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by Eric Ferreri

Renowned composer Eric Whitacre will lead an Oct. 27 Duke Chapel benefit concert that will also feature two university music ensembles and about 200 local high school students.

Whitacre, a Grammy-nominated composer and conductor, will conduct the Duke Wind Symphony and the Duke Chorale. Choir singers from six local high schools in Durham and Chapel Hill will join Whitacre and the two ensembles for the final two pieces of the evening.

The concert will be at 8 p.m. at Duke Chapel. Tickets are $25 each, or $10 for students. A third option: Attendees who pay $100 can attend a reception and meet Whitacre after the concert.

Proceeds will benefit the Wind Symphony and the Chorale.

Whitacre, 41, is both critically acclaimed and broadly popular. His compositions, while challenging, have struck a nerve with high school choirs, said Rodney Wynkoop, director of University Choral Music.

“Every time he comes out with a new piece, choirs across the U.S. just go gaga performing it,” Wynkoop said. “It’s beautiful, sumptuous music. A lot of the time, the challenge is getting kids interested in any other composers.”

Whitacre is coming to Duke at the invitation of the two ensembles and the Duke Music Department.

“It’s a rare treat to be able to work with not only the Duke University Chorale but the Wind Symphony, too,” Whitacre said. “Classes with young composers are incredibly exciting for me as I sometimes see glimpses of genius, so that will be a highlight.”

Whitacre has resonated with young people in part because he’s willing to engage people online. In 2009, Whitacre created his first of three “Virtual Choirs,” inviting fans to send him clips of themselves singing his songs. He mixed the clips together and unleashed the final product online; one version got more than 1 million YouTube hits in its first two months.

At Riverside High School, one of five Durham high schools whose choirs will participate, Choral Director Jill Boliek has some very excited singers on her hands.

“He’s a celebrity of choral music,” Boliek said. “His music is very, very popular. He’s young, and he looks like a rock star. For a composer to be that successful and well-known is fairly rare.”

Ticket information is available by calling (919) 684-4444 or at the Duke University Ticket Office website,