! !
A pianist’s lament…
I love intimate performance spaces. As an audient, I love being close to the performers, to be up close and personal, to really see the effort of playing and to hear lots of the detail. As a performer, I love being able to see the faces of the people to whom I play. I like to see them smiling and relaxed and happy to be moved by some music. I don’t even mind if they’re enjoying a quiet beverage at the same time, though I do mind if they chat with their friends whilst I’m playing.There was an article in the Sydney Morning Herald about how great the intimate venue live music scene is these days in Sydney. The City of Sydney council has helped the scene a lot by making it much cheaper to get a liquor licence, so all these new groovy small bars have opened up, run by people who love live music. There’s a great deal happening, and it’s all a very happy story.However there’s one group of musicians very much left on the edge. Pianists. Not one of the venues mentioned in the article have a piano. I don’t know if I’m the only one who’s upset about this, but given that there are a number of bigger pop stars who play the piano very well (Ben Folds, Tori Amos, Rufus Wainright, Regina Spektor) and even ones who play mainstream stuff that doesn’t interest me (Missy Higgins, Lady Gaga, Alicia Keys… even Taylor feckin’ Swift!) you might think that it’d be a more popular instrument to have around again. But apparently not.The expectation from venues seems to be that you’ll bring your own ‘piano’ i.e. keyboard. Newsflash, dear venue owners; a keyboard is not a piano.  They are two different instruments. I prefer to play the piano, with occasional forays into keyboard when I am required to make sounds that cannot be made on a piano, actual electronic sounds, not something imitating a piano. The solidity of a real piano contrasted with the flexibility of it,. The dynamic range not only in terms of volume but more importantly in terms of colour. A good pianist uses the weight of their entire body to create a resonant sound. Some flimsy little keyboard stand is never going to cut it, even under the weight of someone as small as yours truly.  The natural resonance of hammer on string setting sail in that enormous steel framed wooden ship… Lemme tell ya, there’s nothing that can imitate that!The only venues outside of concert halls and opera houses that seem to genuinely value the piano as a worthy contributor to the music world are cabaret and jazz bars. Jazz world and classical world are reasonably comfortable bedfellows in this, with the quality of the instrument being utmost in our minds. Cabaret venues are less good with that but more often tend to have one because they like it as a piece of furniture. There’s at least one cabaret bar here in Sydney that insisted on the cheapest white piano they could find to match the light up disco floor on their stage. It’s a terrible instrument. Terrible, but kinda pretty. Ah well, at least they have one.One really special Sydney venue got left out of the article and I’d like to give them a bit of a shout out.  Foundry616 are pretty new kids on the block, but have a fantastic piano and book musicians who really, y’know, play it. Ok, disclosure time, I’m biased cos I’m gonna play a gig there in the not too distant future. But my colleagues and I chose the venue on the strength of the instrument available. If any of those other venues would like to book this multi ARIA Award winner, they can get an instrument for me first. Not just for me, but for all the fine piano playing musicians of the world. Truly, it will open more of the scene up to a whole lot more excellent music making. Truly.

