Eric Whitacre

Eric Whitacre
Eric Whitacre

Whitacre conducting in 2009.
Background information
Born January 2, 1970 (1970-01-02) (age 41)
Occupations Composer

Eric Whitacre (born January 2, 1970 in Reno, Nevada) is an American composer, conductor and lecturer. He is one of the most popular and performed composers of his generation.[1][2] In 2008, the all-Whitacre choral CD Cloudburst (released by the British ensemble Polyphony on Hyperion Records) became an international best-seller, topping the classical charts and earning a Grammy nomination. Robert Hollingworth commented: "what hits you straight between the eyes is the honesty, optimism and sheer belief that passes any pretension. This is music that can actually make you smile."[3] In addition to Whitacre's litany of choral and wind ensemble compositions, he is also known for his "Virtual Choir" projects on YouTube, bringing individual voices from around the globe together in a cyber internet choir. His virtual choirs have exposed his music to a new audience and have helped it gain an unprecedented popularity. [4][5] Whitacre signed a long-term recording deal with Decca in 2010 and continues to develop his award winning musical Paradise Lost. A condensed concert version was given at Carnegie Hall in 2010.[6] Plans for the stage show and soundtrack extend into 2011.



Whitacre began his musical training while an undergraduate at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where he studied composition with avant garde Ukrainian composer Virko Baley and choral conducting with David Weiller. He wrote his setting of Go, Lovely Rose for his college choir and presented the composition as a gift to David Weiller. Eric went on to earn his Master's degree in composition at the Juilliard School, where he studied with John Corigliano.[7] His works Water Night, Cloudburst, Sleep, Lux Aurumque, A Boy and a Girl and "The Seal Lullaby" are amongst the most popular choral works in the standard repertory; his Ghost Train, Godzilla Eats Las Vegas and October and "Equus" have achieved similar success in the symphonic wind community. His cutting edge musical Paradise Lost: Shadows and Wings, which combines influences including trance, electronica, and anime with choral, cinematic, and operatic traditions, won the ASCAP Harold Arlen Award, the Richard Rogers award, and 10 Ovation Award nominations. He has received composition awards from the Barlow International Composition Competition, the American Choral Directors Association and the American Composers Forum. In 2001, Whitacre became the youngest recipient ever awarded the Raymond C. Brock commission by the American Choral Directors Association.

Since 2000, he has conducted concerts of his choral and symphonic music in Japan, Australia, China, Singapore, South America and much of Europe, as well as in American Universities and colleges where he regularly conducts seminars and lectures with young musicians. 2010-11 commissions include works for Chanticleer, The King's Singers, Julian Lloyd Webber, and The London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.

Whitacre's first recording, The Music of Eric Whitacre, was named by the American Record Guide as one of the top ten classical albums of 1997. In 2006, a full collection of his a cappella music, Cloudburst and Other Choral Works, was released on the British label Hyperion Records. The album became an international best seller, appearing in the top ten of both Billboard's and iTunes Top Classical Albums charts. Two years after its release, it continues to be a top-seller and won a 2007 Grammy nomination for Best Choral Performance. In 2010, Whitacre signed a long-term contract with Decca as a performer. "Light & Gold," Whitacre's first album with the label, was released in October 2010, and features Whitacre himself as conductor and musical director.[8]

In October 2010 Whitacre was named Composer-in-Residence and Visiting Fellow at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge University. He lived on campus for the duration of the 2010 Michaelmas term. At his concert at the Union Chapel in Islington on 11 October 2011 Whitacre announced that his fellowship at Sidney Sussex College had been extended for five years and that he with his wife and son had moved home to London in September 2011. In March 2011 it was announced that he had joined the fashion models agency, Storm.[9]

Whitacre is married to Grammy-award winning soprano Hila Plitmann.

Despite a close link with the choir at Brigham Young University, and a number of works either derived from Biblical texts or with possible Christian interpretations, Whitacre has stated that he is not a Christian, though neither is he an Atheist.[10]


Whitacre writes music that incorporates contemporary sounds and influences while demanding precision, intonation and ensemble. He is probably best known for his choral works; however, both his choral and instrumental styles use his signature "Whitacre chords," or pan-diatonic clusters usually arranged in successive increasing or decreasing density. Whitacre achieves this growth and decay by splitting voices divisi—in one case up to 18 parts. These sonorities can often be read as seventh or ninth chords, with or without suspended seconds and fourths. Perhaps his most famous chord is a root-position major triad with an added major second and/or perfect fourth. Whitacre makes frequent use of quartal, quintal and secundal harmonies, and is also known for his use of unconventional chord progressions. His use of rhythm often involves mixed, complex, and/or compound meters. His pieces sometimes include frequent meter changes and unusual rhythmic patterns. Another trademark of Whitacre's pieces is the use of aleatoric and indeterminate sections, as well as unusual score instructions involving, in some cases, hand actions and/or props.[11]


Virtual Choir

Whitacre's Virtual Choir projects were inspired by a video sent to him of a young girl singing one of his choral pieces[12] he then began with a test run of Sleep, then Lux Aurumque in 2009[4][13] and was followed again by Sleep in 2010. The video for Lux Aurumque, featuring a virtual choir of 185 voices from 12 countries, was described as a "musical experience that works better than anyone might have expected",[14] their video receiving over 1,000,000 hits in the first two months of its release.

