Last night was one of pure revelation. I had been invited to a mystery gig, at a mystery location, and although my innate sense of curiousity was roused – it wouldn't have been too much of a task to discern where and what I was most likely going to see – I managed to avoid the temptation of the internet search and the 'What's On' listing.
I'm so glad I did. Not until I crossed the threshold of Islington's Union Chapel did I discover I was at an Eric Whitacre concert. I'd already spotted UK poster-boy for choirs and community singing, Gareth Malone (he of the Military Wives Christmas single) in the queue ahead of me, so my expectations were tilting towards something choral. But, wow, what a find!
In the same way as the USA's Josh Groban has crossed over from classical/showtunes into the mainstream, so fellow American Whitacre is bringing the kind of densely-harmonic, multi-voiced arrangements you find in the work of Jonathan Harvey or, going back a few centuries, Thomas Tallis to bigger audiences. But, with a little more pizzazz and a lot more edge. (He doesn't 'alf look like footballer Robbie Savage.)
For last night's performance, the soaring voices of the 20-strong Eric Whitacre Singers were joined by Laura Mvula for four arrangements from her sublime Sing to the Moon album. Accordion player Ksenija Sidorova dazzled with her Piazzolla-style fluorishes, and YouTube sensation Marius Beck played his flipside cover of Wrecking Ball. Yeah, that Miley Cyrus tune ("Marius saved it..." quipped Whitacre). But above all, the talents of his singers, applied to these intricately crafted arrangements, and delivered in the acoustic deliciousness of the Union Chapel, left us open-mouthed. (All through an L-Acoustics KARA rig and a Midas PRO2, I think, but I wasn't looking that closely.)
My favourite moments were Whitacre's version of Hurt, which combines elements of Trent Reznor's original and Johnny Cash's cover; and the finale, an a cappella arrangement of Enjoy The Silence by the 'Peche. Both songs about heroin, as I pointed out to a rather shocked-looking server at the merch desk later.
Look out for Gareth Malone's next tour, featuring programme highlights of Golden Brown and The Needle and the Damage Done.
Dave Robinson, editor, PSNEurope