In 2011, Sally Whitwell won the ARIA Award for Best Classical Album for her collection of Glass’ music Mad Rush. Since then, her relationship with the composer has deepened, centring around the Etudes – his largest and most significant work for solo piano. After hearing Mad Rush, in 2013 Glass asked Whitwell to give the world-premiere of the Etudes, alongside the composer, at the Perth International Arts Festival; he subsequently invited her to perform them again in New York and Los Angeles. This album is a result of that close collaboration.
The Etudes – 20 in all, collected together into two Books – were written over the course of two decades between 1991 and 2012, and chart the musical development of one of the most significant composers of our generation. ‘In the beginning of the series, we hear something much closer to the angry young man, rebelling against the academic musical establishment by writing and performing his signature repetitive structures that pull you into an unique meditative space (if you let them). By the end of the series we hear a much more peaceful, pragmatic human. Gone is the angry young man, and in its place a kind of lyricism that aches with the wisdom of life experience,’ Whitwell suggests.
The music is deeply personal for Whitwell, too, who memorised every note of the ninety-minute set. She recalls the first time playing to Glass, the two of them alone in the room: ‘He listened politely, then gave me a one-man round of applause at the end. “Your playing has real poetry in it,” he said. I remember thinking at that moment “I can now die happy”’.
The album was recorded by Tonmeister Virginia Read, who won the ARIA Award for Best Engineer for her previous collaboration with Sally Whitwell.