As a composer, conductor, translator, vocalist, linguist, and ethnomusicologist, Eric Banks has garnered international acclaim as one of the most creative choral musicians in the United States – for his unwavering commitment to music for unaccompanied voices. Hailing from Roscoe, a small town in upstate New York, Eric completed his BA in Music at Yale University (1990), where he studied with Fenno Heath and Marguerite Brooks, and received the Vernon Prize in Composition. Eric then relocated to Seattle for graduate study at the University of Washington with Julian Patrick, Jonathan Bernard, and Abraham Kaplan, and received both Brechemin and Boeing Scholarships.
Eric’s MM thesis in Choral Studies (1992) is a performance edition of the Dixit Dominus by Chiara Margarita Cozzolani; his MA thesis in Music Theory (1995) is a postmodern analysis of Arvo Pärt’s symphonic Credo; and his DMA dissertation in Choral Studies (1996) surveys the choral music of Mexican composer and Aztec ethnomusicologist Carlos Chávez. In 1997, at the conclusion of his graduate study, Banks was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship and Lois Roth Fellowship to study Swedish contemporary choral culture. While in Stockholm, Eric sang as a soloist and chorister with several groups, including the Swedish Radio Choir and the Eric Ericson Chamber Choir.
In 1992, while still in graduate school, Banks founded the professional-caliber chamber chorus, The Esoterics. Now celebrating its twentieth season under Banks’ direction, Seattle’s most innovative chorus has drawn international praise for performing rarely-heard compositions of contemporary music for unaccompanied voices, for infusing elements of the literary, theatrical, and visual arts into the typical concert experience, and for performing settings of poetry, philosophy, and spiritual writings from around the world. The Esoterics has performed over 300 concerts throughout the Pacific Northwest, has commissioned and premiered over 150 new works for a cappella voices in dozens of languages, and has mastered many of the most virtuosic choral works of the last century.
The Esoterics has also released twenty CD recordings, and has been honored as the only North American chorus invited to compete in the 2000 Cork International Choral Festival (Ireland), the 2001 Certamen Coral de Tolosa (Spain), and the 2006 Andersén International Choir Competition in Helsinki (Finland). In 2011, The Esoterics and Banks were honored to perform Richard Strauss’ inimitable 24-part Deutsche Motette at the National Convention of the American Choral Directors Association in Chicago’s Orchestra Hall. In recognition for his choral innovation, Banks and The Esoterics have been honored four times with the ASCAP/Chorus America Award for the Adventurous Programming of Contemporary Music (in 2001, 2003, 2006, and 2008).
In his music, Eric is drawn to ideas that are more ‘esoteric’ in origin, and chooses to express and elucidate concepts that have been undiscovered, under-represented, or are not easily decipherable by a wider audience. As a composer, Banks has harnessed his passions for poetry, foreign language, classical civilization, comparative religion, social justice, and the history of science – to create choral works that reach far beyond the scope of the established a cappella canon. His recent works have explored the sacred texts and singing traditions of other cultures, climate change statistics, the mapping of trees, flowers, clouds, and stars, the murder of a journalist, the suicide of a friend, and verses by pre-gay and pre-lesbian poets. As a composer and choral scholar, Eric has been awarded several grants, from the Arch and Bruce Brown Foundation (2005), 4Culture (since 1999), Seattle City Artists (2007, 2010), the San Francisco Arts Commission (2011), New Music USA’s Composer Assistance Program (2012), a composer’s fellowship from Artist Trust and Washington State Arts Commission (2007), and several ASCAP Plus Awards.
Together with The Esoterics, Eric Banks has received grants the National Endowment for the Arts, to compose, produce, and record two concert-length works – Twelve Qur’anic visions (2005-2007), and The seven creations (2007-2010). In these works, Eric set melodies that he found doing field research on separate trips to Indonesia and India, including the Arabic tajwid (Islamic Qur’anic chants), and the Persian gathas (ancient Zoroastrian hymns). Eric’s third NEA grant was to compose I will remember everything, a concert-length “lyric biography” of Sophia Parnok, Russia’s first openly-lesbian poet, for the Bay-area women’s octet, Kitka. In 2008, Banks presented the paper Contemporary American Choral Music Inspired by Islam at the Aswatuna conference of Arab choral music in Petra, Jordan. As Fulbright Fellow, Eric was a visiting scholar at the Royal Conservatory of Music and Swedish National Radio in Stockholm (1997-1998). While studying in India, Eric was a resident scholar at the Cama Oriental Institute in Bombay (2006-2007).
In 2010, Eric was granted the prestigious Dale Warland Singers Commission Award from Chorus America and the American Composers Forum to compose a concert-length choral cycle, This delicate universe, for Conspirare in Austin. In 2011, Eric was awarded Conductor of the year from the Washington State chapter of the American Choral Directors Association: for his ground-breaking work with The Esoterics over the last two decades. In May of 2013, Eric was featured in “13 for ’13,” a collaborative article between the Seattle Times and KUOW-FM that features 13 artists who have had an impact in Seattle and are “poised to shape the cultural landscape in the decade to come.” In 2013, Eric was honored to serve as the North American judge for the inaugural Andrea O. Veneracion International Choral Competition in Manila. In 2015, he served as an adjudicator for the Florilège Vocal de Tours and the European Grand Prix of Choral Music.
In 2012, Eric completed Approaching ecstasy, a concert-length ballet for double chorus, string quartet and harp, based on the “tryst poetry” of the Greek-Egyptian poet Constantine Cavafy; this ballet was premiered by The Esoterics and the Seattle dance collective Whim W’Him to great critical acclaim. In 2013, Eric completed Our earth, a series of three chamber operas on Pacific Northwest native ecosystems for Seattle Opera; these were remounted by Seattle Symphony in 2014. In 2015, he completed The opposite of falling, his first work for wind symphony for the Rainbow City Band. Eric has been commissioned by the Atlanta Young Singers, the Boston Children’s Chorus, Clerestory, Conspirare, Kitka, the Northwest Girlchoir, the Seattle Men’s Chorus, the Philippine Madrigal Singers, the Singapore Youth Ensemble Singers, the Vancouver Men’s Chorus, and the Verge Ensemble (Washington DC); his upcoming commissions include works for Cantori New York, Volti, and the Yale Alumni Chorus.