With his latest choral book, Water Night – The Collection, now released and available from Musicroom.com, we caught up with Eric Whitacre and asked him about his music, inspirations and what to look forward to for his BBC Proms debut.
How has your compositional voice and approach developed throughout your career?
I started my classical music career quite late and when I first started composing, I had no knowledge of theory or how to write music. I think this gave me the freedom to write music without boundaries and just follow my bliss and what sounded great to me. Many of my pieces are influenced by people and places, although I don’t always realize at the time. That said, recent pieces, such as Oculi Omnium and Alleluia have definitely been influenced by my time in London and Cambridge.
How did clusters become such a key element of your music and what sound or special qualities do you feel they give to your work?
I love the way that the human voice can sound so beautiful and consonant, when the music is full of dissonances. It’s unlike any other instrument. Occasionally I break up the clusters and stretch the dense chords over arpeggios. I’ve sort of fallen in love with the style and sound of these chords.
What can we expect from your BBC Proms debut? Do you have anything lined up that people may not be expecting?
I’m writing a new piece, ‘Higher, Faster, Stronger’ which is for the combined forces of the Eric Whitacre Singers and BBC Singers (56 singers in total) with percussion quartet ensemblebash. The choir will divide into 3 choirs and the piece is bursting with energy.
How has the success of the virtual choir affected your new work and approach to being a 21st century composer?
The Virtual Choir is an extraordinary thing. When I first started out, I had no idea it would grow to this size and reach. I love that technology can connect people of different ages and background and I try to think about that when I’m writing new pieces – looking outside the box and trying new ideas and techniques.
Your work and their accompanying choral books have inspired groups up and down the country to perform more ambitious and harmonically complex pieces. How do you feel about amateur choruses and professional groups performing your work?
It’s incredible. I feel so lucky and honored that people enjoy my music. It’s the greatest job in the world.
You’re currently undertaking a Visiting Fellowship at Cambridge University. What new experiences, inspirations and insights have you gained from your time there? How is working within the UK different?
There is such a sense of history with the British choral tradition, and hundreds of choirs performing each night across London. When I’m in Cambridge, I feel so inspired by the history, architecture and the idyllic banks of the River Cam.
When I lived there for a while and walked my son to his school each day along the banks, little fragments of a melody began forming in my mind and as the piece began to take form I realized I was writing a ‘pastoral piece’, undeniably British, with serious echoes of Elgar and Vaughan Williams. That piece was premiered by Julian Lloyd Webber at the Royal Festival Hall, London in 2011.
There’s no doubt that my time with David Skinner and the choir of Sidney Sussex College had a profound effect on my writing Oculi Omnium and Alleluia.
Thank you for your time and answers Eric. We can’t wait for your debut BBC Proms appearance on August 29.
Purchase Eric Whitacre’s Water Night – The Collection, Light & Gold, Eric Whitacre: The Collection and more Eric Whitacre songbooks and sheet music at Musicroom.com.