Philip Glass, Sally Whitwell and Maki Namekawa join forces to premiere Glass’s Twenty Piano Études.

It came to me in a flash, as I was sitting there watching Philip Glass on the stage of the Perth Concert Hall, his aged body hunched over the keyboard of a grand piano. Suddenly, the Glass mystery seemed clear. He was playing the first of his twenty piano études and, despite a less-than-impressive piano technique (to put it kindly), the hypnotic harmonies and full piano textures of his two-hour work for solo piano had already begun to have their anticipated lullaby effect on the audience.

It was the first time all twenty études had been performed in their entirety: a world première for the Perth Festival. Glass composed them over a period of twenty years, having begun the first sketches in far-away 1992, and completed the work in response to subsequent commissions – one from long-time collaborator Dennis Russell Davies in 1994, another from the Sydney Festival in 1996 and one from Bruce Levingston in 2007. The last three études (nos 18-20) were commissioned by the Perth International Arts Festival in 2012 for a world première performance this year.

Piano duties for this immense...