The eternally interesting Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio 4 featured yesterday a short item with pianists Susan Tomes and Noriko Ogawa. I encountered Susan Tomes at an event I attended not so long ago (well, I suspect it was longer ago than I think, because everything always is). It was at the Southbank, on the topic of writing about music, and featured Eva Hoffman, a favourite writer whose novel, Illuminations (US title Appassionata), about a concert pianist, I’d just read and loved, along with Janice Galloway, whose novel, Clara, is a powerful, challenging evocation of the life of Clara Schumann. And Susan Tomes, a leading Scottish concert pianist who would play the piano and talk about her own books about her life as musician.
All three were enlightening and inspiring. It was Susan Tomes, because I hadn’t known her work before, whose playing and whose talk excited me most. I soon found her blog, which I've been reading ever since. I also bought her first book, Beyond the Notes. Her eloquent, penetrating, modest writing about the musician’s life has taught me a lot and made me think in new ways about listening to music. I'm keen to read her latest book, Out of Silence, whose tenor she evokes in this quite wonderful article.
Japanese pianist Noriko Ogawa was so moved and impressed by Out of Silence, its articulate and personal sharing of a pianist’s experience, that she became its translator into Japanese. In the radio clip – too short - they play their first duet and discuss what this writing means to both of them, the cultural differences in ways of talking about personal feelings and how the language of music transcends these differences.