Sally Whitwell - Russian Rag

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Russian Rag by Elena Kats Chernin. Performed by pianist Sally Whitwell (me!!).

Enjoying practising this for my upcoming recital in my hometown Canberra.  This is the  first solo recital I’ve played in my hometown since graduating from uni in 1996.  Yes, I am that old.  It’s exciting, a homecoming of sorts… getting a little teary now, better stop.


Dear Interwebs Brains Trust,

Just wondering if I could trouble you again for some advice.

I want to make sure I have an encore for this concert next week, but really can’t do much longer than three minutes total.  I’ve nothing shorter than about six mins in my current repertoire.  Dilemma.

Was thinking of doing a three minute improvisation. I’ll get an audience member to put their stopwatch on so it stays within the limit.  Liszt used to do it.  So did Beethoven and Mendelssohn.  If it’s good enough for them, I think it should be good enough for me.


Just received a contract for my July recital at Brisbane Powerhouse.  So excited to be performing a stack of Philip Glass and Yann Tiersen there, Hurrah!!

Just confirmed a performance of my Philip Glass recital program for July 2012 in this amazing looking building, the Brisbane Powerhouse, 
How cool is it?  So glad this amazing structure didn’t just get converted into a million shoebox sized apartments.  Thank goodness there’s still imaginative use of space in this world (just not so much in Sydney anymore *sigh*)
I’m so excited to be performing a solo recital of music by Philip Glass and Yann Tiersen at the Peninsula Summer Music Festival in January.  The festival takes place on the picturesque Mornington Peninsula near Melbourne and I can’t think of a lovelier place to spend a few days around New Year.  Ah!

Sally Whitwell in Recital at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, performing the piano music of Phillip Glass and other ‘minimalist’ composers including the film composer Michael Nyman, and Yann Tiersen well known for the soundtrack of Amélie.Her debut album ‘Mad Rush - the piano music of Phillip Glass’ is utterly marvellous and available on iTunes. 

"utterly marvellous"? Gosh, I’m blushing!

Sally Whitwell mingling with her audience following her performance of the piano music of Phillip Glass and other ‘minimalist’ composers including the film composer Michael Nyman, and Yann Tiersen well known for the soundtrack of Amélie.

Thanks Angus, for taking some lovely photos at my recital!  (My mum says thanks too *grin*)

I have purposely maintained radio silence over the last few days.  When you’re preparing for a solo recital, other parts of your life have to disappear for a little while… well, that’s how it is for me, at any rate.  And after the event, you need a little down time to recover (or in my case, do an all day rehearsal for my bread-and-butter job. Argh.)

Let me tell you, it’s a very tricky balancing act, maintaining the bread-and-butter jobs that I have and trying to pursue something of a solo career.  Having the confidence to step into the spotlight when up until now you’ve always been the person who’s just behind the spotlight, well it’s much more difficult than I would like to admit.

The night before I performed, I had a total panic-attack/meltdown about it.  My lovely, supportive and extremely patient partner Glennda can attest to this.  I was ready to cancel.  I was ready to chuck it all in and get a day job like normal people have. I was certain I would be playing to an empty hall.  I was doubly certain I would have a memory lapse.  I would be tongue-tied and clumsy and unconvincing when I spoke to the (practically non-existent) audience.  I didn’t really deserve the opportunities that I’ve had thus far because there are much better pianists than me, out there in the world.  No amount of encouragement was going to help.

I got to work the next day, accompanying for little kids at our Sydney Children’s Choir “Saturday School”.  I love this job!!  The kids are so clever and so enthusiastic and it always fills me with great hope for the future of music in the world.  Ordinarily, I come bounding out of the rehearsal room after a day of music making with them, all ready to take on the world.  However, things didn’t go to plan.  

I had intended to have something of a low key day, no conducting or teaching, just a little low-stress accompanying, a relaxed lunch break in the sun etc.  But I ended up filling in for a colleague, conducting, teaching sight-singing and having no lunch break at all.  By 4pm, I was completely exhausted, ravenously hungry and furious.  How had this happened??  I ended up doing even more than I usually would on the very day I needed to do less!!!!  Miscommunication? Admin fuck-up? Who knows.

