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.”
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.
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.”
It’s rolled around again, The Sydney International Piano Competition. This competition is a wonderful thing - so many unique interpretations of great works from the repertoire from a plethora of pianists, practically perfect in every way (Thank you Mary Poppins for that turn of phrase).
From the SIPCA website;
“Thirty-six of the world’s finest young pianists will compete to win the Sydney International Piano Competition of Australia in July 2012.
Prizes for winners include a celebratory tour of Australia, cash prizes and valuable engagement offers for the major prize winners.”
Bored yet? I’ve just been reading the initially-extremely-impressive but quickly-ennui-inducing biographical notes on some of the players. (I say ‘some’ of the players because I was too bored to read all of them).
Why are classical musician’s bios so excrutiatingly boring? Here’s an example of what I mean, although to protect the identity of the performer and in an effort to keep you at least a little interested/entertained, I’ve changed some names and so on;
Mephisto McFingers is currently studying at the Ivory Tower College of the Arts under the tutelage of Professor Ade-ours Praktisaday.
Mephisto graduated with the Master of Music degree from Royal Painz Conservatory (2003), Beatitintoya Academy of Music (2006) and Wanka University of Ze Artsy Fartsy (2010).
During his studies he embarked on a busy international career, performed worldwide and won prizes at international music competitions.
In the 2011-2012 season Mephisto’s concert engagements include appearances in major concert halls such as Inaccessibelhalle and Izanyonelisteninkski in Minksni.
I am sure that classical musicians are more interesting people than their concert program bios would have us believe *sigh* and every time I read a bio like this I feel incredibly frustrated. And just a bit disappointed.
I really shouldn’t grumble about this one - at least it’s in sentence form. The last time I read an opera program, they didn’t even bother to write sentences. They were just lists of roles the singers had played, teachers with whom they’d studied and companies with whom they’d performed. ARGH!!
How should a classical musician’s bio read?
I need some advice!
I’m thinking about making another proposal to the powers-that-be (my album producers at the ABC) and would like to know what people think…
I suspect that a large proportion of my audience, the lovely ones who bought my albums Mad Rush - Solo Piano Music of Philip Glass and The Good, the Bad and the Awkward, only know me as a solo pianist. In truth, this is but a fraction of the broad range of music making that I do. As well as performing and recording as a solo pianist, I’m a composer and an arranger, a conductor and a teacher, an accompanist and a vocal coach.
Musicians do not exist in a vacuum. Certainly the chief joys of my musical life are the interactions I have with other musicians as well as writers, artists and all manner of performers. So it would make sense for my next album to be one that is perhaps more representative of myself as a working artist. In short, I would love to invite some of my friends and colleagues to this party!!
I’ve composed for a great many ensembles, from choirs and orchestras to art songs and chamber music, so the scope of the sound world covers everything from “Mighty” to “Intimate”. I do appreciate that for any engineer to make a single cohesive listening experience out of such a variety of works is quite a challenge. I’m sure my lovely friend and colleague Virginia Read could do it! She did such a great job with the varied genres present on my current album (no easy task!).
Looking at the themes (both abstract and literal) of my ouvre to date, I can see some patterns emerging that might make for a cohesive, dramatic listening experience. I have realised that I subconsciously favour words from the Romantic/19th Century poets - Shelley, Keats, Byron, Rossetti (some Dante Gabriel but mostly Christina). It’s like those poems already have music in them and I just somehow ‘pull it out’ of them! Also, several different people completely independently of each other have made a similar comment to me about my music - they’ve described it as Pre-Raphaelite in nature. I am taking this as a great compliment (I am quite happy to just stare at Waterhouse mermaids for hours on end) and if I try to step back and look at things objectively, I can understand why they might say that. Suits my sensibilities just fine, thank you very much!
So… an album of some of my original works, performed by myself and my friends? It seems a logical ‘next step’ for me, but I would love some thoughts from you, dear reader.
Lemme know eh.
Piano especially designed for people who are confined to bed, Great Britain, 1935. This is what I was in need of a couple of weeks ago. Thankfully, I am now well on the way to a full recovery. Hip hurrah!!
Flower Duet from the opera Lakmé by Léo Delibes, performed and arranged for piano solo by Sally Whitwell (me!) for the cinematically inspired album The Good, the Bad and the Awkward.
I included this arrangement on the album as a tribute to lesbian vampire movie The Hunger, starring Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon. The original sung version is used in their sex scene later in the film, but a piano solo version is performed (mimed!) by Deneuve as she seduces Sarandon. It’s by far the sexiest bit of the movie, as far as I’m concerned. A little mystery goes a long way.
And now for an excerpt from my album booklet.
“Let’s talk about vampires. Not the most admirable of creatures you might say? Perhaps not, but if there’s one great thing you can say for a lot of vampires it is that they are often very cultured people.
This is certainly the case with Miriam (Catherine Deneuve) in the 1983 lesbian vampire flick The Hunger. She lives in a magnificent mansion (tick!) full of painting and sculpture and antique furniture (tick! tick! tick!) with a cello playing David Bowie (tick!) and she plays piano herself (tick!). In fact she begins her seduction of Sarah whilst playing The Flower Duet from the opera Lakmé by Léo Delibes. That’s my kind of woman (even if she is a bloodthirsty evil vampire).”
Tony, you and me both (except 20 mins isn’t very much practise. I do tend to do a bit more than that! *grin*)
My second solo album The Good, the Bad and the Awkward will be hitting the record store shelves and iTunes on May 18.
Baldwin makes this special Hendrix piano. Woah! Looks amazeballs… but it’s a Baldwin and, well… meh.
“Listen, Louis. There’s life in these old hands still. Not quite furioso. Moderato cantabile, perhaps…”
Dying Lestat plays a slow tired version of the middle section from the second movement of Haydn’s Piano Sonata Hob XVI: 49 in the film Interview with the Vampire.
I really enjoyed recording this wonderful piece for my album The Good, the Bad and the Awkward. Even when despicable vampires are dying, nothing can alter the fact that they very often have extremely refined taste!