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Eric Banks

Director

Eric Banks

Conductor, composer, instructor, vocalist, linguist, and ethnomusicologist, Eric Banks has garnered significant acclaim as one of the most creative and compelling choral directors in the United States - for his unwavering commitment to new music for unaccompanied voices. In 1992, Eric founded The Esoterics, a professional-caliber chamber chorus in Seattle whose mission is to perform and perpetuate contemporary choral music beyond the scope of the established a cappella canon. In 2004, Banks founded yet another group, the all-male vocal ensemble AEDONIS, whose mission is to perform choral music exclusively by gay and lesbian composers.

After completing his BA in Composition at Yale University in 1990, Eric relocated to Seattle to study in the departments of Choral Studies and Music Theory at the University of Washington. His MM thesis (1992) is a performance edition of Dixit Dominus by Chiara Margarita Cozzolani; his MA thesis (1995) is a postmodern analysis of Arvo Part's symphonic Credo; and his DMA dissertation (1996) surveys the choral music of Mexican composer and Aztec ethnomusicologist Carlos Chavez. In 1997, at the conclusion of his graduate study, Banks traveled to Sweden as a Fulbright Scholar and Lois Roth Fellow in order to learn more about its contemporary choral culture. While in Stockholm, Eric sang as a chorister and soloist with several ensembles, including the Swedish Radio Choir and the Eric Ericson Chamber Choir.

In his music, Eric is drawn to ideas that are 'esoteric' in origin, and chooses to express concepts that are undiscovered, under-represented, or not easily decipherable to a wider audience. As a composer, Banks has been able to combine his love of poetry, foreign language, classical civilization, comparative religion, and astronomy, to create a growing repertoire for a cappella chorus. His compositions include Celestial Wystan (2001, a triptych of poems by WH Auden), Onomata planeton (2002, intoning the moons in the solar system), Tabula siderum zodiaco (2002, mapping the stars of the zodiac), Javdani (2003, setting quatrains on the afterlife by Rumi), Sonetti d'amore (2005-2006, a cantata of Italian love sonnets by Michelangelo), and Twelve Qur'anic visions (2005-2007, a dreamscape of sacred verses in Arabic).

Eric's upcoming composition projects include: Saraswati (a Sanskrit mantra to the Hindu goddess of music), The seven creations (a choral opera based on the ancient chants and scriptures of the Persian cosmology), Shadows of love (a cycle setting the Greek verses of Constantine Cavafy), MCXL (a pacifist entry from the Notebook of Leonardo da Vinci), and Six love poems (after the American poetess Adrienne Rich). Banks' commissioned works have been recorded by The Esoterics or AEDONIS, and can be found on CDs released on the Terpsichore label. Eric is currently working on new commissions for Conspirare in Austin and the Kansas City Chorale.

Eric has taught music theory, musicianship, composition, and voice at Cornish College of the Arts since 2004. He has been a visiting scholar at the Royal Conservatory of Music and Swedish National Radio in Stockholm, as well as at the Cama Oriental Institute in Bombay, India. Eric has been awarded composition grants from the Cornish Faculty Development Fund, 4Culture, Seattle CityArtists, and recent fellowship by Artist Trust and the Washington State Arts Commission. Eric is a member of ASCAP, and serves on the editorial board for Cantemus, the biennial compendium of the International Federation of Choral Music. Eric lives in West Seattle with David Gellman, his partner of eleven years (who is also The Esoterics' graphic design guru), along with their perpetually vocalizing felines, Sapphire and Topaz.

Discography

Displaying 1-12 of 12 items.


Esoterics : Amore

Review: Named for the acient Greek word for "nightingale," AEDONIS is The Esoterics' fledgling men's ensemble. Their debut CD entitled AMORE features compositions by Franz Schubert, Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Camille Saint-Saens, and Samuel Barber. Also on this disc are Love letters, four Tatar folksongs arranged by Bern Herbolsheimer, Ngam sang duan, a Thai song arranged by Steven Sametz, as well as two new works by Donald Skirvin: Songs of the nightingale, and Yet, love endures, a cycle of four poems by Hart Crane. The final work of this disc is Eric Banks' cycle of seven sonnets that Michelangelo composed for his lover, Tomasso de' Cavalieri, entitled Sonneti d'amore.