Untitled | via Tumblr op We Heart It - http://weheartit.com/entry/111150548

This rain today is so perfect for practising Philip Glass <3
Waltzing Alone… So I’ve decided I’m playing a few little solo piano pieces of my own at this concert I’m presenting. After all, if I don’t play them, who else will??!! Haha. Anyway, as I was looking through my recent solo piano compositions I had a couple of realisations; 1. Four of the shorter ones fit together into a rather nice longer work. Did I just write a sonata without realising it?? 2. They all have elements of repetitive loop type materials. I guess this was kind of intentional because it’s a compositional method I’m experimenting with at the moment. So I’m going to put them all together and perform them. Here’s one of the movements “Waltzing Alone" in its Sally’s-front-room-remix. Enjoy! PS each of these pieces are dedicated respectively to four of my lovely students Claudia, Ezra, Jesse and Neil. They do inspire me ever so much!
On April 13, I’ll be mounting my hobby horse. I’m putting on a very special concert In Her Shoes - music by women composers with my lovely friends, Acacia Quartet.  I chatted with one of their violinists, Myee Clohessy (she’s the crazy upside down one on the far right!) about the project and about Acacia’s unique approach. They’re a real 21st century ensemble!
Five minutes with Myee…
Sally: I’m thrilled that you have agreed to be a part of my little In Her Shoes project. Have you any particular favourite women composers? Myee: I must say Sally your In Her Shoes project is just so vital for giving a platform to women composers of the past and present. It is quite shocking just how few female composers are known at all! My personal favourites are Sofia Gubaidulina and Elena Kats-Chernin and I am very proud Australia’s own Elena is receiving such world recognition and support.   Sally: You have worked very closely with a number of Australian composers including Lyle Chan and Elena Kats Chernin. Do you enjoy the process of working with composers on new music? Myee: Oh yes, it was such an incredible gift for Acacia to be able to work with Lyle and Elena and share our interpretation on their music. You receive feedback immediately and can discuss different options to really make the music on the page come alive. We shared so much laughter and tears doing both CD recordings and feel eternally connected by this amazing journey. Over the last few months, we have been working intensely with Moya Henderson on her chamber music output and once again a lovely bond is forming as we discover her passions and style.    Sally: As string quartets go, Acacia Quartet is one of the more adventurous ones on the scene at the moment.  What is it about performing some of the lesser known works that attracts you? Myee: Personally, I just love discovering new things and not going down the mainstream path all the time. I do adore the classics and will always aspire to perform these great works but I love tossing in something new and fresh or forgotten and neglected. The other members of Acacia feel the same way too so we are lucky!    Sally: You are very happy to perform in a great variety of styles (I remember that we met playing songs by The Beatles!). Is it important for musicians to be versatile in this way? Myee: I would say absolutely, for the same reasons as above - it keeps you fresh and able to express a greater variety of styles, colours and moods. You also get to met other interesting and inspiring musicians this way. I have always loved mixing different arts mediums - dance, photography, singing, art and music.   Sally: What’s next for Acacia Quartet? Myee: Acacia just flew back from Melbourne after opening the Woodend Winter Arts Festival and started rehearsals the very next day for our upcoming concert with you! It is going to be so great to finally put our Amy Beach string parts together with your wild virtuosic piano part. I think the audience are going to be amazed with the depth of Beach’s music.
I am also keeping my fingers crossed you will share one of the toys from your very cool Downsized arrangement of your Toy Concerto with me Sally! Most importantly though, we are about to perform your first ever work for piano quintet called Winter Love. People take note!

Sally Whitwell - Waltzing Alone

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Waltzing Alone - (Mid-morning-Parramatta-Rd-Traffic-Mix)
Music by me! (Sally Whitwell) Recorded by me on my slightly flat piano in my front room studio with the traffic roaring by and a cat perilously close to jumping on the keys mid-recording. Eep.

Image courtesy of The Ballerina Project - I just thought it kinda summed up the motivation behind writing this piece (read about that here)

That’s all.

Sally Whitwell - Falling (Twin Peaks)

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Falling by Angelo Badalamenti.  Performed by me (Sally Whitwell) as my own personal tribute to David Lynch’s genius on my album The Good, the Bad and the Awkward.

Happy Birthday Mr. Lynch!

