Jonny Best

Silent Film Musician

Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone, 2015. Photo by Valerio Greco.

Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone, 2015. Photo by Valerio Greco.

I'm a musician, academic and festival director specialising in music for silent film. I’m a resident pianist at BFI Southbank and perform regularly at venues and festivals around the UK, including Hyde Park Picture House (Leeds), Showroom and Abbeydale Picture House (Sheffield), Hull Truck Theatre/Hull Independent Cinema, and National Centre for Early Music (York). I've performed four times with Leeds International Film Festival and made my debut at Hippodrome Silent Film Festival (Bo’ness) in 2018.

I studied piano with Ryszard Bakst at Chetham's School of Music and drama at University of London. The combination of music and dramatic storytelling has run through my career ever since as I’ve moved between working in theatre, musical theatre, opera, orchestral music, arts festivals and film.

I began performing improvised piano accompaniments for silent film in 2014, taking part in the masterclasses at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (Pordenone) in 2015. In 2016 I founded the Yorkshire Silent Film Festival which has had three editions, bringing live-scored silent film to cinemas, theatres and village halls across Yorkshire. Yorkshire Silent Film Festival will now take place biennially from May 2020.

Nosferatu  at Abbeydale Picture House, Sheffield (2015)

Nosferatu at Abbeydale Picture House, Sheffield (2015)

Moulin Rouge  at Hippodrome Silent Film Festival 2019. With Günther Buchwald (violin) and Frank Bockius (percussion). Photo by Kat Gollock.

Moulin Rouge at Hippodrome Silent Film Festival 2019. With Günther Buchwald (violin) and Frank Bockius (percussion). Photo by Kat Gollock.

My PhD research at University of Huddersfield Music Department is a phenomenological study of silent film piano improvisation. I'm also researching keyboard accompaniments of the silent era and presented the latest stage of this work at the Royal Musical Association annual conference in Bristol in September 2018. I teach in the University of Huddersfield music department and have led masterclasses and workshops at the universities of York and Huddersfield.

I have a particular interest in pedagogies of improvisation. As well as leading the improvisation module at University of Huddersfield, I lead practical improvisation projects with young musicians, most recently with Chapel FM arts centre in Leeds, Hat Fair festival in Winchester and The Cube in Corby.

Yorkshire Silent Film Festival 2017

Yorkshire Silent Film Festival 2017

I began my professional career in the 1990s as a musical director and keyboard player on musicals in the West End of London and regional UK theatres, Since then, I've mixed working as a musician with work in theatre and opera as a director and producer and as a leader of arts festivals. I joined the Royal Shakespeare Company as an assistant director before going to the National Theatre as Associate Director on the award-winning revival of Rogers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!. I spent time on the directing staff at Opera North, English National Opera and Royal Opera. I’ve also devised and staged music-theatre collaborations with BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, City of London Sinfonia and BBC Radio 3.  

I'm a Clore Fellow and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and a member of the Royal Musical Association. 

Moulin Rouge  at Hippodrome Silent Film Festival 2019. With Günther Buchwald (violin) and Frank Bockius (percussion). Photo by Kat Gollock.

Moulin Rouge at Hippodrome Silent Film Festival 2019. With Günther Buchwald (violin) and Frank Bockius (percussion). Photo by Kat Gollock.