Featured Composer: Sally Whitwell


Sally Whitwell maintains a busy freelance career as an award-winning pianist, conductor, composer and educator from her base in Sydney.

Sally's most recent solo release All Imperfect Things; solo piano music of Michael Nyman won the 2013 ARIA Award for Best Classical Album as well as Best Engineer for ABC Classics very own tonmeister Virginia Read, the first time that a woman has ever won this award.  Additionally, her debut album Mad Rush: solo piano music of Philip Glass  won her the 2011 ARIA for Best Classical Album.  Her sophomore album The Good, the Bad and the Awkward is a truly unique compilation of film music where she played not only piano but toy piano, harpsichord, recorder and melodica.  Sally plans to record a fourth album in 2014 featuring her own compositions in the art song, choral and chamber music genres.

Recent solo concert appearances for Sally have included the world premiere of the Philip Glass Complete Piano Etudes for Perth International Arts Festival and Ten Tiny Dancers, an all-singing-all-playing-all-dancing cabaret piano recital for the Famous Spiegeltent season at Arts Centre Melbourne.  In 2014, Sally will travel to Los Angeles and New York City to perform again with Philip Glass.  She will also be touring extensively within Australia, including shows for Adelaide Fringe Festival,  concerts at Riversdale for the Bundanon Trust and various trips to regional centres on the NSW South Coast and Byron Bay.  As a vocal advocate for classical music by women composers, Sally is currently curating a chamber music concert series in her home town Canberra. In Her Shoes features music by women creatives across the centuries, which she'll be performing with Acacia Quartet, cellist Sally Maer and soprano Nadia Piave.

Sally other great love is choral music.  Currently she is a staff conductor and pianist for Gondwana Choirs and Sydney Children's Choir with whom she has performed throughout Australia and in Europe, Asia and the Americas.  She has devised semi-theatrical choral shows for Sydney Philharmonia Choirs, Bel A Cappella and Door in the Wall, composed new works for (and with) Sydney Children's Choir, Leichhardt Espresso Chorus, Woden Valley Youth Choir (ACT), St Ursula's College Toowoomba (QLD) and had her choral works performed by Gondwana Choirs, Canberra Choral Society, Brisbane Birralee Voices, Moorambilla Voices, various ensembles from the Arts Unit of the NSW Department of Education and Kompactus - Canberra's Compact Chorus.  She's looking forward to presenting workshops on collaborative composition at the 2014 Queensland Choral Conference presented by Australian National Choral Association. 

Sally Whitwell's new work The Web was premiered in PLEXUS: Post-Patriarchal on 16 March 2015 at the Salon, Melbourne Recital Centre. 

The Composer's Note is the place where the composer gets to write something musicologically sound about the process of creating a work, its meaning, things to listen out for and it relevance to anything outside the non-verbal abstraction that is necessarily what music is. To be completely honest, writing this piece The Web was an enormous challenge and quite an emotional struggle for me.  Such a struggle that it's become an abstract response to the idea of writing for a brief with which I also morally struggle. I suppose you could call it a kind of meta-response.

Said brief was to create a piece that commemorates the role of women in the First World War. Whilst I appreciate the importance of remembering those who died or suffered during any time of conflict, when I consider these matters the first thing that springs to mind are the thinly veiled agendas of those who would hijack respectful commemoration to justify involvement in current and future conflict. There remains a continued glorification of our war heroes in the language used in such commemoration rather than simply a remembrance of the tragic and senseless loss of life. It was meant to be The War to End All Wars but was in fact the beginning of a century of unceasing international conflict for reasons of nationalism, power, and religious dogma. Those in power call it fighting for freedom.

It makes me sad. It makes me angry. It made me want to quit and throw it at the wall every day. But here it is and I hope it gives you just under five minutes to think about what the nature of commemoration could and should be.

– Sally Whitwell