Eric Whitacre
Light and Gold


4.5
superb

Review

by Tyler Fisher EMERITUS
October 26th, 2010 | 29 replies | 10,466 views


Release Date: 2010 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Eric Whitacre's presence on Light and Gold both as composer and conductor makes this the definitive album for Whitacre fans.

Eric Whitacre is the face of the classical music world in the 21st century. Ask anyone who participated in their high school choirs or bands in the last decade, and they will likely gush over the mention of his name. In his two-decade career as a classical composer, Whitacre has emerged as the preeminent modern voice in choral and wind band composition. Works such as “Cloudburst”, “October”, and “Lux Aurumque” have been some of the most widely performed works in the modern repertoire. The 40-year-old composer (think Justin Bieber for the classical world) also boasts dashing good looks, a virtuosic soprano of a wife, and a stunning natural musicality and confidence that allows him to conduct enormous ensembles with remarkably powerful interpersonal communication.

Indeed, it was his charisma that allowed him to create his Virtual Choir, a concept similar to Michael Tilson Thomas' YouTube Symphony Orchestra. He asked for singers to submit recordings of themselves singing a part to his choice of composition over YouTube, the most popular being their rendition of Lux Aurumque. They followed a video of him conducting the piece, and his team mixed the 185 tracks together to make a remarkable recording of his landmark composition. The video has reached over a million views. It is these endeavors that make Whitacre such a transcendent figure in the classical music world; he, unlike so many professional musicians, understands the need to embrace social media to reach the audiences that classical music once enjoyed.

Yet, his popularity roots itself in the quality of his compositions, widely performed by high school and university ensembles and regarded as some of the best work by composers of his generation. Next to internationally best-selling albums and Grammy nominations, Whitacre has received awards from countless professional composition associations, and his commissions are some of the most sought after in the world. This semester, he is a visiting fellow at Sidney Sussex College at Cambridge University.

Despite not premiering any new material, Light and Gold is an important album for Whitacre. It marks the beginning of a long relationship with Decca, the legendary record label, and also marks the first album featuring an ensemble that Whitacre conducted himself since 1997's The Music of Eric Whitacre, which largely features his wind ensemble work. Although countless other ensembles have recorded Whitacre's material, these interpretations should be seen as the standard, not only because of his presence on the album, but also because of the immeasurable quality of each recording. No other recording of “Lux Aurumque” achieves the same level of organic growth that Whitacre's ensemble so perfectly creates. Whitacre's power as a conductor can be felt as strongly as his presence as a composer.

Nevertheless, Whitacre does feature pieces that have never been professionally recorded, although he and other groups have performed them around the world for years. “Nox Aurumque”, “The Seal Lullaby”, and “The Stolen Child” all make debut appearances on the album, allowing Whitacre to set the standard for some of his newest pieces. While “The Seal Lullaby”, a departure from standard a capella fare with the addition of piano accompaniment and “The Stolen Child”, one of Whitacre's best recent a capella compositions, are both highlights on the album, “Nox Aurumque” is the worst performance on the album. Here, the sopranos overpower the ensemble, and Whitacre fails to provide a sense of the big picture, instead allowing the ensemble to meander throughout the piece. Indeed, his companion piece to the classic “Lux Aurumque” pales in comparison in terms of actual composition, and has come under criticism from many Whitacre fans.

The highlight of the album, however, is the second movement of Whitacre's tribute to e.e. cummings, Three Songs of Faith, entitled “hope, faith, life, love.” The composition uses the first and last four words of cummings' poem of the same title, and on each word, Whitacre quotes an older piece of his, thus forming a summarized statement of his a capella work. While the piece has been performed and recorded widely, Whitacre manipulates his ensemble for a mesmerizing performance of the piece, achieved through remarkable dynamic and textural contrast between each word. On the last word, “soul”, Whitacre quotes the first and third movements of the same set of songs by repeating the word in two extended melismatic sections. Between the two sections, Whitacre allows for a two second silence that establishes a necessary break between one of the loudest, highest sections of the piece and perhaps the most sublime, subdued section of the album. New Whitacre listeners could find no better summary of his work than this short movement.

