The hair, the singers

Eric Whitacre and his handpicked choir debut Wednesday at Verizon Hall.

Posted: March 21, 2013

When composer Eric Whitacre launched his East Coast tour Monday, he received such a rock-star greeting that he wondered whether he should have a stack of amplifiers and a mean-sounding Stratocaster. "I felt a little guilty," he says. "I wanted to have something to meet that young energy."

Instead, he conducted 30-plus singers in Monteverdi and his own trademark ethereal tones, which many listeners drove considerable distances to hear at the Strathmore concert hall near Baltimore.

The tour alights on Verizon Hall at 8 p.m. Wednesday, publicized mostly through Whitacre's vast social-media network.

The Nevada-born composer, 43, operates independently: Though he records exclusively for Decca and won a 2012 Grammy, he declines the usual publishing arrangements, conducts "virtual concerts" with singers following his lead over the Internet, and tours with his handpicked choir, renting halls rather than being presented by them.

The tour marks the U.S. debut of his Eric Whitacre Singers, formed in England (now his home base) out of his love for the British choral tradition. "There's this incredible clarity of tone, especially in women's voices . . . which in my close harmonies has laserlike effect that makes the chords shimmer," he said by phone from his tour bus on the New Jersey Turnpike, heading for Boston.

Though he writes instrumental works and is developing a pop opera titled Paradise Lost, choral music is his niche. It's wildly popular with high school and university choral organizations, which is one explanation for his young, Glee-like fan base.

"Or maybe it's just the hair," Whitacre jokes, referring to the blond mop that, along with the rest of him, consolidates his glamorous image and has won him some modeling gigs.

Long before the hair achieved fame, his local presence was solidified by a 2008 all-Whitacre program by Choral Arts Philadelphia featuring all of his most magical, descriptive pieces - Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine, Water Night, and Cloudburst - that grew out of a neo-tonal school led by Morten Lauridsen.

Whitacre gravitated there without great encouragement. While at the Juilliard School of Music, he was told to be more serious. His response: Godzilla Eats Las Vegas, a pastiche of sci-fi film cliches.

"It's a ridiculous piece," he says. "But that's generally how I navigate . . . when I'm told to be more this or more that."

Spoken like a virtual Philadelphian? Well, he loves this town, from its sports teams to Verizon Hall, which he visited when his soprano wife Hila Plitmann sang there.

What? Whitacre was here unnoticed? He need only cut his hair to blend in. Which he did recently.

But it grew back: "Rest assured, it's long. Now it'll probably all fall out."

Tickets: $54-$114. Information: 215-893-1999 or www.

Contact David Patrick Stearns at

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