The 2010 version of the Virtual Choir 2.0 "Sleep" began in October 2010 and the video submission process was completed on 10 January 2011. Whitacre spoke at[15] and this video was released on April 1, 2011, accompanied with a short 2 minute example of the "Sleep" project. The YouTube release was on April 7, 2011.

On September 27, 2011, Eric announced on his blog his plans for a "Virtual Choir 3". Details about the piece chosen for this project have not yet been released.

Recording projects

Whitacre's first album with Decca, Light & Gold was released in October 2010. From October to December 2010, Whitacre was a visiting Fellow at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge during Michaelmas (Autumn) Term.[16]

Whitacre's second album with Decca is scheduled to be released in the spring of 2012 featuring some of his newest compositions for chorus and for orchestra. [17]

Performance projects

Whitacre has worked collaboratively with Distinguished Concerts International New York[18] (DCINY) and is due to collaborate with them again in 2011 in New York, Vancouver and Los Angeles. With regard to his musical "Paradise Lost: Shadows and Wings", he was described by the New York Times as a "younger, hipper Andrew Lloyd Webber, with fleeting hints of Bernstein and Sondheim".[6]

On 24 October 2010, he conducted an all-American programme with the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus at the Barbican London, in a performance that featured his commission for the London Symphony Chorus entitled Songs of Immortality. On 28 November 2010, he sat on the panel of judges for the final episode of Choir of the Year, broadcast on BBC Four and BBC Radio 3. In December 2010, Whitacre conducted the I Vocalisti choir in Hamburg, and was a guest conductor of the Christmas performance of the Berlin Rundfunkchor.

On 6 November 2010, Whitacre conducted Côrdydd, a Cardiff-based mixed choir, and friends in a concert of his work at the BBC Hoddinott Hall in the Wales Millennium Centre.

He composed a piece for the Sydney Sussex college choir, and worked with students in masterclasses and workshops. The concert version of his musical Paradise Lost: Shadows and Wings was performed to a sold out audience at Carnegie Hall in June 2010.

Whitacre is a founding member of BCM International, a quartet of composers consisting of himself, Steven Bryant, Jonathan Newman and James Bonney, which aspires to "enrich the wind ensemble repertoire with music unbound by traditional thought or idiomatic cliché."[19]

Awards and honors

Whitacre has won awards from the Barlow international composition competition, American Choral Directors Association, American Composers' Forum and in 2001 became the youngest recipient ever of The Raymond C Brock Commission given by the American Choral Directors Association. His musical Paradise Lost: Shadows and Wings earned him a ASCAP Richard Rodgers Award|Richard Rodgers Award and received 10 nominations at the 2007 Los Angeles Stage Alliance Ovation Awards. The album Cloudburst and Other Choral Works received a Grammy nomination in 2007 for Best Choral Performance.


Wind symphony

  • Equus
  • Ghost Train Triptych
    • Ghost Train
    • At the Station
    • Motive Revolution
  • Godzilla Eats Las Vegas!
  • Noisy Wheels of Joy
  • October
  • Sleep (choral transcription)
  • The Seal Lullaby (choral transcription for wind symphony and piano)
  • Lux Aurumque (choral transcription, transposed a semitone lower from C-Sharp Minor to C Minor)
  • Cloudburst (choral transcription)
  • Libertas Imperio (From Paradise Lost: Shadows and Wings)