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6020 00 1 CD $15.95


Esoterics : Antiphonia - Masterpieces for double chorus

Review: ANTIPHONIA captures the acclaimed program that The Esoterics reprised in Seattle, Portland, Tacoma and Everett in November 1999. ANTIPHONIA consists of six choral masterpieces, each from a different nationality - Swedish and Swiss, Finnish, and French, British and American - and each with a unique rendition of antiphony (from the Greek antiphon, "singing across"). The Seattle Post-Intelligencer deemed The Esoterics' performance of ANTIPHONIA a "triumph" and a program "as difficult as any have undertaken." The journal 21st Century Music praised the sound of the group as "sublime, pure, luxuriant, velvety ... The initial phrases gave me chills; it was as if angels were singing."

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6018 00 1 CD $15.95


Esoterics : Barber - Collected Choral Works

Review: This recording was made in conjunction with The Esoterics' centennial concert of the same name, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the American composer Samuel Barber. This is the first recording by an American choral ensemble to feature all of Barber's works for a cappella chorus. Barber is one of the most important figures in American composition, having twice won the Pulitzer Prize. Purchase your copy of this historic recording by one of the country's premiere vocal ensembles for contemporary choral music! This recording, made in the lush acoustics of Seattle's Holy Rosary Catholic Church, is the first recording to bring together God's grandeur and Motetto on words from the book of Job, which Barber had intended to be performed as a single cycle. Also included in this recording are three choral works that are normally performed with instruments (Easter chorale, A stopwatch and an ordnance map, and Sure on this shining night). For these three pieces, the ensemble sings the instrumental parts (for brass, timpani and piano) as well as the choral parts. This recording, directed by The Esoterics' Founding Director Eric Banks, is an excellent interpretation of Barber's neo-romantic style and was engineered using binaural recording technology.

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6009 00 1 CD $15.95


Esoterics : Beata - Songs to the blessed virgin

Review: The Esoterics' first CD, BEATA, celebrates the Virgin Mary as a symbol of purity and devotion, as well as an inspiration for centuries of music. Comprising eighteen compositions from nearly as many countries, this recording presents unaccompanied choral music about Mary from every continent and each decade of this century. This contemporary repertoire is interspersed with strophes of the sequence, O virga ac diadema, by the renowned medieval mystic, poet, and abbess, Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179). BEATA was originally performed and recorded in July 1997 (after our highly acclaimed performance of the same title) in a true-to-performance style, where each piece is heard as it was performed, and no gratuitous editing occurred during the mastering process.

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6019 00 1 CD $15.95


Esoterics : Elementia - The elements in their season

Review: ELEMENTIA, the third release from The Esoterics, is a double CD set that encompasses some of the best works from Season 2000. With more than two hours of music, ELEMENTIA features world premiere recordings by Northwest composers Donald Skirvin, Garrett Fisher, and David Asplin. Over the course of the year 2000, The Esoterics celebrated each of the four ancient elements from various vantage points, presenting the sounds and stories of different cultures - weaving music and mythology, science and sociology - to create a broader appreciation of EARTH, WATER, AIR, and FIRE. ELEMENTIA is a compilation of works from these concerts, with world premieres and 20th century classics. The repertoire spans continents and styles, with a range of new favorites and choral classics from Britten, Carter, Pizzetti, Stravinsky, Barber, and more. Kim Davenport of new-music.org said of the EARTH concert performed in Tacoma, "Seldom is one treated to a choral ensemble of such skill, with stunning balance, rhythmic precision, warmth of sound, a wonderfully broad dynamic range, and impeccable diction in every language sung."

