An unexpected pairing

Posted by Susan Tomes on 9 January 2010 under Books, Daily Life, Inspirations, Reviews  •  Leave a comment

A most unexpected and heartwarming New Year gift arrived today in the form of a comment made in a Times book review by the distinguished cellist Natalie Clein. Reviewing a new book on Bach’s cello suites, she muses on the difficulty of writing about music, and says, ‘The most successful writers are often musicians themselves – Robert Schumann in the 19th century, for example, and Susan Tomes in the 21st.’

She could not have known that my new book was inspired by Robert Schumann’s habit of keeping diaries, so this pairing of Schumann’s name with mine, though utterly surprising, also felt like a wonderful omen.

First concert of the year

Posted by Susan Tomes on 7 January 2010 under Concerts, Florestan Trio  •  Leave a comment

LSO St Luke's Centre

LSO St Luke's Centre

London is blanketed in snow at the moment. Dragging my little suitcase gingerly over the icy pavements, I managed to get in to the LSO St Luke’s Centre this morning  to rehearse for my first concert of the year, the first of four concerts by the Florestan Trio in the LSO St Luke’s on consecutive Thursdays this January.

Today, unusually, we played two arrangements: Janacek’s string quartet nicknamed ‘Kreutzer Sonata’ in a version for piano trio, and then a trio version of Beethoven’s Second Symphony. In theory the latter arrangement was made by Beethoven himself, though the historical proof is not watertight. Some think that the arrangement was made by a pupil or friend of the composer. However, the piano trio version was published in Vienna, with Beethoven’s name on it as composer and arranger, while Beethoven was living there, and knowing his character it seems inconceivable that he would not have protested if the publisher had taken his name in vain.

When we first played the 2nd Symphony as a piano trio, the audience seemed divided as to whether it was a worthwhile exercise or not. Some were very enthusiastic, others disdainful. Some thought that it was really just a way for 19th-century music lovers to get to know the work at home in the days before recordings were available. So I was not sure if I was looking forward to playing it in concert again, and having it recorded by the BBC for radio broadcast on Tuesday 2 February. But today the audience seemed thoroughly gripped, and after the concert we had a very enjoyable hour in the downstairs café with lots of people coming up to our table to say nice things about the performance. Perhaps we played it with more conviction than formerly.

No more tweaking

Posted by Susan Tomes on 3 January 2010 under Books, Daily Life, Musings  •  3 Comments

I spent most of yesterday correcting the page-proofs of my new book and twitching with frustration. My electronic copy of the page-proofs is ‘read only’. I cannot type on it or make any alterations. Any mistakes have to be listed separately and sent to the publisher. It’s a process akin to listening to the ‘first edit’ of a CD once the producer has had his wicked way with all the different takes we recorded in the studio. As I listen to the assembled version, I often have new ideas about how to turn this or that phrase, but there’s nothing I can do about it. The recording session is finished and in the past.

Similarly, as I read my page-proofs yesterday I kept thinking of words I’d like to tweak, adjectives I could improve, things I’d like to say differently or not say at all. But those options were not available: my role at this stage was simply to notice typographical mistakes. When I work on a word document I’m an inveterate tweaker, constantly meddling with the choice of words, so it was a character-building exercise to have to go through a couple of hundred pages in fine detail without once being able to indulge my passion for tweaking.

Perhaps it was good for me. I had to take a deep breath and accept that it was no longer a work in progress: this was what I wrote. It may still be simmering in my mind, but the actual words may no longer dance about on the page. If I want to write something more, or other, I’ll have to do it somewhere else.

New Year’s Day

Posted by Susan Tomes on 1 January 2010 under Daily Life, Inspirations, Travel  •  Leave a comment

time and tide ...

time and tide ...

This new year has found me in thoughtful rather than celebratory mood. So here is a photo of the tide gracefully looping its way along Portobello Beach in the winter sun in Edinburgh, where I spent Christmas.

There is much to look forward to in 2010, and I wish you all a good start to the new year.

Felix Wurman – in memoriam

Posted by Susan Tomes on 29 December 2009 under Inspirations  •  2 Comments

Yesterday brought the very sad news that American cellist Felix Wurman has died, age 51, of cancer. Felix was an inspiring person with a passion for adventure and an extraordinary gift for making friends.

He was the founder of the music group Domus, which had its own portable concert hall in the shape of a geodesic dome. Its members met at the International Musicians’ Seminars in Prussia Cove, Cornwall, in the early 1980s. I was the pianist. We wanted to find a way of making music that was less formal and intimidating than we were beginning to experience as young professionals playing in orthodox concert halls. When we started discussing how to create our own more intimate concerts, someone jokingly said that we should build a portable concert hall.

Felix was several steps ahead of us, then as at many other times. As an American school student he had come across Buckminster Fuller’s designs for a geodesic dome, and he declared that if we were to have a portable concert hall, it must be in the shape of a dome. With typical enterprise and energy he set about building us a geodesic dome. It wasn’t the most practical idea, but the beauty of the white dome galvanised lots of young musicians into helping to make it a reality. Some of the story is told in my book ‘Beyond the Notes’, and is too long to tell here. Suffice it to say that Felix was probably the only person in the world who could have got me to run about in the rain carrying heavy boxes full of aluminium tubes. When things got tough, as they soon did, he rallied us all with his heartfelt cry of, ‘It must never not be fun!!’

Felix had an amazing gift for dreaming up idealistic projects and, even more, for inspiring people to join him in bringing them to fruition. He did it with Domus, and later, when he had returned to America, he did it again with the Church of Beethoven, a concert series he founded in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Ironically, the Los Angeles Times ran a story about it on the day that Felix died, though I don’t think the writer can have been aware of the sad coincidence.

When I knew Felix in the ’80s we didn’t use the word ‘animateur’, but I think that’s what he was – an animateur of genius. He made people want to be in his gang. His love of music, combined with his love of fun, adventure, and the perfect cappuccino made him a magnet for other people throughout his life.