Improvisation

Posted by Susan Tomes on 5 November 2010 under Daily Life, Musings  •  5 Comments

We were listening to a jazz station on the radio as we cooked dinner. A saxophone player meandered interminably through a long dull solo without ever finding a way to extricate himself. It was like listening to a fly struggling in a spoonful of honey.

Bob went over and switched the radio off. ‘The trouble with improvisation’, he said darkly, ‘is that you can play anything you like.’

Washing symbols

Posted by Susan Tomes on 3 November 2010 under Daily Life  •  Leave a comment

In our local department store today, I was looking at the autumn collection of clothes. A young sales assistant in her twenties stepped forward to help me when she saw me studying a particular pair of wool trousers. I asked her if they were washable.

‘I wouldn’t know’, she replied. ‘I’ve never washed any clothes. My mummy still does all my washing for me.’  ‘Seriously?’ I said. She looked demurely downwards. ‘Yes, it’s a disgrace, isn’t it?’, she said with a charming smile.

At this moment I found the care label on the trousers. ‘Well, it seems you can hand-wash them’, I said. ‘How do you know that?’ said the assistant. ‘See here?’ I said. ‘This little symbol of a hand dipping into a tub. That shows you that you can wash the trousers by hand, but not in a machine.’ ‘Oh, does it?’ said this young clothes advisor politely.

Egyptian friezes unfrozen

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

To Sadler’s Wells to see the Tanztheater Wuppertal, Pina Bausch’s dance company. Sadly I never saw them while Pina Bausch was still alive (she died last year).

The audience was packed with dancers, or at least that was how I interpreted the fact that there were so many gorgeous people with regal posture, tiny waists and turned-out toes. Many of them were casually wearing stylish and unusual clothes. In front of us was a chap in a close-fitting black military jacket with silver braid and elegant grey fedora. Behind us was a tall, willowy girl with piled-up black hair and scary Halloween face makeup, so fully realised that I had to whisper to Bob not to faint when he turned around at the interval and saw her. This turned out to be good practice for what we saw when we travelled home on the tube. Innumerable young women on their way to Halloween parties had painted bleeding wounds and realistic vampire bites on their faces.

Pina Bausch’s choreography was interesting because it made me realise how much she had influenced other choreographers whose work I’ve enjoyed, notably Mark Morris. Her dance language was austere, angular and quirky, yet highly responsive to the gestures of the music. I often felt as though the dancers on Egyptian friezes or Greek pots had come to life and continued the kind of dancing shown on the pots.

An extra hour in bed

Posted by Susan Tomes on 31 October 2010 under Daily Life, Florestan Trio, Musings  •  Leave a comment

moonlightThe clocks went back last night, and we all had an extra hour in bed. This should have been ideal at the end of a day of recording Shostakovich. Recording is an arduous process and I was looking forward to relaxing when it was all over. But could I take advantage of that extra hour to have a nice long sleep? Oh no. The Shostakovich we’d just recorded went round and round in my head with remorseless clarity, especially the difficult bits. At 3am I gave myself a pep talk about how ridiculous it was to be practising tricky fingerings in my head when I’d already committed myself on disc. At 5am I started to reprise a different set of melodies and figurations from the day’s work. Round and round they went, round and round.

Completing our Shostakovich CD

Posted by Susan Tomes on 28 October 2010 under Florestan Trio, Musings  •  Leave a comment

This weekend, the Florestan Trio is recording the first piano trio by Shostakovich, a student work of the composer’s. We’re adding it to a Shostakovich disc which we recorded a little while ago, and the whole CD will come out in the New Year on the Hyperion label. On the disc, Susan Gritton joins us as the soprano in Shostakovich’s ‘Seven Poems of Alexander Blok’.

The first piano trio was written at around the time that the teenage Shostakovich (now why is that such a hard image to conjure up?)  took a job as a cinema pianist, playing for silent movies, though there seems to be some doubt as to whether he wrote the piece before or during that period. Whatever the case, it’s easy to imagine him dreaming up ‘film scenes’ as he wrote these dramatic episodes intercut with bursts of romantic longing. He dedicated the piece to Tatiana, a girl he had met the previous summer on holiday in the Crimea. His composing style is slightly wobbly, as if he couldn’t decide whether he was a heart-on-sleeve romantic or a grim sceptic, but it’s interesting to see him when he was still wondering which way to go.