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Eric Whitacre's Modern Choral Magic


Another classical makeover comes in the latest CD from the young choral composer Eric Whitacre. It's called Cloudburst. Our reviewer Tom Schnabel says the music is optimistically American and should have wide appeal.

TOM SCHNABEL: I used to live in a small apartment and just like now, listen to music all the time. I had a neighbor named Chris who liked working on and driving really loud muscle cars. One afternoon, while I was enjoying the luminous 1947 Requiem by French Composer Maurice Durufle, I heard the roar of Chris's Plymouth Barracuda driving into the underground garage. He slammed the door and yelled up at me hey, Tom. Who died? I guess some people just don't like choral music. It reminds them of funerals.

(Soundbite of Eric Whitacre)

But there's a new choral composer who might change all that. Eric Whitacre writes captivating music of rare beauty. For me, it's choral music of another order.

Here's a song based on the playful but inspiring poem by EE Cummings, I Thank You God, For Most This Amazing Day.

CHOIR: I thank You God for most this amazing day. For the leaping greenly spirits of trees.

SCHNABEL: Whitacre's career as a choral composer started almost by accident. Acting on a tip from a friend who told him that a good way to meet women was to sing in the school choir, Whitacre joined it. But instead of meeting attractive choristers, he was smitten instead by Mozart's Requiem. He never looked back.

What I like about Eric Whitacre's music is his keen harmonic sense, his beautiful chords, his love of musical surprises. He shifts chords and startles with unexpected alterations. The dynamics are huge.

Listening in my car, I turned up the volume during a quiet passage only to get smacked by an explosive fortissimo that almost blew out my amp and speakers. This song from Cloudburst is based on the poem Water Night by Mexican writer Octavio Paz.

(Soundbite of Eric Whitacre)

CHOIR: If you open your eyes, night opens doors of musk. The secret kingdom of the water opens flowing from the center of night.

SCHNABEL: A word about the English Choir Polyphony that performs the songs on Cloudburst. The group and its director, Stephen Layton, handle even the most complex and challenging passages flawlessly. Their performances are truly stunning.

(Soundbite of Eric Whitacre)

SCHNABEL: Eric Whitacre inspires us to hear choral music in new says, a refreshing take on what's often a musty old genre. He has a big following in high schools and colleges because of his popular master classes here and abroad. He just left to give some in Brazil. His web site on myspace.com gets tons of visitors, too.

Given his youth - he's only 35 - and his surfer hunk handsomeness, the tall blonde composer probably didn't need to join the choir to meet women. But I'm glad he did and I bet that even my old hotrod neighbor Chris would like his music, too.

(Soundbite of Eric Whitacre)

BLOCK: The CD is called Cloudburst by Eric Whitacre. The reviewer is Tom Schnabel of member station KCRW in Santa Monica, California. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Schnabel

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