Susan Tomes is a pianist and writer. Renowned as a soloist and as a chamber musician, she’s also the author of seven books.
Susan Tomes has won numerous international awards as a pianist, both on the concert platform and in the recording studio, including several Gramophone Awards and the 2013 Cobbett Medal.
She is a solo pianist as well as a chamber musician. She has made fifty CDs and has been at the heart of the internationally admired ensembles Domus, the Gaudier Ensemble and the Florestan Trio with whom she won a Royal Philharmonic Society Award.
She is also the author of six acclaimed books. The Piano – a History in 100 Pieces (Yale, 2021) was a ‘Book of the Year’ in The Spectator and the Financial Times. Her seventh book, Women and the Piano – A History in 50 Lives, comes out from Yale University Press on 12 March 2024 and will be launched on that day with a solo concert by Susan in London’s Wigmore Hall.
Susan Tomes traces the lives of fifty women pianists from across the instrument’s history, showing how they broke convention to play, perform and compose on their own terms. Covering many genres and styles and including interviews with women concert pianists performing today, this is a much-needed corrective to our understanding of the piano – and a timely testament to women’s musical lives.
To be published by Yale University Press on 12 March 2024.
In Speaking the Piano, renowned pianist Susan Tomes turns her attention to teaching and learning. Teaching music encompasses everything from putting a drum in a child’s hands to helping an accomplished musician unlock the meaning and spirit of the classics. At every stage, some fundamental issues keep surfacing. In this wide-ranging book, Susan Tomes reflects on how her own experience as a learner, in different genres from classical to jazz, has influenced her approach to teaching. She tells us how her performing career has given her insight into what young performers need to know, and how discussions with students have fed into her own practice. She describes the brilliant and intriguing teachers whose masterclasses opened her ears to the many ways in which music can be brought alive and communicated.
“Studded with gems of insight… a must-read for anyone who plays or loves the piano.”
– The Sunday Times
A personal selection of a hundred influential, important, popular and cherished pieces which illustrate a timeline of piano music from across 200+ years.
The Piano – a History in 100 Pieces was a Book of the Year in the Financial Times and The Spectator, winner of a Presto Music Award for book of the year, a Book of 2021 in The Scotsman, and a ‘Notable Book of 2021’ as chosen by the Seminary Coop Bookstore in Chicago
“A fascinating survey … and what an interesting, entertaining and enthusiastic guide she is ….wonderfully eloquent and descriptive writing. A book that should appear on every pianophile’s wishlist.”
– The Pianist
In several decades as a distinguished classical pianist, Susan Tomes has found that there are some issues which never go away. Here she takes up various topics of perennial interest: how music awakens and even creates memories, what ‘interpretation’ really means, what effect daily practice has on the character, whether playing from memory is a burden or a liberation, and why the piano is the right tool for the job.
“Unputdownable … by the end, I felt I not only knew more about the author, but also about myself. Highly recommended.”
– International Piano
‘Out of Silence’ is my diary of a year as a performer. It aims to show something of how everyday life provides ideas for the task of understanding music, and vice versa.
‘Out of Silence’ was translated into Japanese by the distinguished pianist Noriko Ogawa and was chosen by ‘Chopin’ magazine as one of the five best books of 2012.
“There have been books about the experience of playing with a quartet or trio, but none by so naturally gifted a writer as Tomes.”
– The Times Literary Supplement
‘A Musician’s Alphabet’ is a series of 26 little meditations about performing. From ‘A is for Audience’ through ‘G is for Grace’, ‘J is for Job – not a proper’ and ‘U is for Unhelpful Thoughts’ to ‘Z is for Zen’, it introduces the arts-loving reader to some of the topics that preoccupy a performing musician.
“A Musician’s Alphabet deserves a readership way beyond the usual niche market. Let’s hope it gets it.”
– BBC Music
‘Beyond the Notes’ is a collection of writings which started as my private diary about the life of the chamber group Domus in the early 1980s. Domus was named after the portable concert hall, in the form of a geodesic dome, which a group of young idealistic musicians took around and put up in places where it was not usually possible to hear concerts.
“We knew that she was a superb player; now we know that she is a superb writer too.”
– The Independent
On Saturday there was a lovely article in The Guardian about Paul Barton, a man who plays the piano to elephants at an elephant sanctuary in Thailand. The elephants have often been overworked or mistreated before they come to the sanctuary, but it seems that they...
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“Susan Tomes’s stylish pianism is unimpeachable. Her round, fruity clarity in passagework and trills is a Mozartian’s dream.”
– Pianist Magazine
“As usual, Susan Tomes’s piano playing, never showy, but always holding the attention, was the foundation…”
– The Guardian
“Tomes allowed the music to speak for itself, delivering ravishing interpretations completely unfettered by affectation or indulgence. …She is a treasure in our midst.”
– The Scotsman
“Pianist Susan Tomes is spectacular, with a mastery of dynamics that is often stunning.”
– Audiophile Audition (USA)
“Tomes at her most supremely elegant … characteristic refinement, polish and understatement – she forces nothing, puts nothing under pressure … pristine pianism.”
– The Herald