Slug Barrier

Posted by Susan Tomes on 25 May 2009 under Daily Life  •  5 Comments

Bob’s new vegetable patch at the bottom of the garden is being sabotaged by slugs. They emerge at night to munch on his tender lettuces and fledgling bean plants. We know the slugs dislike crawling over certain things, so for a while we collected our coffee grounds and spread them around the plants, but rain kept washing them away. We tried gravel and expensive bands of copper, to little effect. Sometimes Bob goes out at night with a torch and a bucket of water to collect slugs, but he doesn’t feel like doing that very often. (When I first typed that sentence, I wrote ‘Bob goes out at night to collect slugs with a torch and a bucket of water’, but that conjured up an awful vision of torch-wielding aquiferous slugs.)

Now he’s moved the campaign into a new phase by building a little wooden barrier around the vegetable patch, and affixing sandpaper to the outside of the barrier. So far this prickly wall has defeated the slugs.

We’ve been discussing whether it’s enough to have a barrier above ground level. Slugs can also burrow, so it seems likely that on meeting the barrier they may simply dive (if that is the word) under it and rise up triumphant among the lettuces. Should the sandpaper barrier be extended downwards, under the ground? What depth would deter them, and whom else would it deter?

The upside-down piano

Posted by Susan Tomes on 24 May 2009 under Daily Life, Musings  •  1 Comment

I find that Piotr Anderszewski’s views on chamber music have begun to prey on my mind. Yesterday I said it was no hardship that chamber music has to be performed in an upright position. Since then I have started to wonder if I was too hasty. Now I suddenly feel that if only I could have lain down to play the piano, everything would have been better. Just thinking about my years of enforced perpendicularity to the concert platform makes me feel exhausted.

But what kind of piano would I have played, had I been lying down? I did once see, in the Tate Gallery, an exhibition of work by German artist Rebecca Horn which featured a grand piano suspended upside-down just below the ceiling. Other drastic things had happened to the piano too, but its location was thought-provoking. Arguably such a piano could be manoeuvred by crane into a position where a recumbent pianist could play it. But even if the piano keyboard could be arranged to hang just above one’s chest, it would be very difficult to press the keys upwards instead of downwards, and particularly hard to play loud and fast at the same time. Gravity would say no. And what about the pedals? Would the pianist end up looking like someone at an exercise class doing imaginary cycling? That would take all the fun out of lying down. For all I know, however, it may already be possible for a pianist to lie in bed and play a virtual keyboard projected onto the counterpane, the ‘sound’ created electronically and transmitted to speakers in Wembley Stadium or the Hollywood Bowl. Maybe that’s a way forward for the vertically-challenged pianist.

The verticality of chamber music

Posted by Susan Tomes on 23 May 2009 under Musings  •  1 Comment

I’m still mulling over a remark made by the marvellous pianist Piotr Anderszewski in a Telegraph interview I read on the plane to Berlin. Asked why he doesn’t play much chamber music, Anderszewski replied, ‘Well…I’m a solitary person. But also I like to lie down, and you can’t do that if you’re rehearsing with another person. I really love to lie down, it’s the natural position. Standing up is horrible – look! It’s so insecure, and so high!.. I wish someone would invent a piano I could play lying down, I would be so happy!”

This is the most ingenious defence I’ve heard so far for not playing chamber music. But I don’t see why chamber music should be uniquely singled out for its verticality. He might as well say that he doesn’t accept concerto engagements because they require him to be in an upright position. It’s true that most piano concertos require no more than half an hour of public verticality, whereas performances of chamber music generally demand two hours of it. But then so do solo piano recitals. It is very puzzling. Of all the difficulties involved in chamber music, I’d say that the impossibility of lying down is one of the less maddening.

I’m baffled too by his reference to the ‘high, insecure’ pursuit of standing up. Surely he doesn’t stand up to play chamber piano parts? Perhaps, when he thinks of chamber music rehearsals, he imagines himself seated at the piano beside a tall violinist who might at any moment sway, totter and fall on top of him – crying ‘Timbre!’

Sunny above the clouds

Posted by Susan Tomes on 22 May 2009 under Florestan Trio, Musings, Travel  •  Leave a comment

This morning we flew back from Berlin. Yesterday’s thunderstorm had been swept away and the sky was a brilliant blue, with hundreds of fluffy white clouds bobbing about beneath us.

Sometimes when travelling by plane, especially on a dull day, the glorious sunshine above the clouds comes as a shock. It’s often crossed my mind  that my favourite composers could have had no idea of this sight. For us it has become almost routine. But what would Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert have made of it? Vast as their imaginations were, surely they would have been stirred by the experience of seeing the bright space above the clouds, and the glimpses of our patchwork fields and settlements far below.

Beyond the Wall

Posted by Susan Tomes on 21 May 2009 under Florestan Trio, Travel  •  1 Comment

Off early this morning to Heathrow for a concert this evening with the trio in Berlin’s Konzerthaus. We used never to travel somewhere far away on the day of a concert, in case of delays. We’d had one or two nasty experiences which made us conclude that we must always go out on the day before our concert. However, as we’ve all become busier and our family lives more complicated, we’ve found it less easy to be so idealistic. And if we’re paying our hotel bills out of our concert fees, as we usually are, travelling out on the day before the concert means two nights of expense instead of one.

We’ve played three times this season in the Konzerthaus. These have been highlights of the year. During the time of Germany’s division into East and West, the Konzerthaus was beyond the Berlin Wall and inaccessible to Western musicians like us. Now it has been renovated and looks wonderful. The artists’ dark-panelled canteen backstage still seems ‘ancien régime’ but I rather liked that, and I liked the motherly server who advised me that the ‘dish of the day’ would be better value than the one I’d just asked for. I found it very touching to perform in this historic hall, and even more touching to encounter today’s young and extremely-switched-on Berlin audience who were cheering even before we’d reached the interval. I felt like scooping them up and taking them all in my suitcase back to London.