The 57th Annual Stairway of the Stars concert events, which spotlight the talents of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District’s (SMMUSD) music students and teachers and highlight the district’s music curriculum, are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, March 16th and 17th, at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, 1855 Main St., Santa Monica.

This year’s guest conductor is Eric Whitacre, a composer, conductor and lecturer widely praised for his choral compositions.

Though he had received no formal training before the age of 18, Whitacre says his first experiences singing in a college choir changed his life, and he completed his first concert work, Go, Lovely, Rose, at the age of 21. Whitacre went on to the Juilliard School, earning his Master of Music degree and studying with Pulitzer Prize- and Oscar-winning composer John Corigliano.

Many of Whitacre’s works have entered choral and symphonic repertories and have become the subject of several recent scholarly works and doctoral dissertations. His works Water Night, Cloudburst, Sleep, Lux Aurumque and A Boy and a Girl are considered to be among the most popular choral works of the last decade, and his Ghost Train, Godzilla Eats Las Vegas, and October have achieved equal success in the symphonic wind community, according to a school district spokesman, who adds that Whitacre’s published works have been performed thousands of times and have sold some 350,000 copies worldwide.

As a conductor, Whitacre has appeared with professional and educational ensembles throughout the world. In the last ten years he has conducted concerts of his choral and symphonic music in Japan, Australia, China, Singapore and much of Europe, as well as dozens of American universities and colleges where he regularly conducts seminars and lectures with young musicians, according to the spokesman.

Most recently, Whitacre has received acclaim for Paradise Lost, a musical combining trance, ambient and techno electronica with choral, cinematic, and operatic traditions. Paradise Lost won the Richard Rodgers Award for most promising musical theater composer. Whitacre has also won the ASCAP Harold Arlen award.

Whitacre has received composition awards from the Barlow International Composition Competition, the American Choral Directors Association and the American Composers Forum. His first recording, The Music of Eric Whitacre, was hailed by The American Record Guide as one of the top ten classical albums of 1997. In 2001, he became the youngest recipient ever awarded the coveted Raymond C. Brock commission by the American Choral Directors Association, according to the spokesman. His music has been featured on dozens of commercial and independent recordings, and a full collection of his a cappella music will be released by the Hyperion label in spring 2006.

Whitacre lives in Los Angeles with his wife, soprano Hila Plitmann, and their son.

This year’s event will include a posthumous award presented in honor of Dr. Neil Schmidt, a former superintendent of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District. The music faculty and visual and performing arts coordinator decided to honor the support they received during his leadership in the district from 1992-2001. Schmidt was considered very supportive of music education, and was also credited for improvement in academic achievement scores, a large grant from the Annenberg Foundation and helping to pass a $75 million building bond during his tenure, according to the district. Schmidt was a member of a number of community support organizations including Santa Monica Rotary Club, Boys and Girls Club of Santa Monica and the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce. Schmidt also served as a member of the State Department of Education’s Fine Arts Task Force.

Before coming to Santa Monica-Malibu, Schmidt served as superintendent for the Lodi Unified School District (1987-1991), Fillmore Unified (1982-1987) and Live Oak School District (1979-1982). Soon after retiring from the Santa Monica-Malibu district, Schmidt served as the interim superintendent for the Conejo Valley school district. He also worked in Fillmore on the successful passage of School Bond Measure E in November 2004.

Schmidt died in December of 2005 and is survived by his wife, Julie, and his two daughters, Corrie and Sarah. Julie Schmidt will accept the award in honor of her husband on both nights of the “Stairway of the Stars” performance.

The ensembles that will perform this year’s Stairway of the Stars concert are the All-District Honor Orchestra (elementary), High School Jazz Ensemble, middle and high school orchestras, bands and the middle and high school choirs. Some of the musical selections scheduled at this year’s event include the Eric Whitacre original compositions “October,” “Sleep” and “The Marriage,” as well as band, orchestra and jazz band pieces.

Tickets are $10, and sales to the general public begin on Friday, March 10th. Tickets can be purchased in advance at the Professional Development and Learning Center, 2802 Fourth St., Santa Monica.

Information, (310) 450-8338 ext. 79538.