Next Thursday at Glasgow University

23rd October 2015 | Concerts, Musings | 2 comments

I’ve been looking forward to performing Beethoven’s song cycle ‘An die ferne Geliebte’ with tenor Jamie MacDougall next week at Glasgow University’s lunchtime concert series. Admission to this popular series is free by the way!

Unfortunately Jamie has had to pull out of next week’s concert, so at short notice I’ll be converting it into a lecture-recital about Beethoven’s opus 109 piano sonata. I was going to play it anyway, as part of the programme, but now I’m going to speak about it as well. Come along on Thursday 29th at 1.10pm if you can.

I’ve done a lecture-recital about this sonata a couple of times recently, but each time it has come out differently, according to the size of venue and the type of audience. I suppose it is no surprise that, in an intimate venue where the front row of the audience is practically knee to knee with me when I turn to speak, and I can see their facial expressions, it feels appropriate to speak about some of the more inward aspects of the music. In a larger venue where the audience’s faces are distant and dimly lit, you find yourself speaking more about history and context.

I did one talk in a very large venue where I realised I’d need a microphone. It was my first experience of the so-called ‘Madonna’ headset, hooked around the ears like a pair of reversed spectacles with the connecting wire running around the back of the head. A fine wire with a microphone on the end of it curls forward, around the wearer’s right cheek. I felt very self-conscious, especially when playing the piano, in profile to the audience.

I said to one of the stage technicians that it made me feel like a pop musician. He replied kindly that it must be quite a fun experience for me to feel like a pop star for a few minutes. In fact, it was fun, not because I felt like a pop star (a few things would have to change before that transformation could occur) but because it was my first experience of being able to turn my head any way I liked without losing contact with the microphone (with a ‘lapel mic’ or a handheld mic there’s always this danger).

Once I’d got over the odd feeling of the headset, and the startling sensation of hearing my own voice booming out over the faraway speakers, it was quite relaxing to be able to speak at whatever level I wanted. And the invisibility of the ‘Madonna’ headset was proven when a member of the audience said to me afterwards, ‘I could hear every word you said extremely clearly, and yet you weren’t even using a microphone. Bravo!’


  1. Sandy Small

    We thoroughly enjoyed the Beethoven last Thursday. As a very ropy amateur, I’m full of admiration for people like yourself who take performance really seriously but still seem to enjoy it. Is there a trick to doing both?

    (I’m enjoying the book too!)


    Sandy Small

    • Susan Tomes

      Thank you, Sandy, I enjoyed it too! I thought it was a lovely audience.
      As to your question about the ‘trick to doing both’, I guess the answer can only be that one has to love the music, otherwise the whole business of performance is just too hard! Luckily, love of music usually wins out.


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