Written by Hannah Nepil.
By his own admission, Tom Poster struggles to understand ‘what it’s like for friends who are still making decisions well into their twenties and beyond as to what direction they want to take in life.’ For this 33-year-old pianist, who has performed with ensembles ranging from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra to the China National Symphony, there was no such turmoil: ‘it never crossed my mind to think about doing something that wasn’t music related.’
Yet, he didn’t come from a musical background. ‘My dad did teach me a few notes on the recorder that was the extent of his contribution.’ How, then, did he develop this passion? ‘I think it was hearing music on the radio and being totally transfixed from the age of about three. My parents could see very quickly that they had to find ways for me to explore this love.’
And so began the piano lessons, the oboe lessons, and the cello lessons. In fact, it wasn’t until his mid-teens that Poster decided to focus on the piano. ‘As a kid, it was the music that I was drawn to rather than any specific instrument.’
Even now, he thrives on variety. ‘I’ve always loved sitting at the piano. But I wouldn’t want life to be just about me and a piano every day.’ That’s why he likes to mix up solo work and chamber music. It’s also why he prefers not to listen to too much piano music.
And it’s why he likes to juggle his piano career with other interests. He recently wrote a piece for trumpeter Alison Balsom, inspired by ‘very strange looking deep sea creatures.’ Now, he is working on a puppet opera inspired by the life of the eighteenth-century French showman and soldier Tarrare, a figure infamous for his pathologically huge appetite, who was eventually accused of guzzling a child. It might seem an unusual choice of subject, but according to Poster, Tarrare is a typically operatic character: ‘an outsider whom society thinks is a freak.’
You could say that Poster is thrilled by the unconventional. He certainly has a curious, searching mind. A Cambridge graduate with a Double First in Music, he has presented shows on BBC television and radio and given masterclasses at Dartington International Summer School and in Singapore. ‘The greatest works can stand on their own feet, but classical music is not an art form which always offers its richest rewards immediately,’ he says. ‘There are certain works that require concentrated effort on the part of the listener, so we should do anything we can to help people into that world.’
But with so many demands upon his time, does Poster never long for a stolen hour slumped in front of the TV? ‘I try to see friends and go for walks. But having such an overwhelming passion doesn’t always leave a lot of space for other things.’ For him, music is a much-needed outlet. ‘I often felt a bit of an outsider as a child. There was something that was very comfortable about sitting at the piano, and expressing myself that way,’ he says. ‘It’s an incredible solace – music.’
Tom Poster performs Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.21 with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at G Live, Guildford, on Friday 15 May; and Mozart’s Piano Concert No.23 at Cadogan Hall on Monday 2 November. His new CD of works by Beethoven, Schumann and Chopin will be released on the Editions Classics label in June.