Critics of Whitacre will cite that as his very problem. He has a definitive, instantly recognizable style. Music theorists have named chords after him (namely, his use of the major second and perfect fourth in a root position triad), and admittedly, his compositional style does not vary much among his a capella work. Yet, just as The Tallest Man on Earth may sing with that same warbly voice, use the same open chord tunings, and use very similar fingerpicking and strumming styles across his work, Whitacre composes as no one else can. No other modern composer has such a distinctive harmonic language, and Whitacre combines that strength with a remarkable sense of soaring melodicism. As the beginning of a long contract with Decca, Light and Gold marks the impressive beginning to what should be a fruitful career, one that may create the most successful classical albums of the young century.



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user ratings (18)
Chart.
3.6
great
other reviews of this album
Daniel Smith (4)
Words cannot define the products of Eric Whitacre’s fierce imagination, for they define themselves...


Comments:Add a Comment 
Zizzer
October 26th 2010



915 Comments


I'm glad to see a staff review of this. I really liked this album, and learned a lot about Whitacre from the introduction. Nice job.

I really like this version of Sleep too.

Spare
October 26th 2010



5250 Comments


god damn need to get this

Digging: Radiator Hospital - Torch Song

Lucid
Contributing Reviewer
October 27th 2010



7018 Comments


Would this be a good starting point for Whitacre? Never heard his stuff before.

Digging: Braid - No Coast

Electric City
Staff Reviewer
October 27th 2010



15727 Comments


i dont know how i feel about this one yet. Cloudburst is essentially the same thing but has better songs

Digging: A Sunny Day In Glasgow - Sea When Absent

liledman
October 27th 2010



3826 Comments


still need to get this

bears
October 27th 2010



106 Comments


i just dont know how to get into this kind of music...

Electric City
Staff Reviewer
October 27th 2010



15727 Comments


i mean having a soul is a start

liledman
October 27th 2010



3826 Comments


ears is the next step

StreetlightRock
Emeritus
October 27th 2010



3760 Comments


This sounds mindblowing, just checked out a couple of the youtube videos.

Digging: Towers - Bel Air Highrise Plantation

liledman
October 27th 2010



3826 Comments


the vid of him conducting cloudburst is awesome

StreetlightRock
Emeritus
October 27th 2010



3760 Comments


Hell yeah.

thebhoy
Emeritus
October 27th 2010



4459 Comments


damn I need to get this still too

BigTuna
October 27th 2010



5154 Comments


I would listen to this and then rate it but honestly I don't know NEAR enough about choral music to rate this fairly. It'd be like "this is pretty!!" 4

Digging: Common - Nobody's Smiling

FlawedPerfection
Emeritus
October 27th 2010



2806 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I think a lot of these versions are better than the Cloudburst versions, especially Lux Aurumque and Sleep. The second half of this album is pretty much perfect aside from Nox Aurumque.

TheGreatFedora
October 27th 2010



116 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Played Lux, Sleep, and October in high school band. Can't wait to get this.

Phideaux
October 27th 2010



1653 Comments


^ I played Sleep in high school band too. We had our choir do it with us and it was totally bad ass. Very good song. It has very interesting chords that are fun to play.

Gyromania
October 27th 2010



15173 Comments


"Sleep" is at least five times better on Cloudburst. I fell in love with this album so quickly. It's a shame that most people on Sputnik won't look into it.

DiceMan
October 27th 2010



7068 Comments


According to also liked, I'd really like this.

elephantREVOLUTION
October 27th 2010



2731 Comments


i want to listen to this so bad.

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
October 27th 2010



14983 Comments


oh great the third "definitive" whitacre album in a row


i have cloudburst, sticking with that



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