Eric Whitacre is an American composer best known for his choral music. He has also written a large number of wind band compositions and some electronic music. In addition, he has composed works for orchestra and an opera, Paradise Lost: Shadows and Wings. His style is quite approachable and features trademark chords (sevenths and ninths, sometimes heard against a background of sustained seconds and fourths), unexpected chord progressions, aleatoric elements, finger snapping by choral singers, and a host of other typically recognizable characteristics. His soundworld, though modern and quite individual, is invested with certain elements out of the past, however: his orchestral version of Water Night, originally written for chorus, carries echoes of Barber’s famous Adagio for Strings, and some have compared Whitacre’s style to that of Morten Lauridsen. That said, Whitacre is among the most original American voices of his time. His music is widely performed, especially in the U.S., and recordings of his music, particularly his choral works, are available on Hyperion, Clarion, Albany, and many other labels.
Eric Whitacre was born in Reno, NE, on January 2, 1970. Though he showed interest in music in his youth, playing in the Douglas High School Band in Minden, NE, he did not begin advanced music studies until he entered the University of Nevada, where his most important teacher was noted Ukrainian composer Virko Baley. Whitacre also studied choral conducting there with David Weiller.
Whitacre earned his master’s degree at Juilliard, where he studied composition with David Diamond and John Corigliano. By the mid-’90s Whitacre’s choral music was already drawing attention: his 1992 Cloudburst and 1995 Water Night, to date his most popular composition, were rapidly gaining currency. His first recordings appeared in the late ’90s and by the turn-of-the-century, Whitacre, barely in his thirties, was internationally recognized as among the most important American composers. And it wasn’t just his choral works that were drawing attention: at the 2004 Eric Whitacre Wind Symphony Festival was established in Australia by the Sydney Opera House. Other Whitacre festivals would appear in Venice and Florence, beginning in 2007.
In 2006 the British label Hyperion released a highly acclaimed collection of Whitacre choral music that included Water Night and Cloudburst. More recordings followed, while a parallel stream of performances took place in the concert hall. Whitacre’s opera Paradise Lost was premiered in July 2007 in Pasadena, CA, at the Theatre at Boston Court.