Recently, I went to see The Music of Eric Whitacre at Lincoln Center’s David Geffen Hall. I had no idea who Eric Whitacre was, but since I knew Lincoln Center puts on some of the best shows in town, I jumped on the opportunity as soon as tickets became available on High 5.
And a great show it was indeed. Conducted by Eric Whitacre himself, the 400 person choir filled the hall with a rich tapestry of melodies ranging from Robert Frost-inspired compositions to arrangements of African American Spirituals. The skill and stamina of the choir, consisting of mostly high schoolers and college students, was astounding, especially given the 2 hour long concert and the visibly stifling heat on stage (one singer did actually faint on stage from heat exhaustion).
The program consisted of many short 3-6 minute pieces, with the Maestro introducing the backstory of each piece in between. His fusion of music and storytelling demonstrated how important it is to have the bedrock of a tangible story to accompany musical expression, allowing the audience to better internalize the music. With classical music, especially in highfalutin pieces that drag on for hours, one can easily lose the audience’s attention. Acting on this reality, Whitacre painted verbal pictures of his music in his transitional storytelling; images of a dark cloud rolling toward a densely populated riverbank, a father singing a lullaby for the 500th time to his sleeping son. Then, hearing the sound that accompanied the story, I could see how the two artistic domains fit, clicking like a lock in a key. His storytelling was masterful, engaging in conversation with the packed hall as if talking with a friend over a beer in a non-intimidating and very personal way.
Maestro Whitacre’s remarkable compositions, made up of seemingly simple and unpromising melodic phrases, blossomed into gripping phrases of musical poetry. His music dove deep into these simple phrases, exposing their full range of color while remaining audience-accessible. His ability as an ensemble leader was no less remarkable, non-verbally communicating warmth through his powerful presence on the podium that drew out the most beautiful sounds, a refreshingly surprising achievement from such young voices. He seemed to be attuned to each and every singer on stage, smiling at them at every measure. The positive energy he spread was returned in a sea of smiles and an unending flow of energy from the choir. The togetherness of ensemble and leader was apparent when one of the singers silently fainted in mid-song during the second half of the concert. Whitacre immediately noticed the troubled singer from among the 400 singers, and sensitively stopped the show to ensure her safety.
Whitacre’s art was not only in his music, but also in his physicality on the podium, sleek and graceful. He seemed to dance with his music, a dance embedded with all of his musical intentions of dynamics, style, and articulation. There was a feeling that even if I were to watch the concert without sound, the ebb and flow between Whitacre physicality and the Choir’s enthusiasm would be enough to capture my fascination for the entire length of the concert.
In retrospect, my experience was an example of the incredible impact the High 5 ticket program can have to open the eyes of a teenager, in a high quality and in-depth way, to the wonders of a specific discipline in the world of art.
Dvir and his sister at the performance