Our 2014 Holiday Show will feature two recent additions to the choral repertoire that have rapidly become favorites: Morten Lauridsen’s “O Nata Lux” (“Born of Light”) and Eric Whitacre’s “Lux Aurumque” (“Light and Gold”). These two composers, who came to prominence in the 1990s, embrace tonality but aren’t afraid of well-placed dissonance. Both show impressive skill at sound painting: pairing chords and phrases with the text to illustrate and vividly evoke the meaning of the words.
Lauridsen is the older of the two; he has taught at the University of Southern California since 1967, but maintains a home in the San Juan Islands in his native Pacific Northwest. He is one of the most-performed composers in America; three of his works, including “O Nata Lux,” are all-time best sellers among octavos distributed by the Theodore Presser Co. (in business since 1783!). His sacred choral settings have led musicologist Nick Strimple to dub him “the only American composer in history who can be called a mystic.”
As a teenager in Nevada, Eric Whitacre played in a techno-pop group, and dreamed of becoming a rock star. Fortunately for choirs everywhere, he sang in Mozart’s Requiem as a college student, which he describes as a life-changing experience. Now he composes instrumental and choral pieces that feature unconventional chord progressions and complex rhythms. Often his works for voice build from unison to dense harmonies, splitting and re-splitting the voice parts, before returning to unison.
As befits a man born in 1970, Eric Whitacre has fully embraced the potential of the internet and social media to spread his music, and taken it to new heights with his Virtual Choir projects. The idea of the Virtual Choir is simple: Whitacre chooses one of his pieces, and singers around the world upload videos of themselves singing a part in the piece. The videos are then mixed to form a massive single performance. The first Virtual Choir, featuring “Lux Aurumque,” drew 243 videos from 185 singers; the fourth and most recent “all ages” VC project received 8409 videos from 5905 singers and premiered at Queen Elizabeth’s 2013 coronation festival. In 2014, Whitacre also coordinated a “Virtual Youth Choir” with 2292 young singers from around the world, singing “What If” from his Paradise Lost (described as a music theater show “heavily inspired by and infused with the style of Japanese anime and manga…a powerful and visceral hybrid of musical theater, opera, electronica, film score and Asian drumming.”) Whitacre also maintains a large following on Facebook and Twitter, and has given TED talks. In many ways, he has realized his dream of becoming a rock star!