I grabbed a bite at the markets and sat down, looking over the water to the Sydney Opera House.  The waterfront was crawling with tourists, all relaxed and laughing and taking happy snaps.  I’m sure I looked like a crazy lady, with my own personal cloud of discontent raining upon me.  How was I ever to get my solo career happening if there was no practical support from my colleagues at work?  I was incredibly grumpy.

I somehow summoned the energy and courage to get myself to the Conservatorium.  And then things started to go right.   My beautiful Glennda came up to the front doors, looking all butch and dapper in her smart, three-piece suit and shiny brogues.  She carried my frock and brought me dinner and exhibited all the model-girlfriend behaviours that she usually does (I am the luckiest girl in the world to have her. Truly. She never left my side).  Liz was there waiting in the foyer with a smile and her video camera, all ready to document the event.  The marvellous Stuart piano was tuned to perfection by Vahé’s extraordinary ear.  The staff at the Conservatorium were helpful and cheerful.  Anna (who was doing all the organising) came into the room with a bunch of programs under her arm and the most supportive smile I’ve ever seen.    My mum came and sat with me and Glennda for a while before I went on, which was such a help (the men of the family stayed outside *giggle* but I know they were in the dressing room with me in spirit!).  My dearest and oldest friend Katherine came and offered me support when she could have been at home all weekend preparing for the biggest job interview of her life thus far!

And then there was a knock on the dressing room door.  A man entered saying, “I was directed to give you these, from Lyn Williams”.  She’s the big boss lady artistic director at Sydney Children’s Choir (officially Gondwana Choirs) and after she’d heard about the day that I’d had, she sent me special energy-giving treats from the Guylian chocolate shop.  “Wow,” I thought to myself, “They actually do care!!”  Somehow, she knew they were exactly what I needed (although I’m sure I put on about 12 kilos just looking at them!).

The recital went pretty well.  I did play some wrong notes, I did fumble a few times when I was speaking.  I might have used some body language that, in hindsight, may have seemed a little awkward… Like every other performer on the planet, I spend a deal of time worrying about what I did wrong *sigh*.  But the audience response was really good.  It was so interesting to see all my worlds colliding in that room, real-world and online-world, amateur and professional, gay and straight.  What a mix of people!  I got to chat to most of them afterwards, and sign a few more cds, until the Conservatorium staff threw us out *grin*

The next day, this is what I read on Lyn’s Facebook;

"Sally Whitwell made the piano create sounds I had never heard before; beautiful ringing in the Glass, glorious singing in the Tiersen."

And that made it all worthwhile :)

A little Nyman, a little Yann Tiersen and a whole lotta Philip Glass.
Hope you’re coming to hear me tomorrow!

I dreamed a dream :s

Last night, I had an anxiety dream about my upcoming recital.  Argh.  

The recital was taking place in a church instead of the venue at the Conservatorium.  I stood up and spoke about the music and everybody listened very politely and attentively, but as soon as I began to play the music, there was absolute chaos!  People got up and walked around, had conversations with their friends, some of them even walked out!  There were also suddenly lots of mums with prams trying to entertain their children by dancing to the faster section in the middle of Metamorphosis No. 4.  I kept on playing, hoping that they would settle down, but to no avail.

Yikes, I must be even more nervous about this than I thought :s

Sally Whitwell - The Heart Asks Pleasure First (From The Piano)

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The Heart Asks Pleasure First by Michael Nyman, performed by Sally Whitwell (i.e. me!!).

I’ll be playing this in my recital on September 3.  Excited!

Rather enjoying practising the little bit of Michael Nyman I’ve programmed in my recital.  Note to self; play more Nyman!

This is what I’ve been practising this morn… and it brings a little tear to my eye!  Pathetic.  I’d better get over that before I perform it in public in less than a month’s time. Eep!

"Sur un fil" by Yann Tiersen, performed by the composer.

I’m playing this piece in it’s piano solo version in my recital on September 3.  So interesting to watch the composer’s own performance… If I can play with anything near his level of passion and freedom , I will have done the music justice!

I was just practising Philip Glass’s Metamorphosis No. 1 for my upcoming recital (if you’re in Sydney, put September 3 in your diary!)

Anyway, back to the music.  That second section with the little melody in the right hand in octaves…. well, in any other composer’s hand it would sound like a doorbell.  Or a cuckoo clock.  But in Mr. Glass’s hands it is absolutely dripping with pathos.