Out of the Shadows

Friday, 7 August 2020

Sing Gently: Eric Whitacre's latest Virtual Choir premiere

Eric Whitacre
Eric Whitacre
Eric Whitacre Sing Gently; Virtual Choir, Sam GLicklich, Eric Whitacre; YouTube

Guest review by Jill Barlow on 7 August 2020 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
Eric Whitacre’s largest virtual choir project to date—prevailing, gently, amidst Covid-19 Pandemic

Eric Whitacre’s Sing Gently premiered on 19 July 2020 on YouTube, with a virtual choir - with 17,572 singers from 129 different countries – each voice singing remotely, individually – miraculously blended into one harmonious whole electronically under the composer’s skilfully controlled baton.

The Covid-19 pandemic with the ensuing Lockdown has had a devastating effect on the Arts, with a pretty well complete ban on live performances across the spectrum in our hallowed concert halls and theatres nationwide. Hence, the Virtual Performance has entered its heyday, but American composer Eric Whitacre had already been engaged in Virtual Choir projects for the last 10 years from choice not necessity. BBC World Service radio drew my attention to their In the Studio arts programme broadcast recently (28 July 2020) presented by Emma Kingsley featuring an interview with Eric Whitacre who described how once having dipped his toe so to speak in this novel concept, which had been inspired by a video sent to him by a singer, he went from strength to strength including some of his virtual choir videos being featured as installations as part of the 2012 Olympics.

Originally having dreamed of becoming a pop star, Whitacre revealed to Emma Kingsley in his BBC Interview with her, that his direction changed to a more classical vein when he found himself perchance co-opted into singing in a local performance of Mozart’s Requiem and was completely overwhelmed by the famous Kyrie, having not met the work before, nor could he read music at that stage.
His whole approach to composition is defiantly individualistic, and particularly during the current Covid-19 climate  he likes to start with the words and then the music will follow: ’the better the poetry I  choose, the better the music I write ‘ seems to be his motto. Sing Gently he feels is his way of saying to the world ‘Sing as One'. He describes his ‘method’ as ‘to create the emotional architecture’ before a note of music is written.

Well what of his actual virtual-choir premiere Sing Gently on YouTube. Its entire duration is not much over 10 minutes, opening with a piano intro which introduces the emotive theme tune, slow almost lethargic in character oft repeated throughout by the choir, dominant piano, and string ensemble with little progression or development apart from a welcome strings interlude which makes for a rather repetitive whole. Overall, sure, one can but marvel at the amazing feat of synchronizing no less than 17,572 voices from 129 countries so apparently seamlessly, but now wouldn’t it be great if he could build on this achievement to develop a more varied and meaningful in-depth whole which would speak out with more impact to his captive audience worldwide, in his next foray into this virtual world with its limitless possibilities and endless boundaries -even into space itself ?

There’s a thought ----A future which doubtless other composers will explore to follow in his footsteps with ever widening success ---. This is but a BEGINNING --.
c Jill Barlow, 7 August 2020


Composer & conductor - Eric Whitacre
Pianist – Sam Glicklich (with background instrumental ensemble )
Collaborators – Colburn School, Namm Foundation
Produced by Music Productions
Album Sing Gently'

1 comment:

  1. Good to read Jill Barlow again. She describes the Over-All situation of the enterprise: the long-term situation behind the project as well as the achievement itself, involving thousands of performers. Ms Barlow points out the wonderful drawing together of throats and minds in a world which ever more demonstrates its divisions. She includes remarks of encouragement, for the listeners as well as for the creators. A good critical yet sensitive 'active' criticism.

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