Andrew Cane of leading UK independent classical store Prelude Records explained to An Overgrown Path yesterday: "Cloudburst had been out for two weeks when BBC Radio 3's CD Review gave it an outstanding review. Then the rush started, and we took more than ten orders just on Saturday. That was double our next best seller - a TV advertised 'Best of Mozart' compilation. Sales of Cloudburst have also been very strong this week, easily outselling the big January release of the 2006 New Year's Day Concert conducted by Mariss Jansons. We are delighted, but it is really quite surprising as Eric Whitacre is almost unknown here." The success of Cloudburst has been reflected in the US where within a day of being released it entered the Amazon top ten classical best seller list.
Eric Whitacre was born in Nevada in 1970, and played synthesizers in a teenage techno-pop band before graduating from the Juilliard School of Music where he studied with John Corigliano and David Diamond. His musical voice is unique but fundamentally conservative, and he has been described as the 'anti-Tavener' because of his disregard for fashions such as the so-called 'holy minimalism', although the setting of the biblical text When David heard does pay homage to Arvo Pärt. It is no bad thing, but I do also clearly hear the influence of another unique voice in the form of Peter Maxwell Davies (right), particularly Max's 1981 Lullabye for Lucy. (Opening the link launches an audio file of this sublime work). Whitacre is a master of harmony, but is a million miles away from the 'comfort music' of John Rutter and others. Despite Eric Whitacre's popular appeal there is no complacency in his writing, and he keeps the listener on the edge of their seat with shifting chords and startling harmonies that confirm his pop/rock roots. Above all it is his ability to make music the servant of words that distinguishes his vocal works, and this is reflected in his eclectic choice of texts.
Whitacre's choral works, which include Water Night, Cloudburst, Sleep, Lux Aurumque and A Boy and a Girl, are hugely popular in the US, and his compositions for symphonic winds are also frequently programmed, particularly Ghost Train which has had over a thousand performances and forty recordings. One of his most recent compositions is Paradise Lost (production shot right). He describes this, his first work for stage, as an 'opera electronica', and it combines trance, ambient, and techno electronics in a genre crossing combination of choral, cinematic and operatic forms.
Cloudburst was recorded by Hyperion, and takes it name from one of Eric Whitacre's best known choral works which sets a poem by Nobel Prize winner Octavio Paz. The CD features fourteen settings of poets as diverse as Dickinson, Lorca, Cummings and a 13th Century Persian Sufi mystic. It was recorded in just three days with Stephen Layton directing the vocal ensemble Polyphony who do not include Whitacre in their core repertoire. Polyphony are outstanding in any music, and they rise magnificently to the new challenges set by Eric Whitacre. The lines are exposed and there is no vibrato to hide behind, yet the result is one of the best choral releases I have heard for years. All credit to Hyperion for this innovative release, and to Simon Eadon’s superb engineering in London’s Temple Church (where Stephen Layton was Director of Music). The sound is demonstration quality, particularly in the title track which features piano, percussion, handbells, thunder sheet, wind chimes, a suspended cymbal and, shades of Max, a children's choir.
To remind us all how to reach new audiences here is no less than five minutes of glorious choral singing from Cloudburst in the form of Eric Whitacre's Water Night -
Web resources: * Eric Whitacre * Polyphony * Stephen Layton * Prelude Records * Hyperion * Peter Maxwell Davies *
Audio file from Hyperion. Image credits: Eric Whitacre - Ericwhitacre.com; Paradise Lost - Luxious ; Peter Maxwell Davies - Mander Organs. Image owners - if you do not want your picture used in this article please contact me and it will be removed. Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
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