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6017 00 1 CD $15.95


Esoterics : Immaginosa - American inspiration and the modern madrigal

Review: The Esoterics' fifth CD, IMMAGINOSA features premieres by William Hawley and Stephen Paulus and other pieces that represent springtime song cycles on love and life. Recorded after the IMMAGINOSA concert series in May 2004, this CD features several of The Esoterics' favorite cycles. Ross Lee Finney's Spherical madrigals resonates with the exploration and creativity of the Age of Reason, and Irving Fine's artful cycle of six Ben Jonson poems - The hour glass - traverses the evolution of love during the human lifetime. The second half of IMMAGINOSA will either put spring in your step or send you off into blissful dreams. First, revel in recordings of two premiere performances: Four reveries by New York composer William Hawley, followed by a spring madrigal, Now is the gentle season, by Minnesota composer Stephen Paulus. Next, enjoy two contrasting settings of Emily Dickinson by Elliott Carter - Heart not so heavy as mine and Musicians wrestle everywhere. Finally, immerse yourself in two cycles of spectacular strophes by Sara Teasdale: The winds of May by San Francisco composer Kirke Mechem, and Donald Skirvin's Alchemy, which was commissioned by The Esoterics.

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6015 00 1 CD $15.95


Esoterics : Mandala - Meditations on the wholeness of being

Review: From the Sanskrit word for 'circle' or 'completion,' the title of this recording refers to a wide variety of symbols that prevail throughout several spiritual traditions. In more contemporary Western society, the concept of the mandala is used to describe the personal world in which one lives: the activities and interests in which one partakes, as well as those with whom one chooses to associate. MANDALA: such an all encompassing word makes a fitting title for a recording (a CD is a circle, after all!) of choral music themed around meditations on the wholeness of being. Singing in a variety of Eastern languages, The Esoterics have given voice to meditations of several faiths and spiritual practices, including verses inspired by Sufism (by director Eric Banks), Hinduism (by Roger Nelson and Diane Thome), Taoism (by Linda Waterfall, Mark Adamo, and Stephen Paulus), and Buddhism (by John Muehleisen and Donald Skirvin). Each of these eight self-published choral meditations has been composed in the last 15 years, and seven of these were first premiered in concert by The Esoterics. With MANDALA, The Esoterics has taken another step in its mission: to create and perpetuate a cappella choral music that embraces and illuminates texts found outside the Judeo-Christian canon, and gives voice to poetry, philosophy, and spiritual writings from around the world.

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6012 00 1 CD $15.95


Esoterics : Notturna - Odes and airs for the ephemeral hours

Review: NOTTURNA, the title of The Esoterics' seventh CD recording, is the feminine form of the of Italian noun notturno, which refers to a musical composition that is inspired by the night, the "nocturne." A word employed by such diverse composers as Mozart, Chopin, Shostakovich, and Fine, nocturne first applied to 18th-century ensemble pieces in several movements; in the Romantic era, the nocturne evolved to its more familiar form, a single-movement work for piano. Olli Kortekangas' Three romances were performed by The Esoterics at the Harald Andersen International Choir Competition in Helsinki, Finland in September 2006. Lajos Vass Nocturne, the namesake of this recording, recounts the quiet ecstasy of Verlaine's moonlit midnight. The other four pieces on this CD were commissioned by the ensemble in 2001, and are intended to commend our celestial company of sun, moon, and stars - Asplin's Of a turning wheel turns to the ancient wisdom of the Upanishads and Vedas, Rumi, ibn Ezra, Ptolemy, and Tagore; Skirvin's ...stars to hold relies upon the star-gazing strophes of Sara Teasdale; Mantyjarvi's Kosijat echoes the folky flavor of the Finnish national epic, the Kanteletar; and Eric Banks' Celestial Wystan finds inspiration in the verses of WH Auden.

