Excerpt from a review of my book ‘Sleeping in Temples’, in the newsletter of the London Chamber Music Society (you can download the whole newsletter from their site).
‘I don’t usually ‘judge a book by its cover’, but in this case the cover is a lovely place to start: a reflection? an artwork? water and oil? batik? I’m still not sure what it is, but it’s beautiful and credited as a photograph by the author, the pianist Susan Tomes.
Initially unsure whether the book would be a group of lectures, anecdotes or theories, I ended up feeling I had had a few wonderful conversations, full of humour and insight, a very rewarding read. I should have remembered some of the newspaper articles by the same author, articles not to be skimmed, but read with thought. A wide range of ideas is discussed, and music is seen from both the professional and audience points of view.
As I am ‘audience’ I appreciated this angle, as books on musical topics are often geared towards a highly specialised readership. Tomes shows great affinity with her audience, perhaps dating back to the 1980s when she was a leading member of the piano quartet Domus, which took music to new audiences, performed in a geodesic-dome tent. More recently, as well as being a soloist and playing in various ensembles, she has been the pianist with the Florestan Trio, so her performing life has been incredibly varied.
As an audience we sit for a few hours, enchanted by the ease with which musicians perform for us, maybe comparing the music with our recordings at home or just happily humming along in our head or bowled over by a new composition – but probably vastly underestimating the years of study and the hours of practice required. In many ways the pianist has something of a lonely life, usually practising solo and having to adjust to new instruments in new concert halls. Tomes talks, however, of a ‘solitary paradise’, which can occur when a private rehearse achieves a certain clarity of moment, and only the pianist is privy to this.’ …
This is not a solid, solemn book. Anything but.’