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.
Something that always catches my eye (or my ear, rather) quickly when I’m looking for new music is the word “crossover.” When it pops up, I usually find upon further investigation that it is referring to an unexpected blend of two or more styles of music that are not normally put together. Although this may sometimes result in the unfortunate weakening of the overall effort, that is not the case at all with The Goat Rodeo Sessions. One glance at the illustrious names appearing on the record further confirms such a proclamation; the featured musicians come from a variety of different musical backgrounds, spanning from the strict discipline of Baroque music to the looser, more informal structure of progressive bluegrass. Described as “an ambitious and groundbreaking project that brings together four string virtuosos,” The Goat Rodeo Sessions is a collection of original compositions that are sure to bring about the intellectual appreciation of well-thought-out classical pieces and the homegrown nostalgia of energetic bluegrass.
Of the four maestros on the album, the most well-known is perhaps Yo-Yo Ma, who is considered one of the most famous cellists of the current era. He has the most notable classical background of the four, and certainly brings the full extent of his experience with such music to the project. On mandolin is Chris Thile, who was a member of Grammy Award-winning progressive bluegrass trio Nickel Creek. He has also released a collaboration album with Edgar Meyer, who plays acoustic bass on The Goat Rodeo Sessions. Edgar Meyer, in addition to having released six solo albums to date, has played and collaborated with the likes of Alison Krauss, Béla Fleck, James Taylor, and Mark O’Connor, to name a few. The fourth and final member of the group is none other than Stuart Duncan on the fiddle. He has been recognized on numerous occasions by the Academy of Country Music as Fiddle Player of the Year, and he has won the Grammy Award for Best Bluegrass Album as part of the Nashville Bluegrass Band in both 1994 and 1996.