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Eric Whitacre 'Decomposes' With Apollo Chorus At Northwestern

By Marielle Shaw in Arts & Entertainment on Feb 6, 2014 11:00PM

Photo of Eric Whitacre via his Facebook page
Tuesday may have brought an unwelcome snowstorm, but at Northwestern University’s Alice Millar Chapel, the sound of singing filled the chilly air. Chicago and its Apollo Chorus were in for a treat when Eric Whitacre blew into town for the night, conducting a workshop and Q&A for fans, singers and instrumentalists alike.

Tickets for the event were free, but they disappeared quickly, which was no surprise. For those unfamiliar with Whitacre, he’s a Grammy winning composer and conductor who is quickly becoming the new face of classical. His choral and symphonic compositions are richly layered, with huge dynamic contrast and complex chord structures. It’s beautiful music that’s rapidly becoming standard repertoire.

Whitacre, who’d previously done a residency at Northwestern, was back for the night for a two hour workshop, during which he fine-tuned the already superb Apollo Chorus in the beautiful "Lux Arumque." As a musician or an audience member, it’s always a special treat to see a composer conduct his own work. "Lux Arumque" was an extension of him, and his passion and enthusiasm for every detail was clear as he deconstructed and reconstructed it, providing us with a chance to hear the piece in its purest form.

During the evening’s Q&A portion, we were pleased to discover that Eric was as we suspected—a laid-back, funny and intelligent guy who loves what he does and wants to share it. After all, this is a man who presented a composition entitled “Godzilla Eats Las Vegas” to his jury at Juilliard. It’s that humor and diversion from what’s expected that make him unique in his field, and that comes through in everything that he does.

He shared his early dream of being a member of Depeche Mode, his obsessive nature with the pieces he’s working on (which right now includes a choral cover of Trent Reznor’s Hurt that we’re excited to hear), and the tonal changes in his work from an idyllic world-view to a more real place. At one point, he even ran over to the piano and had the entire crowd help him work out a little bit of a choral arrangement of the Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind?” that he’d been pondering, literally using us all as a test choir.

He also talked about music education, simply stating “Music makes better people” and talking about the risk of a systemic elimination of music education by a generation who didn’t have the privilege of a music education themselves. And Whitacre himself has done a lot to bring “classical” to the forefront. From TED Talks to Reddit AMAs, he’s all over the internet, erasing lines drawn between “formal” and “pop” music to create an all-around appreciation for music in every form. He’s also the mastermind behind Virtual Choir, a project that brings together singers from all over the world to form one massive, online world choir. Last year’s Virtual Choir 4 received 8.409 video submissions from 101 countries and previous iterations were even simulcast live from Lincoln Center. This year’s project is still in the works, with an announcement coming “soon.” We can’t wait to hear what’s next.