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!
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.
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!!
Source: SoundCloud / ABCRadioNational
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.”
Source: SoundCloud / ABCRadioNational
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.
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.”
Mephisto McFingers, save me from ENNUI. Please.
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?
Dear interwebs brains trust,
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.