***drumroll*** My 3rd solo album All Imperfect Things - Solo Piano Music of Michael Nyman comes out today on ABC Classics.
It means so much to me to have the opportunity to record solo albums.  I would like to thank the wonderful team at ABC Classics, especially Virginia Read (superb engineer and the only classical music engineer to have ever been ARIA nominated!!), Laura Bell (manager for ABC Classics who give so many splendid Australian musicians wonderful opportunities to share our work) and Natalie Shea (she makes sure that everything I write in my album booklet makes sense, and also deals with copyrights and all that kinda stuff in a very calm and professional way).  Also to the team at Universal, Cyrus and Sarah and Andrew and I’ve probably forgotten someone there cos I’m a little overwhelmed… But you’re all fabtastic!
Special thanks to my dad Colin (who came and sat in the control room every day during the recording sessions and offered me the kind of moral support that only a father can), to my mum Hoon Chee and brother James for putting up with me and all the silly insecurities that performers tend to express (imposter-in-the-room syndrome, much? *laughs nervously*).
Finally the biggest thank you of all to my life partner Glennda.  You’re the light of my life sweetie.  This one’s for you <3
“And he came by her cabin to the west of the road, calling.
There was a strong love came up in her at that,
and she put down her sewing on the table, and “Mother,” she says,
“There’s no lock, and no key, and no bolt, and no door.
There’s no iron, nor no stone, nor anything at all
will keep me this night from the man I love.”
And she went out into the moonlight to him,
there by the bush where the flow’rs is pretty, beyond the river.
And he says to her: “You are all of the beauty of the world,
will you come where I go, over the waves of the sea?”
And she says to him: “My treasure and my strength,” she says,
“I would follow you on the frozen hills, my feet bleeding.”
Then they went down into the sea together,
and the moon made a track upon the sea, and they walked down it;
it was like a flame before them. There was no fear at all on her;
only a great love like the love of the Old Ones,
that was stronger than the touch of the fool.
She had a little white throat, and little cheeks like flowers,
and she went down into the sea with her man,
who wasn’t a man at all.
She was drowned, of course.
It’s like he never thought that she wouldn’t bear the sea like himself.
She was drowned, drowned.”

The Seal Man from A Mainsail Haul by John Masefield

Today’s practise project, a mysterious and brooding setting of this text for voice and piano by composer Rebecca Clarke

“…this sense of their linked life – cadences as unstoppable as time – is what makes them so moving.”

Kate Kellaway writes in the Guardian on the latest performance of Philip Glass’s 20 solo piano Etudes.

I was proud to be a part of the premiere of the last three of these, back in February. Memories!

A world exclusive performance of Etude No. 19 by Philip Glass played by Australian pianist Sally Whitwell.
Recorded by ABC Classic FM at the Perth Concert Hall on Saturday 16th February as part of the 2013 Festival of Perth.
Read the article on Phillip Glass on The Music Show.

If you enjoyed this excerpt, well ***drumroll*** the whole of this concert I played in is being broadcast on ABC Classic FM this coming Wednesday.  Hip hurrah!!

Chasing Sheep is Best Left to Shepherds by Michael Nyman. Taken from the soundtrack to Peter Greenaway’s film The Draughtsman’s Contract.

Starting my morning practise with this piece today.

Live is live is live… An excerpt from the concert I played Saturday night with Philip Glass.

"A world exclusive performance of Etude No. 19 by Philip Glass played by Australian pianist Sally Whitwell.
Recorded by ABC Classic FM at the Perth Concert Hall on Saturday 16th February as part of the 2013 Festival of Perth.
Read the article on Phillip Glass on The Music Show.”

Everyone’s a winner baby

This week, I embark upon a new adventure - adjudicating.  Let’s be honest, I have extremely mixed feelings about competitions, so it is not without some trepidation that I start out upon this new journey.

My last personal experience of a competition was of being hideously (and publicly) verbally abused by an official at the local Sydney Eisteddfod.  Normally I would never find myself at such a competition, but it was a very special case - I was doing a particular favour for my very dear friend of many years Katherine, accompanying her because she had decided to perform a song that I composed and I wanted to thank her for supporting my composition work.  She is a magnificent singer and her voice suits my music very well.  

It would have been nicer to do a concert though, rather than a competition which ended up being equal parts awful and transcendent;

There was no backstage area, as is often the case at these events.  I gave a few gentle words of encouragement as best I could manage as we were walking down the stairs toward the stage.  We walked on and I proceeded to lift the piano lid up to where it should be for an Art Song, all the way up.  The cranky official stormed up to me on stage.  

