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Songs From A Lost Piano
Published 28 February 2009 by TM

We went to see the ever entertaining and newly hirsute Matthew Bourne premiere a new conceptual work, Songs From A Lost Piano, in Leeds last night. Using six pianos salvaged from all over the north of England, and collaborating with vocalists Seaming To and Andrew Plummer, Matt teased new life out of these forgotten and abandoned instruments in various states of disrepair.

What was most surprising was the choice of material - alongside a handful of originals and improvised pieces were versions of 20th century "classics" by, among others, Barry Manilow, Elton John, and a frankly unrecognisable Billy Joel. While these were performed with a subversive and playful sense of humour, they were by no means smirking pisstakes. In fact they matched the junkshop mood of the event perfectly.

To be honest, I found some of the vocalists' self-conscious stylings a bit tiring, to the point where they got in the way of the pianos themselves, but after the interval they gave more natural performances that suited the music far better. Both singers were much more bearable when they didn't seem to be trying too hard.

It was unclear to what extent the pianos had been restored, modified or even tuned for the performance, but the effect was mesmerising. Matt's obvious love for the machines and the music they had played over decades was infectious, and he proved himself to be the missing link between Thelonious Monk and Les Dawson, a comparison I suspect he would approve of!

The event coincided with the launch party for fuseleeds09, a festival that we're quite closely involved with this year. Watch out for the full anouncement on Monday!

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