The Eric Whitacre Singers at Union Chapel
The atmospheric grandeur of the Union Chapel’s Victorian-gothic congregation hall was the most befitting setting for the unusual, and very beautiful, choral harmonies of the Eric Whitacre Singers on Monday night.
The event – Reimagine – saw Grammy-winning composer and conductor Eric Whitacre lead his choir in a series of original pieces by himself and other artists and musicians, a few of which made guest appearances. The pieces ranged from the sacral to the modern and even avant-garde arrangements, showcasing the bravura of the singers as well as the incredible versatility of the human voice.
Brit award-nominated singer Laura Mvula was the first guest to join him onstage, performing with the choir three songs – including the stand-out Green Garden – enthused with hypnotic tribal beats accentuated by Laura’s soulful lead vocals. Musician Ksenija Sidorova followed, whose skill on the accordian impressed Whitacre (as well as the audience) enough to warrant the praise from the conductor as having made it a “cool” instrument to play. She played solo for a while before accompanying the choir in the beautifully sombre Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening – a Robert Frost poem put to music by Whitacre.
Another memorable piece – Saint Chapelle – began with a Gregorian-style male chant before expanding to include the female voices, arranged to evoke the idea of sunlight penetrating the the Parisian chapel’s famous stained-glass windows. This piece led immediately into a musical version of Odi et Amo, Catullo’s well-known epigram, lightly accompanied by young Norwegian singer Marius Beck’s guitar. With the following silence of the choir, the starlet began a performance of his simple and simply beautiful acoustic song Wrecking Ball, which moved the audience to loud applause.
Another wow factor was supplied by Joby Burgess’ percussion, which exquisitely enhanced the music – hauntingly tribal at one moment and fantastically futuristic at another – by way of a host of unusual instruments, including toy bells and a so-called Canna Sonora. Whitacre’s choral version of Depeche Mode’s Enjoy the Silence featuring soprano Grace Davidson was the final piece to be performed before Laura Mvula returned to the stage to sum up the evening, leading the choir in crowd-pleasing gospel.
Whitacre is known for his blending of the old and new in a continual reinvention of a ancient musical genre. The evening was a token of the endless possibilities and surprising popularity of choir music.
Photos: Andrei Grosu
For further information and future events visit the Eric Whitacre Singers’ website here.
Watch an interview with Eric Whitacre on Saint Chapelle here: