Pianists and writing: what’s the link?

Posted by Susan Tomes on 5 October 2010 under Books, Concerts, Musings  •  4 Comments

In BBC Music magazine, Rebecca Franks muses on why the musicians who write books about their experience of music tend to be pianists. Read her article.

It’s a fascinating topic and one I’m often asked about. There are various possibilities: pianists are loners, and so are writers. The composers of great piano music were often people who were deeply interested in literature; pianists follow their lead. In collaborative music, pianists work from the whole score and are used to having an overview. Does this influence their way of thinking?

Or it is that people who are naturally analytical are the ones drawn to the piano in the first place? Does playing the piano, with separate musical strands for the left and right hands, and the ability to play both melody and harmony at the same time, develop the brain in a particular way?

Schumann at Wigmore Hall

Posted by Susan Tomes on 2 October 2010 under Concerts, Florestan Trio, Musings  •  Leave a comment

rehearsing at Wigmore HallThe first concert of the new season for the Florestan Trio is on Tuesday 5 October at 7.30pm at Wigmore Hall, part of the Schumann bicentenary celebrations.

What is it about Schumann which makes him such a favourite of musicians? He isn’t always a favourite at the box office; in fact promoters sometimes sigh with disappointment on hearing that we want to play Schumann. His music is regarded as introvert, enigmatic, obsessive, and private. However, it’s also imaginative, touching, sincere, and memorably beautiful. Working on it is an absorbing puzzle, and it can stick in your mind almost more than the music of any other composer.

I think what Schumann-lovers sense is that his musical personality is not manipulative. His strange gestures, his sudden inspirations, his manic repetitions are not designed to be theatrical, as they would be in the work of some other composers; they’re signs of Schumann’s vulnerability, and they make us feel protective.

Wimbledon BookFest on Saturday

Posted by Susan Tomes on 28 September 2010 under Books, Concerts  •  Leave a comment

The Wimbledon BookFest has asked me to mention them, and I’m happy to spread the word as my own event is one of the first in this year’s BookFest.

The festival runs from 2-10 October and you can find out more here. On the evening of Saturday 2 October I’m giving a talk, at a lovely house in Wimbledon Village, about my books. I’ll be reading excerpts from the books, talking about why I feel drawn to write about my experience of performance, and I’ll be playing the piano as well.

The evening begins at 6pm with a talk by author Philip Ball about music and the brain, and after a half-hour drinks interval, we continue at 7.30pm with my talk. You can buy a composite ticket for the whole evening (6-7pm and 7.30-8.30pm plus the drinks interval), or you can buy a ticket for just one of the talks.

Counting your listeners

Posted by Susan Tomes on 24 September 2010 under Concerts, Daily Life, Musings  •  1 Comment

Yesterday I was at a conference about creativity in performance. There were many interesting speakers, several of whom told anecdotes to make their points clear. 

At one point we were talking about the curious blend of involvement and detachment that seems to be necessary for high-level performance. Involvement alone is not as helpful as you might imagine, and of course detachment alone is a disaster. But many great performers seems to balance the two in a mysterious and energising way.

Someone  told a story about a great pianist who played a wonderful recital which was very poorly attended. Afterwards, a listener went backstage to congratulate the pianist. He said, ‘Maestro, it’s such a terrible shame that there were so few people in the audience. There can only have been about twenty people.’

‘There were twenty-seven people in the audience’, replied the great man. ‘I counted them during the slow movement.’

Bronze age

Posted by Susan Tomes on 21 September 2010 under Daily Life  •  1 Comment

Gazing into the Water of LeithLast time I saw Anthony Gormley’s bronze figures, they were perched on top of various London buildings. When you crossed Waterloo Bridge on foot, you had time to spot several of them in perilous locations, looking unnervingly like people who might have to be talked down from a ledge.

They disappeared from London a while ago, but I came across some of them again in Edinburgh yesterday in more tranquil surroundings, standing in the Water of Leith. Here’s one of them in reflective mood.