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I’ve been writing this blog since 2009, but there still seem to be plenty of interesting topics to mull over. You can subscribe (it’s free) to follow the blog by email – each new post will pop into your inbox.

Concertos from long ago

Concertos from long ago

I was looking through the list of candidates for a concerto competition recently and was struck by the list of pieces they were playing. Mozart (lots), Haydn (several), Beethoven (several), Mendelssohn (several), Schumann (several), Chopin, Brahms (several), Grieg,...

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Best reads of the year

Best reads of the year

A reader has asked me to specify my favourite books of the year. I keep a note in my diary of the books I read, and this year I read 42 books in their entirety, plus a few more I didn't finish. Here are my top five favourites: 1. The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth....

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Paperback edition of ‘The Piano’ comes out today in the UK

Paperback edition of ‘The Piano’ comes out today in the UK

The paperback version of my book The Piano - a History in 100 Pieces comes out today in the UK. (It comes out in the US on November 29.) One can't take it for granted that a hardback non-fiction book will go into paperback, so I'm grateful to Yale University Press for...

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Robert Louis Stevenson’s view of the Scottish temperament

Robert Louis Stevenson’s view of the Scottish temperament

I've been reading Robert Louis Stevenson's Memories and Portraits, published in 1887. RLS, as he's often referred to, is famous for Treasure Island, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Kidnapped and a few others, though in my local library the collected edition...

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BBC Young Musician – tonight’s Final

BBC Young Musician – tonight’s Final

BBC Young Musician 2022 reaches its climax tonight when the winners of five categories - strings, wind, brass, percussion and piano - compete to be crowned 'BBC Young Musician of the Year'. The competition is on BBC4 at 7pm. I think if it were up to me, I'd stop at...

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At the Wigtown Book Festival

At the Wigtown Book Festival

On Saturday, I appeared at the Wigtown Book Festival in Dumfries and Galloway in the west of Scotland (see photo of me being interviewed by Stuart Kelly). Wigtown is Scotland's 'national book town', boasting an astonishing number of bookshops for a small town which is...

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A reunion dinner and some old neighbours

A reunion dinner and some old neighbours

In our student days, those of us studying music (and in fact anyone who wanted to continue their piano studies) were allowed to hire upright pianos and put them in our rooms. Not infrequently there were two or more people on the staircase with pianos in their rooms -...

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Traditions of music-making can’t be allowed to fade away

Traditions of music-making can’t be allowed to fade away

I often tweet about music and related matters. Usually the response is small - I'm thrilled if my tweets reach a couple of hundred people. So my experience yesterday was exceptional. I was watching The Queen's funeral which, as you'll know, had a variety of music in...

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A minute’s silence at the start of a concert

A minute’s silence at the start of a concert

I went to a couple of concerts at the Lammermuir Festival - by the excellent Quatuor Mosaiques - over the days since the Queen's death. Each concert started with a minute's silence in honour of The Queen. At the end of the minute, the players arrived quietly on stage...

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Picking blackberries

Picking blackberries

Several times recently I have been out blackberry picking on the hills around Edinburgh. I've gone at different times of day, mostly at weekends. Each time I've met other people picking blackberries too. We've swapped ideas about what to do with them. Blackberry...

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Lili Boulanger’s Cantata ‘Faust et Hélène’

Lili Boulanger’s Cantata ‘Faust et Hélène’

At the Edinburgh Festival this week we went to the Usher Hall to hear the French orchestra Les Siècles performing Stravinsky's Rite of Spring on instruments of the period. (The difference in those instruments was not immediately apparent, though there was a soft grain...

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Sempé, au revoir

Sempé, au revoir

It was sad to read that the French cartoonist Jean-Jacques Sempé has died at the age of 89. I first came across his drawings when my French class at school studied Le Petit Nicolas, the delightful adventures of a little French boy in an idealised 1950s world. It was...

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Reading Thurber while recovering from Covid

Reading Thurber while recovering from Covid

After managing to avoid Covid for two and a half years, I have now come down with it. It hasn't been fun - suffice it to say I'm very glad I didn't get the virus until I was fully vaccinated. While staying out of everyone's way, I have had the chance to read. My...

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Limelight review of ‘The Piano’

Limelight review of ‘The Piano’

Limelight, Australia's leading arts magazine, has reviewed my book The Piano - a History in 100 Pieces. The book came out a year ago, so I was surprised to learn about a new review. You can only read the whole review online if you're a subscriber, but here's an...

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