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 has a presence on Facebook (the ever changing profile picture is particularly entertaining), Wikipedia, and his very own website at EricWhitacre.com.

Whitacre wrote Godzilla Eats Las Vegas! in 1996 for Tom Leslie and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas Wind Symphony. At the time, he had just finished his bachelor’s degree there and was beginning masters study at Juilliard. His program notes, from his website, tell the whole story (some links added by me):

It took me seven years to get my bachelor’s degree from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. By the time I graduated I was ready to eat Las Vegas.

Tom Leslie asked me to write another piece for the group as I was leaving, and I thought it would be a blast to do something completely ridiculous. The players are called upon to scream in terror, dress like Elvises (Elvi), and play in about thirty different styles from mambo to cheesy lounge music. The audience follows a ‘script’ that I wrote simulating a campy, over the top Godzilla movie (is there any other kind?).

I wrote the bulk of the piece while in my first year at Juilliard, and no kidding, I used to act out the script every morning devouring animal crackers, wreaking havoc all over the breakfast table. The ‘script’ was originally twice as long, and had an entire subplot devoted to a young scientist and his love interest. As I started to finish the piece, however, it didn’t seem that funny and that story (along with an extended Elvis tribute) ended up on the cutting room floor.

The idea that this piece is being played all over the world in such serious concert venues is the single funniest thing I have ever heard. It has been played on the steps of the Capitol by the United States Marine Band, by the Scottish National Wind Symphony (they play in kilts, so help me God), and I have a video of a Japanese audience visibly confused and shaken by the whole experience. Can you imagine? I’m laughing my head off even as I write this!

Godzilla Eats Las Vegas! was commissioned by the University of Nevada Las Vegas, Thomas G. Leslie, conductor, and received its premiere November 28th, 1996.

The performers are encouraged to go crazy: wear showgirl costumes, Elvis costumes, act out scenes on stage, use video and lighting – anything to get a laugh.

Here is the original version played by an unnamed wind band:

And here is an updated version for orchestra and choir. This video is especially instructive for us, since Whitacre himself conducts:

Stylistically, Godzilla Eats Las Vegas covers an immense amount of ground, touching on many of the popular styles of the mid-20th century and quoting several famous pieces of music associated with Vegas regulars. The basic style is symphonic jazz, exemplified by this Las Vegas tourism video from 1966:

Of course, Godzilla is the big bad guy. Here is a look at some of his best movies, spanning four decades:

Because Godzilla is Japanese, his arrival in Las Vegas is foreshadowed by the shakuhachi, a Japanese bamboo flute:

Godzilla’s first famous victim is Frank Sinatra, who is singing one of his signature songs, “New York, New York“:

The big monster next stomps on Wayne Newton, who famously sang “Danke Schoen“:

Godzilla next goes after Liberace, who was famous for his piano virtuosity and flamboyant outfits:

Only Elvis (or, as Whitacre requests, “a fearless army of Elvises (Elvi)”) can save the day. Whitacre creates a march from the tune of “Love Me Tender,” one of Elvis’s breakout hits. This performance, from 1970, showcases some of his great talent, but also shows us his huge popularity (particularly among women) and his iconic Vegas-era style:

We also get snippets of “Viva Las Vegas“:

And “Heartbreak Hotel“:

Whitacre also includes some traditional tango:

and a little nod to Middle Eastern music:

Finally, for those who really want to know everything about this piece, here is the script, reproduced (again) from Whitacre’s website (again with some links added by me):

Part One

FADE UP
It is a Bright and Sunny day as the sequined curtain rises on tinsel town, and the excitement of a new day filled with the possibility of The Big Payoff is practically palpable. The band kicks off the show in high gear and all is well as we suddenly hear:

CUT TO DESERT
A lone shakuhachi flute usher the arrival of something really VERY bad.

CUT BACK TO BAND
A relaxed rhumba. showgirls blissfully jiggle.

CUT TO MILITARY COMMAND CENTER (stock footage)
Morse code signals the confirmation of approaching doom.

CUT BACK TO BAND
The players finish off their third set and head for the bar; outside we hear:

SLOW ZOOM
Oh no, oh no, oh no, it’s:

CLOSE UP
Godzilla! Glorious Godzilla!

VARIOUS QUICK CUTS (stock footage)
Godzilla destroys cars, screaming tourists, ect.

CUT BACK TO BAND
The band, quasi Greek Chorus, calls for Godzilla to Mambo.

GODZILLA, FULL FRAME
Godzilla mambos, casually crushing hysterical Vegans without missing a step.

EXTREME CLOSE UP
A tiny terrier barking bravely, then:

CUT BACK TO GODZILLA
Demolishing everything in his path… not even the doggie escapes!

WIDE PAN
As Godzilla heads down the strip, searching relentlessly for:

CLOSE UP (stock footage)
Frank Sinatra (Stomped!)

CLOSE UP (stock footage)
Wayne Newton (Stamped!)

CLOSE UP (stock footage)
Liberace (Stepped upon!)

VARIOUS CUTS
The Village Gods destroyed, Godzilla continues his carnage until the City of Sin is leveled!

Part Two

FADE UP
A fearless army of Elvises (Elvi) appear in the distance, formation marching through the littered streets

VARIOUS CLOSE UPS
The Elvi attack, using bombers, missiles, ect.

EXTREME CLOSE UP
One wicked laugh from Godzilla and the Elvi scatter like mice!

QUICK CUT (stock footage)
The Sphinx sits outside The Luxor, looking seductive in a Mae West sort of way.

CLOSE UP
Godzilla takes one look and his eyes pop out of his head.

QUICK CUTS
The Sphinx (Sphinxtress?) seduces the Reptile, who instantly falls in love and begins to…

WIDE SHOT
…tango with her.

SPLIT SCREEN
As they dance, the Elvi slowly regroup and head for the:

QUICK CUT (stock footage)
Pirate ships at Treasure Island

ACTION SEQUENCE (MONTAGE)
The Elvi approach the dancing monster and launch a ferocious volley of cannonballs directly at him.

QUICK CLOSE UPS
The cannonballs find their mark, and Godzilla:

WIDE SHOT
Falls to the ground, annihilated. The Elvi are triumphant!

CROSSFADE
The lounge is open again, and the city of Las Vegas toasts the victory. The scene climaxes with:

VARIOUS CUTS (stock footage)
People happy, tearful, ect. Stock footage, stock music.

SLOW FADE OUT AND FADE UP
A dark, ominous, and very familiar sound…

SLOW ZOOM
Godzilla lives! Godzilla lives! Complete terror (possible sequel?).

WIDE SHOT
The Show is over. The End.

FADE TO BLACK