MUSIC REVIEW | Eric Whitacre charms Orchestra Hall with a Minnesota Orchestra and Chorale concert


An unusually age-diverse crowd filled Orchestra Hall for a Minnesota Orchestra and Chorale concert led by Eric Whitacre. The program featured works by the well-known choral composer, supplemented here and there with some of his own favorite pieces by other composers. Soprano soloist Hila Plitmann and cellist Anthony Ross rounded out the evening’s musical offerings.

Most of the crowd, especially the younger attendees, seemed to have come especially to see and hear Eric Whitacre, one of the most widely performed choral composers alive. The 44-year-old composer radiated warmth as he spoke about his music during the gaps between pieces, his trademark long blond locks bobbing during the passionate delivery. Laughter aside, the audience sat just as attentively for these introductions as they did for the performances.

The modified acoustics of Orchestra Hall have proven a great improvement for instrumental music, but as far as choral music goes there is still room for greater clarity. Of the opening selections, the crowd-pleasing “I Bought Me a Cat” by Copland brought peals of giggles with its barnyard calls, and “At the River” had appropriate gravitas and heft. The performance of Five Hebrew Love Songs was ethereally beautiful and enhanced by having its lyric writer and original soloist (Plitmann, now Whitacre’s wife) singing. Plitmann’s featured role in Samuel Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915 was excellent, but the piece itself seemed a little bit out of place in the program. The choral version of Whitacre’s Equus brought this first half to a strong close.

The program resumed after intermission with the orchestral version of Whitacre’s Water Night. Given the musical forces onstage, this would have been a brilliant opportunity to compare live performances of the SATB choral version of this piece with the orchestra-only version – but, alas, this was not to be. Water Night is only five minutes’ length, and would have easily born the repeat; the piece that followed, a piece by the late Polish composer Wojciech Kilar, Orawa, less so. Although Whitacre introduced the piece as a personally important and inspirational piece for him as a composer, the audience that had showed up principally to see and hear him and his works was somewhat lukewarm to the work.

The last pieces on the program were more rarely heard gems: Whitacre’s miniature cello concerto, The River Cam (played with heft and heart-strumming delivery by Anthony Ross), and two selections from Whitacre’s choral work in-progress, Songs of Immortality. These last two selections, loaded with intense emotion and the special vibrancy of new works, showed deeper aspects of the composer as a conductor, with intricate shapings and shadings not seen in the earlier pieces. This zest of music still being created and not yet fully fixed was something special indeed.

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