Eric Whitacre is one of the most popular and performed composers of our time. Known for its lush harmonies and complex, tear-inducing clusters of chords, Whitacre's music has touched the hearts of hundreds of thousands throughout the world. He has been credited with setting off a renaissance of choral music, making it more widely popular than it has been in centuries, and bringing it to new audiences who previously had no interest in the genre.
This is Whitacre's second album with his long-term contract label, Decca (a division of Universal). Here, as in "Light and Gold" (Grammy for best choral performance), Whitacre creates rich, moving harmonies with such universal appeal that without much thought I purchased 5 CDs to give out as gifts. While "Light and Gold" is all choral arrangements, in "Water Night" Whitacre expands into orchestral renditions, all recorded with the incomparable London Symphony Orchestra. The CD includes 7 world premiere recordings, featuring luminaries Grace Davidson, Julian Lloyd Webber, and Hila Plitmann.
A few of my favorite tracks:
ALLELUIA, a choral arrangement of his orchestral piece "October," is one-word meditation on praise. To me the best thing about this incredibly heart-opening song is that it sounds like it's sung not in a church, but outdoors. It's a wide, expansive basking in life and everything in it. When I listen to it, I feel it gives me wings.
OCULI OMNIUM ("the eyes of all") The most beautiful murmuring title, and comparing it to the original Gregorian chant, quiet and humble, Whitacre has spat on his hands and raised the thing from the dead. So alive, exultant, and basking... Resplendent. His word-painting of "the eyes of all" is dizzying -- everything murmurs and whirrs and lives. Whitacre gives life to inanimate objects; everything sings and joins together. Grace Davidson soars above the life-sounds. Listening to this song makes me incredibly happy.
HER SACRED SPIRIT is very different from the previous two -- an intimate invocation. This song is, to me, someone standing in front of me and speaking words of love and encouragement straight into my soul. Someone who knows me very well and really believes in me. A very moving piece.
GOODNIGHT MOON is sheer delight. Yes, it's set to the words of the beloved children's book. Hila Plitmann's voice could not possibly be more crystalline and thrilling. (She is Eric's wife, and the idea for the song came from reading the book to their son thousands of times, as so many parents do.)
WHEN DAVID HEARD I can't write about David without tearing up. David has been with me through my hardest moments. I don't know how many times I've been brought back from one hell or another by feeling so seen, heard, and known by listening to this song. The places that are so deep and dark that no human being can go with me, Eric Whitacre goes with me. And it's like he knows just how unexpected, unfair, sudden, or painful the thing was that happened. He is a witness, and there is so much healing in being witnessed. He says this song was absolutely grueling to write and conduct. I believe it, and I'm grateful.
Since Whitacre is so popular, several of these songs have been recorded before by different choirs, as is common in choral music. The real offering here, in the case of songs that avid fans may have heard before, is to have Whitacre himself conduct them, and his professional choir sing them. Whitacre's first album with his Singers, "Light and Gold," won a Grammy for Best Choral Performance in 2011. This is a stellar group of musicians. It's especially thrilling to have him conduct the LSO, one of the finest ensembles in the world -- joined, for The River Cam, by cellist Jullian Lloyd Webber, for whom the piece was written. Whitacre insists that arranging is an artform, "a very personal expression of the material." It's a privilege to hear the music conducted by his own hands. "When David Heard" is a full 5 minutes longer than the BYU Singers version. There are also more tempo variations, and the soprano line is more pronounced, to a wailing / screaming effect. So much happens in the silences between those wails. The most real depiction of grief that I believe music has ever given us. And, best of all, immensely compassionate and healing.
In case you haven't seen his TED talk, it's an absolute must -- incredibly inspirational. Whitacre is also known for his hugely successful Virtual Choir project, which unites singers from 73 countries, singing in their homes, to create a stunning, united audio-visual experience. Besides writing and conducting music, Whitacre is also a gifted orator, lecturer, and "connector of people." Though, for me, the best part is getting lost and emerging with a clearer head and bolder heart after a few rounds of any of his songs. I am so grateful.