"This room is very reverberant", he fumed, turning pink in the face with outrage.  

"I’m aware of that," I replied, "but I am also a professional and this piano lid is not a volume control.  My ears and brain will do the balance, OK?"  

I turned my back on him, sat down and after a few seconds attempting to recover from the public humiliation I’d endured, I started the introduction of the song.  My friend Katherine sang more beautifully, with more pathos and heart than I had ever heard her sing before.  Ever.  She won the section, deservedly so, and the adjudicator even said my work was a “worthy addition to the repertoire”.  In classical singing world, that is high praise indeed, because most classical singers don’t give a rat’s arse about contemporary Art Song.  I was seriously proud.  At the f&^%ing Sydney Eisteddfod??? Actually, yes *nods* The cranky official proceeded to abuse me some more as I attempted to leave the building.  He told me that I didn’t know anything about accompanying singers and that I was insensitive and overpowering her… lie after lie after lie (he obviously hadn’t actually listened).  I simply turned around and said “Of course, I must know nothing about accompanying, which would be why ABC Classics booked me to accompany two of Australia’s best known classical singers Teddy Tahu Rhodes and David Hobson on their duet album.” #needironyfont 

This week, I shall find myself on the other side making my debut as an adjudicator for the Australian National Eisteddfod (ANE).  I mean, it says ‘National’ but it’s really very much a local Canberra affair *grin* (not that there’s anything wrong with that).  I used to compete in this competition as a teen and won my fair share of trophies.  It was certainly nerve wracking in as much as any performance is slightly nerve wracking, but overwhelmingly it was a positive experience and I’m actually forever grateful for the confidence that it gave me to get up and perform.  Never easy to perform solo piano on these crisp Canberra winter mornings, but against the odds, I still managed to have a good time!  

I’m determined to make this competition experience a very positive one for these young musicians.  They’re the little ones I’ll be adjudicating, all under 14 years of age, the formative years.  I feel a great sense of responsibility to their musical futures, because a part of me would die inside if the experience of competing was so negative that it made them hate the piano and want to give up.  I know it sounds hopelessly cheesy, but they’re all winners for just doing the preparation and getting up there and sharing some beautiful music with us all.

In a world where competitions at any and every level seem to be distorting everything about the nature of performance and why we perform at all, we must keep constantly focussed on why we do it.  We are performers because we have something to communicate to our fellow humans.  Bearing that in mind, I’d like to wish everyone who I’m adjudicating this week the very best of luck.  What I’m looking for is this - everything you do, every musical or technical decision that you and your teachers make together, it’s in the service of what you are trying to communicate.   There are an awful lot of generically impressive piano players in the world, but very few artists.   Push the envelope, be a little risky, show me what you have inside you.  Then everybody really does win.

Sally Whitwell - Impromptu in G-flat major, D899

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Impromptu in G-flat Major D899 by Franz Schubert.  Performed by Sally Whitwell on the album The Good, the Bad and the Awkward.

One of the best ways to get over a setback is to remind yourself of the wonderful things that you’ve achieved.  So I’m sharing my reminder-to-self with you all *grin*.  Here’s the notes from the digital booklet, to remind me why I recorded it in the first place.

"Not so much a struggle between inner and outer worlds, more of a struggle between old and new worlds is Henry James’s novel The Portrait of a Lady.  It was adapted for the screen by Laura Jones and directed by Jane Campion.  Coming from a ‘new world’ country myself, I feel a connection to stories of tension between the ostensibly strict tradition-bound social mores of old Europe and the comparative freedoms of new world countries.  In the Victorian era, the setting for this novel, were independent women of the new world actually more free, or were there simply different pressures put upon them?  The film’s central character Isabel is fiercely independent in her new world

sensibilities, but also has a fascination with the old world, expressed by her naive fascination with Madam Merle’s parlour performance of Schubert Impromptu Op. 90, No. 3.”