Proms 2012: Eric Whitacre – Higher, Faster, Stronger; Imogen Heap – The Listening Chair (World Premières)

by 5:4

Yesterday’s late night Prom focused on the USA’s most popular manufacturer of choral music, Eric Whitacre. Featuring his own choir joining forces with the BBC Singers and ensemblebash, the concert included two world premières, a new work of Whitacre’s own plus an arrangement by him of a new song by the UK’s most brilliantly eclectic chanteuse, Imogen Heap.

Whitacre studied with arch-traditionalist John Corigliano, gradually evolving a language that, despite commentators usually referencing Pärt and Gorecki, actually bears the most striking resemblance to the music of Morten Lauridsen (sometimes, indistinguishably), with a dollop of Karl Jenkins as well. For his new work Higher, Faster, Stronger, he adds large doses of Bernstein and Carl Orff (and perhaps even a whiff of Fitkin) into the mix, Whitacre dividing the singers into three groups which then overlap, collide and mingle with each other at breakneck speed, driven on by a ceaseless, tribal pulse. The text at each end of the piece is a combination of the title (taken from the Olympic motto) and a kind of faux-Grandmaster Flash scat, while a calmer central episode sets an ancient Greek text by Pindar (bizarrely translated into Latin). The words are rather lovely, but they lose any real sense of identity through the generic and saccharine treatment Whitacre gives them. Whitacre’s language has never significantly developed, and works like Higher, Faster, Stronger, peddling yet more of his trademark superimposed triads, lack the individuality that might bring them alive. For all its extravert noise and bustle, the piece felt dull, flat, predictable and irritating.

Imogen Heap’s new song The Listening Chair could not have been more different. She certainly has developed over the years, experiment building on experiment, taking the concept of ‘song’ to places few singers are inclined to go. The Listening Chair is episodic, each minute corresponding to seven years of life; the text—formulated through Heap’s experiences with her own ‘Listening Chair’ (an actual chair that travelled around and solicited responses from those who sat in it)—relates a plethora of ideas that emerge from one’s life-stages; they whirl past so quickly in the song that, on each listening, it’s only possible to grasp a sprinkling of them, but that in itself makes each listening that bit more revealing and unique. The music is clever and effective; on the one hand, there’s ever the sense that this is, first and foremost, a song—yet she explores a shifting palette of moods, sometimes opting for brash colour, elsewhere becoming lost in a reverie of nostalgic reflection. As one has come to expect from Imogen Heap, The Listening Chair is an absolute delight.


Eric Whitacre - Higher, Faster, Stronger
  • Loved it! (29%, 6 Votes)
  • Liked it (5%, 1 Votes)
  • Meh (5%, 1 Votes)
  • Disliked it (33%, 7 Votes)
  • Hated it! (29%, 6 Votes)

Total Voters: 21

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Programme note


Imogen Heap - The Listening Chair
  • Loved it! (31%, 5 Votes)
  • Liked it (19%, 3 Votes)
  • Meh (19%, 3 Votes)
  • Disliked it (31%, 5 Votes)
  • Hated it! (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 16

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Programme note

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