Jonny Best

Silent Film Musician

I'm a musician, academic and festival director specialising in music for silent film.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.

I began performing improvised piano accompaniments for silent film in 2014 and now work full time on live-scored silent film as a performer, PhD researcher and festival director. 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. 

Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2016 (Photo by Valerio Greco)

Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2016 (Photo by Valerio Greco)

I've performed for silent films at Hyde Park Picture House, City Varieties and Slung Low (Leeds), Showroom and Abbeydale Picture House (Sheffield), Hull Truck Theatre (with Hull Independent Cinema), Hebden Bridge Picture House, Stephen Joseph Theatre (Scarborough), Square Chapel (Halifax), and National Centre for Early Music. I've also performed four times with Leeds International Film Festival and taken part in the masterclasses at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone. I made my BFI Southbank debut in January 2019 with A Modern Dubarry, part of the Alexander Korda retrospective. I will make my Hippodrome Silent Film Festival debut in March 2019.

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.

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.  

Yorkshire Silent Film Festival 2017

Yorkshire Silent Film Festival 2017

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