Susan Tomes is a pianist and writer. Renowned as a soloist and as a chamber musician, she’s the author of seven books.
Susan Tomes has won numerous awards as a pianist, both on the concert platform and in the recording studio. She grew up in Edinburgh and was the first woman to take a degree in music at King’s College, Cambridge, when co-education arrived at the college after 400 years. Her career encompasses solo, duo and chamber playing. She has been at the heart of the internationally admired ensembles Domus, the Gaudier Ensemble, and the Florestan Trio, winners of a Royal Philharmonic Society Award. In 2013 she was awarded the Cobbett Medal for her services to chamber music.
She has made over fifty CDs, many of which have become benchmark recordings. In 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic she was one of the artists invited by the Edinburgh International Festival to record a concert to be relayed through speakers in the trees to an audience in Princes Street Gardens. A few months later she was one of the first artists to perform to a socially distanced live audience in London’s Wigmore Hall, where she has appeared regularly for many years. She has served on many international competition juries and chaired the Piano Trio jury at the ARD International Competition in Munich in 2023.
Susan is a writer as well as a pianist. For her these activities are intertwined. In both playing and writing she is fired by a wish to understand music, explore its context and convey its meaning to listeners and readers. Her lecture-recitals have given listeners new insight into the music she performs.
She has written several acclaimed books about performing: Beyond the Notes (2004), A Musician’s Alphabet (2006), Out of Silence (2010), Sleeping in Temples (2014) and Speaking the Piano (2018). Her books are studied on performance practice courses around the English-speaking world and have inspired several PhDs. Her appeal to a diverse readership was demonstrated by her appearances at the 2016 and 2019 Edinburgh International Book Festivals, which attracted large audiences.
Her sixth book, The Piano: A History in 100 Pieces, was published by Yale University Press in 2021. It was a Book of the Year in The Spectator and the Financial Times, a Presto Music Award winner, a Notable Book of 2021 for the Seminary Co-op Bookstore in Chicago, and a Scottish Book of 2021 in The Scotsman. Her seventh book, Women and the Piano – a History in Fifty Lives, comes out from Yale UP in March 2024. Parallel with writing the book, Susan has started giving recitals of piano music by neglected women pianist-composers whose music has delighted audiences.
In 2023, Susan was one of fifty women chosen to be photographed for a special exhibition of portraits by award-winning photographer Jooney Woodward to mark 50 years of female undergraduates at King’s College, Cambridge. The exhibition was displayed in King’s College Chapel and will form part of the College’s permanent art collection.
“A pianist who combines a rock-solid technique with a rare ability to communicate her deep understanding of the music she plays. With little fuss, Susan Tomes distils the essence of a piece of music into its purest form in the most profound and moving way.”
– The Scotsman
“Tomes writes like a dream and with such elegance, her erudition worn so lightly and her ‘insider knowledge’ dispensed so generously, that even those with a minimal interest in the subject must want to share the journey with her.”
Two weeks today I'll be playing a recital at London's Wigmore Hall to mark the launch of my new book about the history of women playing the piano. My programme consists of music by some of the historical women featured in the book. I've been wondering how many of...
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