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James Whitbourn's Celestial Sounds


English composer James Whitbourn, born in 1963, is part of a new generation of musicians who are no longer bound to the notion that contemporary music needs to challenge the listener with difficulty.

His new CD is called Luminosity, and it includes the choral piece A Prayer of Desmond Tutu. Tutu himself speaks on the recording.

One of the most interesting aspects of this piece is the composer's combination of classical choral style with elements of African music, heard especially in the percussion.

But Whitbourn isn't stitching these styles together in some artificial attempt at multiculturalism. Instead, his combination of different styles flows naturally. I call this music "pancultural." The composer hears styles usually perceived as different as one broad tradition. Most important, the music sounds authentic, honest and not the least bit contrived.

"Luminosity" is the title work of the CD. At the outset, a musical drone creates an archaic sense of time in which the chorus sings. A solo viola plays throughout this work, inflected by the melodic style of the Indian sitar.

This album is extraordinary. It expands the experience of classical music beyond the edges of the traditional map of classical styles. The word "luminosity" describes the nature of celestial light, and the music of composer James Whitbourn is a celebration of that light -- peaceful, radiant and clear.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Tom Manoff
Composer and author Tom Manoff has been the classical music critic for NPR's All Things Considered since 1985.