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Those bewitched by Tomes’s three previous books (two published by the clearly perceptive Boydell Press) can prepare for bewitchment all over again. The title borrows from the thinking of ancient Greeks that sleeping in temples might ‘incubate dreams’; to Tomes, ‘temples’ are the works of music that provide the focus for the lives of performers.

Well, music has here incubated a fabulously wide-ranging array of essays – some lengthy, some pithily short, such as her chapter musing on a teacher colleague’s frustration that his students know how to start a piece of music, but not how to begin. If that sounds a tad over-philosophical (nothing like the case, in fact) then Tomes also spends time reflecting on the familiar phenomenon of the concert hall cough.

Likewise, Tomes on the one hand chews engagingly on the ever-thorny question of ‘What is Interpretation?’ but also makes space for thoughts on a career spent grappling with the female musician’s interminable dilemma of what to wear when performing – blokes take note. She also side-steps into the world of much contemporary art for some uncompromising observations on the primacy of idea and concept as opposed to technical skill.

There are fascinating and revealing insights into the business of being expected to memorise music in the solo context, but nothing is more tactile than Tomes’s comments on the stresses and strains of working and especially touring as a chamber musician. No one offers these kinds of reflections on classical music, musicians and musical life for financial gain. The well-spring here would appear to be Tomes’s statement in her ‘Prelude’ that writing about the ‘mystifying’ life of a classical musician helps explain it first and foremost to herself. Her straightforward style nonetheless captivates through its calming rhythms and unfussy erudition, totally lacking in any vestige of self-indulgence. At this time of year I’m bound to say that ‘Sleeping in Temples’ will make a marvellous christmas gift, for the musician or music-lover in your life alike.

ANDREW GREEN Read the full review on Agora Classica


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