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Dual ARIA-Award-winning pianist and composer Sally Whitwell returns with the first-ever album of her own compositions: I Was Flying.

The album combines works for solo piano with music for choir and for solo soprano, as well as a range of instrumental chamber music. Sally is joined by a number of her musical friends: rising-star soprano Alexandra Oomens, VOX (Sydney Philharmonia’s choir for 18-30 year olds, with whom Sally frequently works and performs), the Acacia Quartet, flautist Sally Walker and violinist Kirsten Williams.

Sally’s solo piano music forms the backbone of the disc. Best-known for her acclaimed albums of music by Michael Nyman and Philip Glass, Sally’s music inherits these composers’ minimalist feel, but imbues it with colour and style that is all her own. Her writing for voice – whether the Alexandra Oomens’ solo soprano or VOX – centres around a close symbiosis of word and music, creating vivid and imaginative sound worlds.

Accordingly, the vocal works on the album set words from a wide variety of authors, from poets of the Romantic canon to Australians: Lord Byron, Christina Rossetti, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Monique Duval, WB Yeats, Michael Rosen, Michael Dransfield, and Sally herself. Many of the compositions draw on Sally’s relationship with her partner Glennda; but the album roves across a number of subjects, including musical ruminations on an immigrant life, the Sydney to Newcastle train journey – and works inspired by Sally’s relationships with the musicians on the album.

The album was recorded by ABC Classics at Eugene Goossens Hall, ABC Ultimo, with Tonmeister Virginia Read (winner of the 2013 ARIA Award for Best Engineer).

Sally Whitwell’s I Was Flying – Three Facts

The works for solo piano are recorded ‘from the pianist’s perspective’. The microphones are placed behind the keyboard, meaning that the listeners have the same aural impression as Sally. The low notes are on the left and the high notes are on the right of the sound image – rather than blended together, as they would appear from the audience, and as they are heard in most recordings.

The paper birds on the cover were hand-created by Sally and her partner Glennda especially for the artwork for the album. The title for the album is taken from a poem by Australian author Michael Dransfield, which reads simply ‘i was flying over Sydney / in a giant dog / things looked bad’.

Sally considers herself a composer-performer rather than a traditional ‘classical’ composer. ‘Is it really such a tragedy that performing/producing my own shows doesn’t qualify me for representation from the Australian Music Centre? Is it so terrible that the symphony orchestras aren’t knocking on my door offering me commissions? Is the Wigmore Hall really the right place for my music anyway? All I can really do as a creative is put it out there and see who bites!’ she commented recently.


1. Loopy Lady: I. Reels
2. A Hundred Thousand Birds
3. Some World Far From Ours
4. Starlight Steeple
5. Winter Love [with the Acacia Quartet] The Birds
6. I. Skylark
7. II. Nightingale
8. III. Linnet
9. Loopy Lady: II. In the Middle
10. Echo
11. In the Deep Heart’s Core
12. Road Trip [with Sally Walker flute] 13. Flatworm’s Heaven – A Train Song
14. To Your Shore
15. The Insomnia Waltz [with Kirsten Williams violin] 16. She Walks in Beauty
17. Loopy Lady: III. Waltzing Alone
18. Flying
19. Warm Where Snowflakes Lie
20. Loopy Lady: IV. Spin Out

Sally Whitwell piano
Alexandra Oomens soprano (3, 6–8, 11, 13, 19)
VOX, conducted by Elizabeth Scott (2, 4, 10, 14, 16, 18)

I Was Flying is available now. 

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