Eric Whitacre made us wait for the choral moment that has so quickly become a global phenomenon.
Lux Aurumque (Light of Gold) went viral on YouTube launching Whitacre’s “virtual choir” from cyberspace in a haze of far-reaching, mystical, harmonies. Whitacre writes choral music that is as old as time and yet as immediate as the here and now. It is grateful to sing, scrumptious to listen to, and rejoices in those ecstatic harmonic suspensions that turn dissonance into consonance and make something highly seductive of the thoroughly chaste. Most of all, he is a natural melodist with a touch of Broadway in every hook.
A timely commission from the LSO Chorus turned this event into something of a well-earned showcase for the choir. It was a whistle stop voyage around Eric Whitacre – charmingly acting as our personal guide - but more than that it was a flavoursome taste of the America that gave his music breath. Melodically and harmonically speaking you knew you were in the land of the free from the moment Aaron Copland’s Old American Songs began invoking homespun ditties from “Long time ago”. The singing was a bit proper – more old country, or better yet home counties, than new world. But the spirit moved “At the River” while the muted trumpet-led salvation band played on.
Whitacre made no secret of his influences, either, introducing the lusty and lustful Mid-Winter Songs of his mentor Morten Lauridsen and Samuel Barber’s little masterpiece Knoxville: Summer of 1915 to hint at where his own way with words found inspiration. His wife Hila Plitmann sang the latter with honesty and real understanding of what it means to feel secure in the loving embrace of family.
And family – namely his father – was behind his choice of poems for the evening’s world premiere, Songs of Immortality. Two poems, actually, in effortless elision: Dylan Thomas’ “Lie still, sleep becalmed” which clung to tenuous harmonies, not waving but drowning until asserting fabulous defiance with the words “Open a pathway through the slow sad sail”. Emily Dickinson then chronicled the “letting go” on a final tone that was in every sense eternal.
“Sleep” (words: Charles Anthony Silvestri) is already Whitacre’s most successful musical export and is all set to become his next and biggest adventure with the “virtual choir”. Surrender to the dreams of “a thousand pictures” comes on a refulgent swell of sound – the most consonant dissonance imaginable. Music can do that. Whitacre’s music loves to do that.