SATB choral

  • A Boy and A Girl (poem by Octavio Paz)
  • Alleluia (adapted from his October)
  • Animal Crackers, Volume 1 (Poems by Ogden Nash)
    • The Panther
    • The Cow
    • The Firefly
  • Animal Crackers, Volume 2 (Poems by Ogden Nash)
    • The Canary
    • The Eel
    • The Kangaroo
  • The City and the Sea (poems by e. e. Cummings)
    • i walked the boulevard
    • the moon is hiding in her hair
    • maggie and millie and molly and may
    • as is the sea marvelous
    • little man in a hurry
  • Cloudburst (poem by Octavio Paz)
  • Five Hebrew Love Songs (poem by Hila Plitmann)
    • Temuna
    • Kala Kalla (Light Bride)
    • Larov (Mostly)
    • Eyze Sheleg! (What snow!)
    • Rakut (Tenderness)
  • Her Sacred Spirit Soars (poem by Charles Anthony Silvestri)
  • Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine (libretto by Charles Anthony Silvestri)
  • Little Birds (poem by Octavio Paz)
  • little tree (poem by E. E. Cummings)
  • Lux Aurumque (poem by Edward Esch; translated into Latin by Charles Anthony Silvestri) (also set for male chorus)
  • Nox Aurumque (poem by Charles Anthony Silvestri)
  • Oculi Omnium
  • The Seal Lullaby (poem by Rudyard Kipling)
  • She Weeps Over Rahoon (poem by James Joyce)
  • Sleep (originally a setting of Robert Frost's poem, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"; for copyright reasons[20] the published version uses a specially-written text by Charles Anthony Silvestri)
  • Sleep, My Child (Choral transcription from Paradise Lost: Shadows and Wings)
  • The Stolen Child (setting of a poem by William Butler Yeats, commissioned in 2008 by the National Youth Choir of Great Britain and The King's Singers for their respective 25th and 40th anniversaries)
  • This Marriage (poem by Jalal al-Din Rumi)
  • Three Flower Songs
  • Three Songs of Faith (poems by E. E. Cummings))
    • i will wade out
    • hope, faith, life, love
    • i thank You God for most this amazing day[21]
  • Water Night (poem by Octavio Paz; translated by Muriel Rukeyser)
  • When David Heard (from II Samuel 18:33)
  • Winter (poem by Edward Esch)
  • What If (lyrics by David Norona and Eric Whitacre)

SSA choral

  • She Weeps Over Rahoon (text by James Joyce)
  • Five Hebrew Love Songs (poem by Hila Plitmann)
  • The Seal Lullaby (text by Rudyard Kipling)
  • I Thank You God (text by e.e. cummings)

TTBB choral

  • Lux Aurumque (poem by Edward Esch, translated into Latin by Charles Anthony Silvestri)
  • The Seal Lullaby (text by Rudyard Kipling)

Choral works not yet published

  • Alleluia
  • Oculi Omnium
  • Songs of Immortality
    • Lie still, sleep becalmed (poem by Dylan Thomas)
    • After Great Pain (poem by Emily Dickenson)[22]


  • October
  • Winter
  • A Boy and a Girl
  • Lux Aurumque
  • Water Night
  • The River Cam

Solo voice

  • The City and the Sea (poems by e. e. Cummings)
  • Five Hebrew Love Songs (poem by Hila Plitmann)

Solo instrument

  • Melody for solo clarinet (1994)


Winter (for strings, choir and sitar)

Music theatre

  • Paradise Lost: Shadows and Wings, a musical featuring electronic, world, and orchestral instruments; classical singers; and many different styles of music.

Other arrangements

  • Rak HaHatchala (Only the Beginning) [aka Five Hebrew Love Songs]; for soprano voice, solo violin, piano

Film and Television

  • Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, co-composer (with Hans Zimmer) of the Mermaid Theme and choral segments


Whitacre is published by Chester Music; G. Schirmer; Walton Music; Santa Barbara Music; Shadow Water Music; and Carpe Ranam Music.


  1. ^ Anastasia Tsioulcas (2006-03-18). "Whitacre's ace space". Billboard 118 (11): 56.'s+ace+space#v=onepage&q=Whitacre's%20ace%20space&f=false. Retrieved 2011-01-12.  (This page has been known to load as blank. If this happens, try clicking your refresh button.)
  2. ^ Porter Anderson (February 11, 2007). "Choral Grammy: Singing Layton's praises". CNN International. Retrieved 2011-01-12. 
  3. ^ Robert Hollingworth. "Eric Whitacre: Cloudburst - BBC Radio 3 CD Review". Retrieved 2011-01-12. 
  4. ^ a b Lux Aurumque
  5. ^ Canadian TV April 2010. Accessed 2010-05-02
  6. ^ a b Steve Smith (June 16, 2010). "A Juggernaut Rolls Into Carnegie, Chorus in Tow". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-01-12. 
  7. ^ Audio interview with Whitacre - BBC 29 June 2008 Accessed 2010-07-14
  8. ^ Light & Gold's official webpage
  9. ^ Breaking: Hot composer joins model agency - Slipped disc
  10. ^ "Whitacre's Blog". 
  11. ^ Dennis Shrock (Mar 2009). Choral Repertoire. Oxford University Press (USA). p. 761. ISBN 978-0-19-532778-6. 
  12. ^ YouTube - Introduction to the Virtual Choir
  13. ^ Jon Niccum (April 9, 2010). "Net Worth: Viral choral video traces roots to Lawrence encounter". LJWorld. Retrieved 2011-01-12. 
  14. ^ Gramophone magazine, August 2010
  15. ^
  16. ^ [1]
  17. ^ [2]
  18. ^ Distinguished Concerts International New York
  19. ^ BCM International
  20. ^ Whitacre's own foreword to Sleep, Walton Music, 2002
  21. ^ full text of i thank You God for most this amazing day. ("most this" is not a typo.)
  22. ^ Back in My OLD Stompin’ Grounds – Blog – Eric Whitacre

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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