TLS review of ‘Speaking the Piano’

Posted by Susan Tomes on 5 January 2019 under Books, Reviews  •  1 Comment

The Times Literary Supplement of January 4 has a lovely review of my book ‘Speaking the Piano‘.

Because of the subscriber paywall, only a snippet of the review is publicly accessible online, but here’s a photo of the review as it appears in print.

And here’s an excerpt:

‘Tomes is a celebrated classical pianist, renowned for her communicative musicianship and her engaging writing on music. This, her fifth book, explores the role of teacher and pupil in mastering this grandest and most bewitching of musical instruments, ‘with its enormous bulk and its heroic air of solitude.’ Part manual, part memoir, part philosophical treatise on the intellectual and emotional rigours of musical performance, the book darts back and forth in time as Tomes recounts her musical journey. …
Fascinating … Tomes is at ease with the paradox of writing about music, that most ineffable of art forms.’

The reviewer, writer Kate Wakeling, was kind enough to tweet that ‘It was a joy to write about Susan Tomes’s wise and gentle book for the TLS.’

Getting dark as you play


Scotsman preview of 2019’s concerts

Posted by Susan Tomes on 3 January 2019 under Concerts  •  Leave a comment

The year got off to a flying start with a mention of Winterplay in The Scotsman‘s preview of concerts to look forward to in 2019.

After talking about the Edinburgh International Festival, it goes on to say:

‘On a far smaller scale, though just as rewarding, is pianist Susan Tomes’s Winterplay mini-festival, which returns to Edinburgh’s Queen’s Hall on 16 February. With a children’s music and movement workshop, a piano and literature afternoon with Tomes and novelist Janice Galloway, and finally a starry trio performance with Tomes, violinist Erich Höbarth and cellist Philip Higham, Winterplay is a bold, brilliantly broad-ranging addition to the capital’s festivals.’

In addition to the events mentioned in The Scotsman, there’s also a pre-concert talk (free to ticket-holders) at 6.30pm by Robert Philip whose previous talks have drawn a large audience.

Winterplay is on Saturday 16 February 2019. Tickets are available online or through the Queen’s Hall box office (0131 668 2019). Join us for this celebration of chamber music!

The dark days of February have been indelibly brightened by Winterplay’. The Scotsman, 2018

A New Year wish for musicians everywhere

Posted by Susan Tomes on 31 December 2018 under Inspirations, Musings  •  Leave a comment

The last live music I heard in 2018, outside my home, was some excellent jazz in a city bar (pianist Brian Kellock and bassist Kenny Ellis). The bar was buzzing with people enjoying long lunches and toasting the end of the year. Crockery clattered and the coffee machine hissed. The music was merrily applauded, but naturally not everyone was there for the music.

The musicians were on great form. It struck me that if I’d had some high-quality recording equipment about my person, I could have captured something that would please jazz fans anywhere.

In classical music, when you play in public you’re usually on a stage with a good piano and an audience trained to listen. Everything’s arranged so that music is paramount and the performer is seen and heard.

By contrast, for a serious musician it is no easy matter to play in a dark corner, keeping your spirits high while people troop in and out, letting in a blast of cold air with each swing of the door. Some pay attention, others sit with their back to you and tell jokes. The players could simply coast along, making musical small-talk.

But week after week these musicians, and others like them in other bars, create a bubble of concentration and give the music their all. I don’t mean they play loudly; I mean they think creatively and intensively. There’s a risk that their most glorious phrases may be lost in the hubbub, but they keep the faith. And with luck there are usually people in the crowd who are keenly aware of what’s going on and grateful that it is.

So here’s to all musicians who, no matter what the surroundings  are, find a way to keep making real music. Happy New Year.

Limelight review of Speaking the Piano

Posted by Susan Tomes on 21 December 2018 under Books, Reviews  •  Leave a comment

Australia’s leading arts magazine, Limelight, carries a review of my book Speaking the Piano

‘Tomes offers warm, thoughtful insights into the art of teaching’

‘Speaking the Piano explores more than simply the nuts and bolts of mastering an instrument – it tries to harness the ineffable magic of making music, and the ways in which that magic can be transmitted or made accessible to others.

This is Tomes’s fifth book. Her previous publications all explored the life and work of a professional musician, but here she tackles the more egalitarian issues of teaching and learning, whether for an aspiring concert pianist or an amateur musician playing for the pleasure of it. … In warm, elegant prose, Tomes contemplates topics from how to inspire musical imagination to how to get a handle on the subtleties of different musical styles, taking a conversational tone with plenty of demonstrative anecdotes thrown in.

… Tomes’s wide-ranging book is thoughtfully written, with a lot of heart. It doesn’t provide definitive answers to many of the questions it (and indeed the art and craft of learning to play music) throws up – in many ways it’s more memoir than methodology. But what it does offer is plenty of food for thought, new ways in, and different angles born of experience and careful observation. A worthwhile read for music teachers, students and anyone looking for ways to enrich their own musical journey.’

Angus McPherson, Limelight magazine, Australia



Scotsman review of Bob’s book

Posted by Susan Tomes on 16 December 2018 under Books, Reviews  •  Leave a comment

Rave review of Bob’s book today in The Scotsman. I can’t find it online yet, so here it is:

Stocking filler of musical scholarship is far more inspiring than a Google search

‘These days it’s as easy as pie, when listening to a random piece of music on the radio or attending a live performance, to look up background information online. Somewhere on Google there will be a dizzying array of programme-note-style analyses of even the most obscure examples of classical music repertoire. However, the accuracy and quality of that information is not a given.

Far better, then, to consult a publication like Robert Philip’s 900-page The Classical Music Lover’s Companion to Orchestral Music, one of the most comprehensive, intellectually sound publications of its type I have seen for some time.

Philip, a former lecturer and BBC music broadcaster who lives in Edinburgh, has previous form as an assiduous researcher and writer. His earlier book, Early Recordings and Musical Style, is fascinating in its assessment of instrumental performance in early 20th century recordings and how important they are as documents that preserve the evolving performance styles of the early gramophone age.

In this new book, painstakingly prepared over a number of years, Philip turns his attention to more than 300 orchestral works dating from late 17th century Corelli and Vivaldi to 20th century Britten and Tippett. The scale is breathtaking, the choice both comprehensive and representative, but most importantly the scholarship is profound, perceptive and concise, with a directness of language that completely avoids pomposity. That applies to the obvious contenders for inclusion – the Mozarts and Beethovens of the musical firmament – and to the less well known, so the language explaining the ear-teasing complexities of Webern’s 12-note technique in his 1928 Variations, for instance, is every bit as friendly and familiar as that bringing fresh insight to the symphonies and concertos of Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Mahler and Rachmaninov. Philip’s wide-ranging enthusiasms draw the reader in; they never frighten with pointless jargon.

This volume, then, is an invitation to every music aficionado to explore familiar and new territory with equal ease. Mainstream enthusiasts will relish Philip’s refreshing thoughts on the core orchestral classics, but they’ll also find such exciting new avenues to investigate as the multi-layered cacophony of Charles Ives’s Symphony no 4, the café culture influencing Darius Milhaud’s gauche delights, or the psychedelic excesses of Alexander Scriabin.

It’s not a book that demands to be read from cover to cover. Best to keep it handy and dip in whenever the fancy takes you. Set out alphabetically by composer, anything from Bach to Webern is easy to locate. If I didn’t already have a copy, I’d definitely put this treasure of a tome on my Christmas list.’

Ken Walton, The Scotsman (Scotland on Sunday), Arts and Books, 16.12.18