If you asked me to describe the atmosphere of the room during that time, the first thing I would tell you is that it was impossible to give an accurate description in words. After that, I might use words like transcendent, harmonious, and collectively effervescent. All of us have had experiences that equate; I’m sure you can imagine the feeling it must have evoked.
Needless to say, after that night I was hooked on Eric Whitacre. And if I was impressed by “Lux Aurumque,” then I was in for a real treat with Light & Gold. The rest of the album absolutely holds up to the high standards that the first song creates. One might think that the professionally trained choir creates such an incredible sound that any composition written for it would sound amazing. Even if this were true, Eric Whitacre would still stand out as a man with an exceptional gift. When listening to the album, it is irrevocably clear that Whitacre has a strong classical background (which is confirmed by his Master’s degree in Composition from Juilliard). It is not the broad strokes, but the subtleties, that give Whitacre his unique edge. It is the impeccable attention to detail that makes the music resonate within each and every soul that hears it. It is the seemingly insignificant manipulations of the choir that cause the shiver to travel down our spines. This is the work of a man who has dedicated his life to the pursuit and mastery of contemporary classical composition at its finest.
It is not just the music that speaks to us, though. Eric Whitacre is also an exceptional orator, and always comes across as a constant inspiration (there’s that word again) for artistically passionate individuals. It quickly becomes evident that he is a man who fully believes in what he is doing, and has become truly content as a result. If you’ve ever seen him speak, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. In addition to creating his own music, he consistently speaks out about the importance of the arts in human society, and how we can continue to innovate using newly-developed technology. Even if you are not a musician, Whitacre is a role model for anyone who is forward-thinking, aspires to develop their creative identity, or wants to leave their own mark on the world.
What we hear most on Light & Gold is the personal touch left by the composer for millions to hear. It is one thing to write out a brilliantly arranged musical work on paper, but it is another thing entirely to bring it to life. Eric Whitacre does just that; he coaxes out an incredibly rich and complex array of emotions from his handpicked choir, the Eric Whitacre Singers. From his collection of “Five Hebrew Love Songs” to the closing track, “Sleep,” every aspect of the choir’s performance is spot on. The intonation, the articulations, the phrasing, and the blending together of each independent voice in the choir – all of these are shining examples of the true potential that Eric Whitacre has achieved as both a composer and a conductor.
There is nothing more powerful than being able to create an immersive world – an alternate reality, if you will – that you can step into anytime, just by hitting the play button. I have stepped into such a world – a world known as Light & Gold, courtesy of Eric Whitacre. I’ve had the privilege to stop and smell the roses in this world, and boy, are they fresh.