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Whitacre to Conduct 'Paradise Lost'

January 24, 2006 | by Judy Moore

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Eric Whitacre, a renowned American composer for choral and wind ensembles, will conduct two concert performances of his and librettist David Noroña’s new opera electronica “Paradise Lost” (Feb. 11 and 12) during his 12-day School of Music winter residency on Northwestern University’s Evanston campus.

The performances will provide audiences with a chance to experience an important new work in development for the Broadway stage.

“Paradise Lost” will be presented by the School of Music in collaboration with the University’s American Music Theatre Project (AMTP), a new initiative introduced in May 2005 by Northwestern’s School of Communication, that brings together the nation’s leading artists in music theatre to work with Northwestern’s faculty and students. (For more information on ATMP go to <www.amtp.northwestern.edu>.)

During Whitacre’s February visit, he also will be the guest conductor during the Feb. 5 Alice Millar Birthday Celebration at Alice Millar Chapel, in addition to meeting and working with music faculty and rehearsing with Northwestern music students. Two of his works will be performed during a Jan. 27 Northwestern University Symphonic Band concert at Pick-Staiger.

All of the following Evanston campus performances are open to the public.

Whitacre’s cutting-edge musical “Paradise Lost” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 11, and 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 12, at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall. Both productions will feature soprano Hila Plitmann, guest baritone Damon Kirsche and guest tenor Omar Gutierrez Crook, Northwestern’s Contemporary Music Ensemble, student soloists in lead roles and a chorus of up to 24 voices. Tickets are $5.50 to $12.

“Paradise Lost” tells the story of a fallen angel who follows her heart in a mythic battle to return to heaven. “Paradise Lost” is referred to as an “opera electronica” because it is a strange and beautiful hybrid of musical styles, combining opera, cinematic music and musical theater with the electronic sounds of trance (uplifting big riffs), techno (natural and machine-made sounds filtered through various computer programs) and ambient music (heavily processed tonal electronic drones and sparse, random notes).

The singers, trained in musical theatre and traditional operatic style, will be accompanied by a blend of electronica, world and orchestral instruments. Arias, choruses and recitatives flow seamlessly through a fast-paced English-language libretto.

Jerusalem-born soprano Hila Plitmann, who will sing the lead role of the angel Extasis, has become a familiar voice on the international music scene. She has performed with The New York Philharmonic, The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, The Israel Philharmonic, The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra in New York, The Cleveland Chamber Orchestra, The New Israeli Opera and numerous other orchestras and ensembles in the United States and abroad.

Baritone Damon Kirsche (the angel Logos), has appeared on Broadway in “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever,” “Ziegfeld Follies of 1936,” “Strike Up the Band” and “Sweet Adeline.” As a featured soloist he has appeared with the California Philharmonic, and in New York and Berlin in concert performances of Whitacre’s “Paradise Lost.”

Tenor Omar Gutierrez Crook (the angel Fervio) has appeared as a soloist on both the operatic and concert stage in venues throughout the world.

Cuban-American lyricist, actor and screenwriter David Noroña made his Broadway debut opposite Tony Award winning actors Nathan Lane and John Glover in “Love! Valour! Compassion!” He also has made many television appearances on shows that have included “Frasier,” “ER,” “NYPD Blue,” “Stark Raving Mad” and “Six Feet Under.”

Whitacre will be the guest conductor during the Alice Millar Birthday Concert at 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 5, in Alice Millar Chapel. More than 200 Northwestern student performers will collaborate with Whitacre in some of his most acclaimed works, including “Cloudburst,” “Water Night,” “Lux Aurumque,” “Sleep” and “Equus.” The concert will feature the Alice Millar Chapel Choir, University Chorale, University Singers, Symphonic Band and the Northwestern University Symphony Orchestra. The program will begin with Rossini’s “Stabat Mater,” for chorus, soloists and orchestra. Conductors Michael Anderson, Robert A. Harris and Ryan Nelson will also participate. Admission is free. A freewill offering will be collected.

“Eric Whitacre has established himself as one of the leading composers of his generation,” said Stephen Alltop, director of music for Northwestern’s Alice Millar Chapel. “Though still in his mid-30s, he is now among the most programmed composers of choral music and wind music in the United States and abroad. The opportunity to meet and work with him will be of tremendous interest and educational value to our students.” (For more information on composer Eric Whitacre go to <ericwhitacre.com>.)

Many of Whitacre’s works have become part of the standard choral and symphonic repertoires. Among his most popular works of the last decade are “Water Night,” “Cloudburst,” “Sleep, “Lux Aurumque” and  “A Boy and a Girl.” His “Ghost Train,” “Godzilla Eats Las Vegas” and “October” have achieved equal success in the symphonic wind community.  His published works have been performed thousands of times and have been sold worldwide.

The public will have another opportunity to hear two of his works when the Northwestern University Symphonic Band performs Whitacre’s “Sleep” and “Equus” at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 27, at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall. The program also will include Michael Colgrass’ “Artic Dreams” and will be conducted by School of Music faculty member Ryan Nelson. Tickets are $3.50 to $6.50.

Whitacre has conducted, performed or assisted more than 30 musical theater and operetta productions in the United States. He has served as chorus master for the Nevada Symphony Orchestra and as a guest conductor for the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, the Gregg Smith Singers and the Miami Children’s Chorus. He is currently composer-in-residence with the Pacific Chorale, based in Orange County, Calif. Whitacre also writes for films and received a 1999 Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Classical Crossover. His “Cloudburst,” for mixed chorus, piano, hand bells and percussion, received first prize in the American Chorale Directors Association’s “Composers of the Future” competition in 1993.

Pick-Staiger Concert Hall is located at 50 Arts Circle Drive. Alice Millar Chapel is at 1870 Sheridan Road. Both venues are on the Evanston campus.

To order tickets for these winter concerts, call the Pick-Staiger Ticket Office at (847) 467-4000 or go to <www.pickstaiger.com>.

Topics: Campus Life