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

American Music Teacher review

Posted by Susan Tomes on 10 December 2018 under Musings  •  Leave a comment

My first American review of Speaking the Piano has just appeared in American Music Teacher (December 2018/Jan 2019). It’s a relief to me to have the approval of professional teachers, for as I explain in the book my own experience of teaching has evolved slowly and organically out of my activities as a performer. I haven’t been trained as a teacher, though in all honesty I feel I have received and witnessed so much good teaching over so many years that it functioned as a kind of training course in itself. I could even say that I’ve witnessed plenty of not-so-good, or at any rate non-recommendable styles of teaching which have taught me a lot as well!

Excerpt from Pamela Mullins’ review in American Music Teacher:

‘Speaking the Piano is the perfect book to read in preparation for another year of music lessons. Susan Tomes is an inspirational and transparent author who writes clearly and beautifully about her passions for music, education and lifelong learning. … Reading this book will be a catalyst for the generational transfer.’

San Francisco Chronicle recommends Robert’s book

Posted by Susan Tomes on 7 December 2018 under Books, Reviews  •  Leave a comment

This website continues to be a bulletin board for news about my husband Robert Philip’s book, ‘The Classical Music Lover’s Companion to Orchestral Music‘.

[Yes, I know – the author could have his own website. But, having seen how much work it takes to feed a hungry website with titbits,  he would rather do something else. And he’d probably never have written a 1000-page book if he’d been attending to a website.]

The mighty San Franciso Chronicle has recommended Robert’s book as a holiday season gift:

The Classical Music Lovers’ Companion to Orchestral Music, by Robert Philip (Yale University Press; 949 pages; $50). 
‘A treasure for both neophytes and classical music aficionados, this mammoth compendium by Philip — a presenter on BBC Radio — promises to be an invaluable, get-passed-around-the-house resource. More than 400 works by 68 composers are highlighted, accompanied by short biographies of the composers.’
SFChronicle, Datebook, December 5, 2018

In other news: on Saturday 15 December, Robert will be talking about his book to Tom Service on BBC Radio 3’s Music Matters, broadcast at 12.15pm (midday) and available thereafter on the BBC iPlayer.

Front-of-house book display in Blackwell’s

Posted by Susan Tomes on 4 December 2018 under Books, Daily Life  •  1 Comment

I’m not sure my books have ever before made it into the display at the front of a major bookstore, so it was a thrill to find Speaking the Piano just inside the main door of Blackwell’s Bookshop in Edinburgh (see photo) when we were there to do some Christmas shopping.

What’s more, it was right next to my husband Bob’s ‘Companion to Orchestral Music‘, whether by chance or because the bookstore staff knew we were a couple, I don’t know. Anyway, I couldn’t resist getting Bob to take a picture.

My own favourite reads of the year

Posted by Susan Tomes on 29 November 2018 under Books  •  1 Comment

Inspired by the idea of ‘Books of the Year‘ (see blog post below this one), I have been making my own selection of the books I most enjoyed during the year.

Short Stories: Anything is Possible, by Elizabeth Strout. The first book I read in 2018 and one of the finest. I have read all Elizabeth Strout’s books and am sad there is nothing more of hers to look for yet. These short stories recount episodes from the lives of the characters familiar to us from her other books, notably ‘My name is Lucy Barton’, which I saw in its theatrical version in London this year with Laura Linney in the title role. Elizabeth Strout has the gift of entering deeply into her characters’ minds and motives while keeping her descriptions poignantly light.

Novel: Days without End, by Sebastian Barry. The Costa Prize-winning tale of a poor Irish boy, Thomas McNulty, who crosses the Atlantic in the 1850s and signs up for the US army together with his great friend and partner John Cole. They encounter all manner of hardships and live though harrowing violence, but are sustained by their love for one another. The author has a staggering ability to describe scenes and feelings so lyrically and empathetically that he often seems to be writing poetry in the medium of prose.

Novel: Cloudstreet, by Tim Winton. This was given to me by a lovely Australian house guest who said it would give me some insight into why she missed Australia so much. I had never read anything by Tim Winton before, but was entranced by his visionary prose, his uncanny sensitivity to nature and his love for the rough, tough pioneers of hardscrabble Ozzie life.

Vintage Fiction: The Irish RM, by Somerville and Ross (an Anglo-Irish duo of women authors). An anthology of blissfully funny tales, written around 1900, told by Major Yeates, a resident magistrate (the RM of the title) as he attempts to see through the artful shenanigans of rural Ireland and to administer justice as envisaged by an English law which moves in straight lines. Needless to say, the Irish run rings around him in every chapter. I am not much interested in horses, but everyone’s passion for horses and horse-dealing made me temporarily as besotted with the subject as they are.

Novel: Less, by Andrew Sean Greer. Arthur Less, a writer who isn’t quite as celebrated as he would like to be, receives news that his former boyfriend is marrying Another. In order to spare himself the pain of having to go to the wedding, Arthur Less suddenly accepts a series of possibly pointless international literary invitations which have been lying unanswered on his desk. The story of his evasive travels and his ultimate redemption is told in wonderfully crafted, limpid prose.

Arts: The Lost Carving, by David Esterly. When the famous limewood carvings by Grinling Gibbons (1648-1721) were damaged in the Hampton Court fire of 1986, American woodcarver David Esterly was summoned to restore or re-carve them, sometimes starting from scratch to reproduce the master’s work. He describes this year of work in entrancing detail. One of the most thoughtful, informative and beautifully written books I have come across on the subject of art, craft, imagination, and the profound insights which can come to the dedicated artist.