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Classical 101

A New Recording of Composer Eric Whitacre's "What If"

HAS AUDIO PIECE   I ran across a recording of Eric Whitacre and David Noroña's What If today. [caption id="" align="alignright" width="157" caption="Eric Whitacre"]

[/caption] If you don't know who Eric Whitacre is, he's quite possibly the hottest composer of choral music living today.  (Here's a link to his blog.)  His music reflects many influences, including Monteverdi (textual sensitivity) and Morten Lauridsen (harmonic language, use of the choral "instrument"), in stunningly beautiful works on a gamut of subjects.  Actor David Noroña, known for his work as Scott Garcia on television's Inconceivable, co-composed with Whitacre What If and four other songs for his independent film Alligator Alley (2000). No wonder What If sounds like popular music.  It is.  It's not strange that someone of this day and age, and especially someone of Whitacre's generation (my own generation, as he’s in his 30s), would have popular music in his ear.  Indeed, in addition to his classical works, Whitacre has composed (also with Noroña) a musical, Paradise Lost, with a fantasy storyline and anime-influenced staging.  But as WOSU’s music director Beverley Ervine put it, it is "a little bit of a departure" for him and for the "classical" choral music world.  And it was quite refreshing to hear the piece—with its energetic, pop-sounding percussion—on the most recent recording (A Company of Voices) of the Austin-based choral ensemble Conspirare.  Listen: [audio:whitacre_what_if_conspirare3.mp3] As in his other music, Whitacre doesn’t just set the text in What If, he sets it in motion.  He gives the poem—a dialogue between a non-parenthetical voice and a parenthetical voice—its own conversational momentum.  An excerpt from the text: You’re hiding, surviving You’re stubborn, too. (True.) And you’re frightened not knowing your heart. (And you?) I’m trying to question, the answer’s near (Where?) Here. Whitacre gives each of these voices expression through varying divisions of the chorus, creating here, with the drum set, xylophone and metalophone, kaleidoscopic tone coloring that permeates his "classical" choral works. I personally enjoy the full gamut of popular music.  But much of it is like what they say about Chinese food: tastes great, but you’re hungry an hour later.  With What If Whitacre and Noroña have composed something that is toe-tappingly fun and also gorgeous and interesting.  Does it sound like movie music? Yes—especially near the end, and no—if by "movie music" you mean John Williams' Wagner-inspired scores.  But What If does have that uplifting feel that, let's face it, is Hollywood's chief commodity.  It's sound-good and feel-good music.  And isn’t that what we want from most things musical? --Jennifer Hambrick