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Philip Glass is that rarest of contemporary ‘classical’ composers – a musician who has revolutionized the way art music is composed and found a massive audience in doing so.
As much a pop and cult phenomenon as he is a descendant of the classical masters, Glass came to prominence as an operatic composer and also through his music for classic films like Koyanisqaatsi and The Hours, but it’s in his works for solo piano that the essence of his art is revealed.
This groundbreaking album from Sydney pianist Sally Whitwell includes all of Glass’ finest solo piano music and as such is the first of its kind ever to be recorded in this country.
‘Philip Glass's music up close is like impressionist pixelations. Step back a little and you see magnificent, undulating, organic shapes,’ says pianist Whitwell, for whom this is the debut solo album.
Beginning with the gorgeous Opening, from the definitive work Glassworks, the album covers music which Glass himself describes as ‘walkman friendly’.
‘I'm going to hazard a guess that it has something to do with not demanding inordinately long periods of intense concentration on the part of the listener,’ says Whitwell, who outside of her solo performing career works with underprivileged children. ‘Opening is a very good starting point for anyone unaccustomed to concentrating on abstract musical ideas for longer than three or four minutes at a time.’
The album’s centrepiece is the dazzling Metamorphosis - a set of five pieces that began life as incidental music for a stage version of Franz Kafka's short story of the same name. ‘For me, Metamorphosis is a musical representation of a spiritual journey,’ says Whitwell. I found the Buddhist notion of our existence's spiral path a useful notion to consider whilst preparing these works.’
Meanwhile the title track, Mad Rush, was especially composed for the Dalai Lama's 1981 visit to New York City. It was premiered by Glass himself playing organ while the Dalai Lama made his entrance into the Cathedral of St John the Divine.
Also featured are Dead Things, from the film The Hours, and Wichita Vortex Sutra, inspired by Glass’s friendship with Allen Ginsberg who wrote the poem on which this virtuoso piano showpiece is based.
The crystalline tones of the Australian-made Stuart piano – deliberately chosen for this recording - are ideally suited to Glass’s hypnotically beautiful music, and Mad Rush is set to become a landmark Australian recording of repertoire whose contemporary relevance has brought an entirely new generation to modern ‘art music’.