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6013 00 1 CD $15.95


Esoterics : Ourania - Dreams that reach across the heavens

Review: In OURANIA: Dreams that reach across the heavens, The Esoterics features eight choral works that explore the concept of 'the heavens.' Named for the Greek muse of astronomy, OURANIA ranges in scope from the precise calculations of science, to the lavish polyphony of late Romanticism, and the angelic inspiration of Biblical imagery - offering several perspectives on how we have come to understand the sun, moon, and stars. Included in this recording are Richard Strauss' 16-part choral tone poems Zwei Gesange (Two songs) (Op 34): Der abend (The evening), Friedrich von Schiller's description of Phaebus Apollo, whose chariot draws the sun to setting; and Hymne, Friedrich Ruckert's proclamations of celestial ecstasy, in which the heavens join Jacob as he celebrates the return of his prodigal son. Also featured on this recording are two works by The Esoterics' founder Eric Banks, and these highlight the intersection between the hard science of astronomy (Banks' course of study while at Yale) with music. In his Onomata planeton, a choral intonation of the planets and moons in the solar system, the score is based entirely on the comparative mass, velocity, and period of revolution of these heavenly bodies. Banks' second piece, Tabula siderum zodiaco, draws a similar parallel between music and astronomy, as he chorally maps the 928 stars of the zodiac, by superimposing the twelve constellations of the zodiac upon the twelve key signatures of the "circle of fifths."

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6010 00 1 CD $15.95


Esoterics : Penitentia - Ancient petitions for mercy and peace

Review: The Esoterics is proud to present PENITENTIA, its fourth CD that features works of the Lenten liturgy by Poulenc, Pizzetti, d'Hollander, Herbolsheimer, and more. Francis Poulenc's Quatre motets pour un temps du penitence and Bern Herbolsheimer's Seven last words depict the final moments of Christ's agony. As the cloak of night descends upon this Lenten vigil, Tre composizioni corali by Italian composer Ildebrando Pizzetti and Trois nocturnes by Belgian composer Geert d'Hollander remind us that oppression often inspires the most profound spiritual contemplation. One eloquent result of such reflection was Precatio pro pace, an ancient poem by Janus Pannonius set by the Hungarian composer Miklos Paszti. Another was the unparalleled Pro pace motets of South African composer John Joubert, who designed a triptych around the poems of three medieval mystics - Scottus, Vulgarius, and Abelard - each offering a personal plea for peace: a prayer for mercy from the universal destruction of the Black Death, a lament on the day mankind invented weaponry to harm itself, and an ode that recounts Christ's Passion and Resurrection as the triumph of non-violent protest and ultimate pacifist victory.

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6016 00 1 CD $15.95


Esoterics : Ru'ia - Sacred visions inspired by Islam

Review: The Esoterics proudly presents RU'IA, its ninth CD recording. Titled with an Arabic word meaning "dreams" or "visions," this is the first American choral CD inspired entirely by Islamic scripture and poetry. The repertoire includes: Mombasa matatu meditation by Vancouver composer Hussein Janmohamed - a choral cityscape wherein Muslim chant emerges from the morning din of urban Kenya; Bern Herbolsheimer's Kader kic (The night of destiny) - a setting of verses by Tatar poet Gabdulla Tukai about the holiest night in Ramadan; and the Islamic-inspired Priere by Dutch composer Ton de Leeuw. The centerpiece of this recording is a 50-minute a cappella choral dreamscape by The Esoterics' founder Eric Banks entitled Twelve Qur'anic visions. In addition to studying the Qur'an, Banks researched this piece during his extensive travel to India and Indonesia over the course of two years. The resulting work unveils the essence of Muslim faith, including visions of the creation, the beauty of nature, the wisdom of the prophets, the afterlife in Hell and Paradise, the injustice of aggression, and the path to peace. Banks was strongly motivated to write and record this piece to initiate listeners in the West to one of the most prevalent yet misunderstood religions in the world.

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6011 00 1 CD $15.95


Esoterics : Sonettaria - The triumph of iambic pentameter

Review: The first of two discs funded by a grant from the NEA, The Esoterics' sixth CD, SONETTARIA, presents fourteen settings of sonnets: a choral "sonnet of sonnets." Recorded after the SONETTO concert series in May 2006, this CD features six world premiere choral settings of Michelangelo, Rossetti, and Browning by Eric Banks, Lorri Kristin Frogget, and John Muehleisen. In addition, The Esoterics sings two sonnets of Petrarch by Lars John Werle, and five sonnets of Shakespeare by Paul Crabtree, Jaakko Mantyjarvi, and Dominick Argento. To complete this disc, the ensemble performs Three nocturnes by Carlos Chavez, and is joined by guest harpists Alexis Odell and Melissa Walsh to present Robert Moran's Notturno in Weiss.

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6014 00 1 CD $15.95

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