20 Pianos

20pianosbackdrop 1.0Matthew Herbert’s 20 Pianos was selected for performance as part of the New Music Biennial and featured at two weekend showcases hosted by London’s Southbank Centre (5 July 2014) and Glasgow UNESCO City of Music (2 Aug 2014). The premiere took place on 16 May 2014 presented by Oxford Contemporary Music at The North Wall, at the Holland Festival on 12 June, on 15 June at Rich Mix as part of Spitalfields Music Summer Festival, at the PACT Zollverein, Essen as part of the Ruhrtriennale on 23 & 24 August, Falmouth University on 11 October, and Wiltshire Music Centre on 19 October.

Future performances include Warsaw Autumn (25 September), Cité de la Musique, Paris (9 January 2016) and Music Centre de Bijloke, Ghent (6 February 2016). Performances will feature Dan Nicholls (who steps in for Sam Beste, for whom the piece was written) and Sarah Nicolls.
In the piece, Matthew Herbert tells the stories of twenty unique pianos from around the world – from Steinways at famous locations to forgotten out-of-tune family pianos. Each piano has been sampled, and documented in photographs and through a short oral history. The composition, for solo pianist, is played on a simple table, turned into a virtual piano through bespoke soft/hardware created by Yann Seznec of the New Radiophonic Workshop. 20 Pianos is utterly unique – a composition, a Proustian evocation of piano memory, part performance art and technological wizardry.

Photo by James Lyons

Photo by James Lyons

“Every piano tells a story. I will be telling the story of 20 unique pianos from around the world, amplifying their different tones, timbres, tunings and histories. From Steinways at the Royal Opera House and fresh from the factory in Hamburg, to a school piano, the piano on which John Lennon wrote ‘Imagine’, and forgotten out-of-tune family and church pianos.

“The composition will be for solo pianist, inspired by the stories of the pianos and their owners. I’ll commission my colleagues at the Radiophonic Workshop to create bespoke software and hardware that can transform a simple inanimate object, like a table, in to a virtual piano. Conjuring the sounds of these pianos from thin air- a kind of conjuring trick.”

Matthew Herbert

Matthew Herbert’s works matthew herbert photo studio-106range from numerous acclaimed albums to Ivor Novello-nominated film scores. He’s
performed thousands of concerts, from Sydney Opera House to the Hollywood
Bowl. He’s remixed iconic artists including Quincy Jones, Serge Gainsbourg and Ennio Morricone; and worked with musicians from Bjork to Dizzee Rascal. Other collaborators include chef Heston Blumenthal, playwright Caryl Churchill and writer Will Self. He’s best known for turning found sounds into electronic music, as in One Pig, following a pig’s life from birth to plate. He’s relaunching an online Museum of Sound, and was recently appointed Creative Director of The New Radiophonic Workshop.

Dan NichollsDan Nicholls is a keyboardist, producer and composer with a mission to defy norms and create exhilarating, genre-busting new music. He has worked extensively in the fields of African, Indian Classical and improvised music, film, animation and dance. As a core member of London’s Loop Collective he is engaged in performing in, and curating, projects which span a wide range of styles and mediums.

As a composer and bandleader Dan leads projects in Berlin, London and Copenhagen and has performed throughout Europe. During 2013/14 he worked as a Jazzlines Fellow, supported by Jerwood Charitable Foundation, on a research and curatorship project involving West African musics and the development of new musical instruments. This led to the birth of his newest group Point X – a synthesis of techno, Gambian Sabar, Ghanaian Gyill and improvised electronic music. Dan also composes for the group Strobes which has received extensive radio play on BBC Radio 3 and 6 Music.

Sarah Nicolls by Mareike Foeking

Sarah Nicolls by Mareike Foeking


Sarah Nicolls is a UK-based experimental pianist, at the forefront of innovations in piano performance.  She works with interactive technologies, such as body sensors and motion capture to augment the acoustic piano, bringing it into the realm of electronic music with visceral live performances.  Sarah also invented the ‘Inside-out piano’, a sculptural feast of an instrument designed to be played inside and out.  She is currently recording an album of her own music on it and has recently been given funding to build the second prototype. In the rest of her concert career, Sarah is a frequent soloist with the London Sinfonietta, giving world premieres such as Larry Goves’ Piano Concerto and Richard Barrett’s Mesoptamia.  She is regularly broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and features on several CDs. Sarah is a Senior Lecturer at Brunel University and has received funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), the Brunel Research Initiative and Enterprise Fund (BRIEF), the Athena Swan award and Arts Council England.  She writes about live electronics and compositional collaborations and has been published in the Leonardo Music Journal (LMJ20).  As Artistic Director of the BEAM Festival, Sarah was the Music Chair for NIME 2014, London.

Details of all the featured pianos can be found in this brochure (pdf).

Sinfini interview with Matthew Herbert about 20 Pianos

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The LIST highlights of 2014



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For full details of the New Music Biennial, read the brochure here