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A lovely review of my album from Stephen Iliffe
'Mad Rush: Solo Piano Music of Philip Glass' - Sally Whitwell (2011) review
In recent years, Philip Glass’ tight grip on his back catalogue has relaxed sufficiently to allow performers like Sally Whitwell to extract the more subtle nuances trapped within his endless minimalist phrases.

Across these nine vignettes from the composer’s repertoire for grand piano, the Sydney-based Whitwell pays homage to Glass the modernist while intuiting the classical ghosts that lurk within.
If the album’s centrepiece – the six-part Metamorphosis – retains the typically tight metrical structures of the Glass score, there’s a sly nod to Debussy’s flexible focus on the possibilities of form, as Whitwell alights on the subtle wisps of harmony and fleeting rhythmic ideas and gives off the feeling of music being garnered by the wind, spun out from the keys and released to the wind again, a triumph of instinct, judgement and technique.
Elsewhere, the tone and timbre of these lush tracks have the richness of Bach or Chopin. But this is no exercise in nostalgia; Mad Rush breathes new life into old forms through Whitwell’s use of an extraordinary custom-built Stuart & Sons piano. This boasts 102 keys as opposed to the traditional 88, with more subtle gradations of tone and colour, plus vertical strings for added dynamics and sustain.
Whitwell’s range is astonishing; on the 14-minute title track she alternately pummels the keys with industrial force or strokes them with the delicacy of an insect skating the surface tension of a city pond at night.
Yet this fast/slow and loud/soft dynamic is dissolved into ever-shifting permutations, as Whitwell overlays urban claustrophobia with the ancient circadian rhythms of nature.
And there’s sublime detail in the quietest moments, as Whitwell uses the pedals to bend, suspend and fade the notes – could be the faint humming of an air conditioner or the buzzing of mosquitos. The intermittent silences play an important part too, leaving generous space for the listener to insert their own thoughts into the weft and weave of the music.
An added bonus is a pin-sharp digital recording by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Ultimo Centre; every slap and tickle of ivory keys and reverberating gut wire strings comes through with vivid clarity, as if Whitwell were performing in your living room.
Like the stark album cover of Whitwell assuming a Zen-like poise in a multi-storey car park, there’s peace at the heart of this city, like pale flowers pushing through the cracks in the concrete.
At the outset of Philip Glass’ career, one starchy traditionalist complained that Mad Rush was the sound of a grand piano falling downstairs. Equally, younger listeners, like me, attuned to Glass’ more electronic works have generally failed to investigate his solo piano. Here, Sally Whitwell not only bridges this generation gap – Mad Rush reached number three in the ARIA classical charts – but makes it redundant.
A transcendental effort, and My Album of 2011.
Stephen Iliffe
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Today a friend of mine told me that when she bakes, she provides herself with a soundtrack of pretty much exclusively my album Mad Rush.  Lots of people have told me it’s like a meditation, or it’s good driving music, or they like to study with it on the background, but this is the first time I’ve heard about it’s culinary application.

I rather like the idea of the baking. Maybe I’ll even try it myself?

Me and Mr. Glass!!
I kind of like it when this happens on the iTunes chart *grin*
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And look at the waveform on this track of mine? I’m rather proud of my consistent dynamics, yes I am *grin*
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I’m still blushing.

Feeling almost like properly famous - Whilst out doing some Christmas shopping with my mum this afternoon in Glebe, a stranger approached and complimented me on my Philip Glass album Mad Rush.

I’m still blushing.

I got four and a half stars in The Weekend Australian

From The Weekend Australian - Review

17-18 December 2011

REVIEW

Classical

Mad Rush: Solo Piano Music of Philip Glass

Sally Whitwell, piano

ABC Classics

Sydney pianist Sally Whitwell presents a recital of piano music by minimalist composer Philip Glass for her debut album with ABC Classics.  

As one may expect, Glass’s piano music is full of repetitive note patterns and rhythmic groupings that can create soothing, almost hypnotic effects.  This type of minimalist writing is  well suited to the piano, exploiting its percussive qualities, wide dynamic range and bell-like tones while allowing a layering of the texture to create shifting sonorities.

Glass has a persuasive advocate in Whitwell.  Her playing is excellent throughout this disc, going beyond mere notational accuracy to breathe life and shape into the music.  Given the highly repetitive nature of the writing, and the similarities between many of the tracks, Whitwell’s rather personal interpretations bring expressive character and musical contrast to the works.

The title track, Mad Rush, was written as entrance music for the Dalai Lama on his 1979 new York visit.  The writing alternates between gentler patterns and more frenetic episodes, yet Whitwell subverts the mechanical aspect of the music and shapes the repeating cells into phrases that seem to breathe with a natural ebb and flow.  Her playing is intense, highly charged and technically assured.  Other works include an arrangements from Glass’s Academy Award-nominated soundtrack to The Hours, the brilliantly played Wichita Vortex Sutra and the five Metamorphosis pieces.

“I thought you should know that as a 33 year old man… I started weeping half way through Mad Rush.

It’s the first time I have been moved with that amount of force, by only one instrument.”
This piece of fan mail I just received made my day. So sweet.

Sally Whitwell & Phillip Glass - Opening

140 plays

Opening by Philip Glass, performed by Sally Whitwell on the ARIA Award winning album Mad Rush.

On the eve of the popular music ARIA Awards, I just thought I’d gratuitously re-post my award winning single. Here ‘tis. Enjoy!

Fan mail.  It’s always so humbling!  I like this one - it arrived just now (I especially love the opening line!)

"Dear Sally

I am an old lady. I am a GIM therapist, health professional, frustrated musician, grandmother and I love your CD Mad Rush. I listen to it with my entire body, it is grounding, inspiring and poetic.
I hope it is becoming more of a woman’s world these days. Love and light etc etc”
Limelight Magazine has included my album Mad Rush in “The Greatest 100 Classical Recordings we’ve ever reviewed”.  Me??  The likes of Cecilia Bartoli,  Steven Isserlis and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra are in there… It’s ever so humbling to be in such great company. Wow.
Buy a proper print copy of the magazine and you could win the whole set!
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This lovely person gave my album a thumbs up on iTunes.  Aww…. thanks!
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I was just contemplating that lovely review I posted a few days ago…
He said something about my “surprising rhythmic emphases” in Philip Glass’s Opening.  I was at a bit of a loss to think what he might be referring to.  My only thought is those quaver triplets which are phrased in pairs (by Philip Glass, on the page, in the score!!).  Everybody seems to ignore these little slurs, but I rather like them and they are on the page so I’m frickin’ well going to play them that way.
Respect for the primary source.  That is all.
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