Eric Whitacre (b. 1970) is one of the most-performed composers of his generation. He studied composition at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and the Juilliard School with notable composers including John Corigliano and David Diamond. His choral works and band works have rapidly become accepted in the repertoire due to their strong appeal to audiences and players alike. In addition to composing, Whitacre tours the world as a conductor of his own works, both choral (often with his Eric Whitacre Singers) and instrumental, and those of others. He has also organized a series of groundbreaking Virtual Choirs.
Whitacre is quite web-savvy, with presence on Facebook (the ever changing profile picture is particularly entertaining), WikiMusicGuide (better than Wikipedia in this case), and his very own website at EricWhitacre.com.
Equus first came into being as a wind band piece, finished in 2000 and premiered that same year by the University of Miami Wind Ensemble under Gary Green. Its difficulty lies in the overlay of several different rhythms, many of which defy the piece’s metric structure. Whitacre tells its origin story as follows (from his website and the piece’s score):
At the Midwest Band and Orchestra convention in 1996, Gary Green approached me about a possible commission for his wind ensemble at the University of Miami. I accepted, and the commission formally began July 1st, 1997. Two years later I still couldn’t show him a single note.
That’s not to say I hadn’t written anything. On the contrary, I had about 100 pages of material for three different pieces, but I wanted to give Gary something very special and just couldn’t find that perfect spark.
Around this time my great friend and fellow Juilliard composer Steven Bryant was visiting me in Los Angeles, and as I had just bought a new computer I was throwing out old sequencer files, most of them sketches and improvisational ideas. As I played one section Steve dashed into the room and the following conversation ensued:
Steve: “What the hell was that!?!”
Me: “Just an old idea I’m about to trash.”
Steve: “Mark my words, If you don’t use that I’m stealing it.”
The gauntlet had been thrown.
That was the spark, but it took me a full eight months to write the piece. There are a LOT of notes, and I put every one on paper (with pencil). I wanted to write a moto perpetuo, a piece that starts running and never stops (‘equus’ is the Latin word for horse) and would also be a virtuosic show piece for winds. The final result is something that I call “dynamic minimalism,” which basically means that I love to employ repetitive patterns as long as they don’t get boring. We finally premiered the piece in March 2000, nearly three years after the original commission date, and the University of Miami Wind Ensemble played the bejeezus out of it.
Equus is dedicated to my friend Gary Green, the most passionate and patient conductor I know.
Here it is in its original version:
Whitacre later (2014) added choral parts to go with the band version, in addition to creating an orchestra transcription (2011). Below is the band and choir version (see his website for more details):
You’ll find everything else you’ve ever wanted to know about Equus in this dissertation from the University of Miami.