Novelty and unusual locations

Posted by Susan Tomes on 25 February 2016 under Concerts, Musings  •  6 Comments

A young musician announced to me recently that the problem of classical music’s dwindling audiences would be solved by moving concerts into exciting new locations not associated with classical performance.

For example, she mentioned the MultiStory project, an orchestra which performs in a multi-storey car park in the London district of Peckham. Their car park concerts have attracted large audiences. They don’t only play in car parks, but their mission is to ‘forget fusty concert halls’ as a Times review put it.

I confess that when I hear this kind of thing my heart sinks, because I know from my experience with Domus and its dome that merely providing a startling location is not enough to keep audiences faithful in the long term. I do believe in the potential of certain site-specific events, pairing a particular piece of music with a setting which enhances it – be it a cave, a warehouse, a ruined chapel or a forest. If the unexpected setting has good acoustics, so much the better. I can imagine that some settings will open everyone’s ears to new meanings.

But even if audiences like them, I do wonder whether the novelty of wacky locations is enough to sustain the musicians themselves. So much instrumental skill and dedication is required to play these very demanding, complex pieces of music: thousands of hours of practice behind the scenes are necessary. Will the musicians be motivated to put in the work if they feel the main selling-point of the performance is the novelty of its location?

The gimmick will be attractive, but what happens when the surprise has worn off? What if the orchestral sound is lost on the wind and in the din of passing traffic? What if the musicians’ hands are too cold to play? Novelty only works for a moment. After that, we need to be able to hold the audience’s attention by means of the music itself. The big question is: having enjoyed the concert in the car park or the London Underground tunnel, will listeners be inspired to follow the musicians into the conditions in which they prefer to perform – in quiet, sheltered spaces perfect for playing and listening to music?

Playing at the Queen’s Hall

Posted by Susan Tomes on 17 February 2016 under Concerts, Musings  •  Leave a comment

IMG_1301A wonderful night on Monday at the Queen’s Hall playing Schubert with violinist Erich Höbarth (see photo). We were pleasantly surprised by the size of the audience and even more so by their warmth. After such a long build-up to this particular concert it felt very good to be on that stage, playing the lovely new Steinway piano for that appreciative roomful of people.

I must say I was helped by having watched one of the recent BBC4 programmes about the brain, presented by neuroscientist David Eagleman. He explained that when you have trained in something to a high degree, an awful lot of information has been lodged in the unconscious, and if you have done the preparation adequately, then you can and should trust the brain to deliver when the moment comes. Interfering consciously, checking up on yourself and asking yourself whether you really know what you’re doing is not as effective as trusting the security of your specialist knowledge and being in a ‘flow state’.

I knew all this really, but it definitely helped to be reminded in such an articulate way. Eagleman’s explanation stayed with me, helping me to be enjoyably ‘in the zone’ during Monday night’s concert.

Reviews of the Mosaiques weekend, Perth

Posted by Susan Tomes on 15 February 2016 under Concerts, Reviews  •  Leave a comment

DSC02792A great weekend of music-making in Perth Concert Hall with the Quatuor Mosaiques came to an end yesterday with  fabulous five-star reviews in The Herald and The Scotsman.

During the residency we had the privilege of staying in Methven Castle with its delightful and tireless owners, Alex and David Murdoch. Here we are outside the castle. Left to right: Alex Murdoch, Andrea Bischhof, me, Erich Höbarth, Anita Mitterer, David Murdoch, Christophe Coin.

Scotsman article about this week’s concerts

Posted by Susan Tomes on 8 February 2016 under Concerts  •  2 Comments

DSC00598Last Saturday there was a lovely article by Ken Walton in The Scotsman weekend magazine about my upcoming concerts with the Quatuor Mosaiques in Perth, and with Erich Höbarth (pictured with me) in Edinburgh.

Here it is for anyone who’d like to read it.

For some inexplicable reason the audiences for these concerts haven’t quite reached Superbowl proportions yet, and we’d be delighted to see you at any of them. Don’t miss this rare opportunity to hear one of the world’s leading classical period string quartets playing Mozart and Haydn in Perth’s excellent concert hall! The series starts on Friday.

Playing with Mosaiques and with Erich Höbarth

Posted by Susan Tomes on 7 February 2016 under Concerts, Inspirations, Travel  •  4 Comments

DSC02771An exciting week lies ahead, with a whole cluster of works – nine, in fact – to perform in the space of four days.

I’m doing a residency with the wonderful period-instrument quartet, Quatuor Mosaiques, in Perth Concert Hall (in Scotland, before any Australians start calling the wrong hall for tickets. It has happened!)

The Quatuor Mosaiques are focusing on the string quartets Mozart dedicated to Haydn, and together we’re playing a Haydn Trio and a Mozart piano concerto using a quartet instead of an orchestra. In the middle, I’m doing a solo piano recital of works by Haydn and Mozart. Rehearsals begin this week and I’m so looking forward to an intensive period of music-making with a group of musicians I very much admire.

When the final concert is over, the quartet’s first violinist, Erich Höbarth, and I will make a dash for Edinburgh and a totally different programme to be performed on the very next day (see photo of me standing beside a concert poster). This is the all-Schubert programme of duo sonatas which we gave in Wigmore Hall last year. On this occasion we’re playing in the Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh, familiar to both of us from our visits over the years with different groups during the Edinburgh International Festival. Please come along if you can on 15 February!

When we put together our Schubert programme we decided to include the much-feared ‘Fantasy’, one of Schubert’s sublimely imaginative works which appear oblivious to how difficult it is to get one’s fingers round the notes on actual instruments. In the Fantasy there are, essentially, four movements in a continuous sequence, and every one of them presents high-level challenges of different kinds. Not that the listener is supposed to be aware of that, however; it’s clearly all meant to seem like angels tumbling about in airy realms.

Erich Höbarth has long been one of my favourite musicians and I always learn a lot from his approach to music-making. He has a wonderful, very Viennese sense of how to make things feel natural and idiomatic, taking care to ensure there’s always room for playfulness and flexibility as well as repose.