Sarah Sarhandi: Composer, Solo Violist & Pianist

Publish Date: 10 October 2014

“I loved piano, I played since I was a small child; I had one tune that I made up when I was really young. I ended up going to the Royal Academy of Music where piano was my second study but Ive always played and it’s a huge source of inspiration to me to work at the piano.

I was probably four when I first touched a piano. My first memory is that we had some friends in the country who we used to visit. There was a piano in the corner, my friend and I used to make up plays and we used the piano to enhance our stories, we’d make our own music that way. She was my age and interestingly her father was Ghanaian and her mother English whereas my father was Pakistani and my mother English so we had a strange cross culture adventure as tiny children and this cross cultural element has gone on to become a major theme in my music making. My friend, Adjoa Andoh, went on to become an actress and I became a musician!

After those little plays I was desperate for piano lessons. First I learned recorder, then piano and then, somehow, I became drawn to the viola. There was something about the singular voice that attracted me to the it and it grabbed me and became my first instrument.

I began to study viola seriously when I was 11 and almost right away began winning competitions which was astonishing for me, so I just went with it. I wanted to become a solo violist, I didn’t want to play in an orchestra.

When I was 21 I was at sea for many reasons and tried to give up music. I didn’t know what to do. I played with musicians who improvised including Don Cherry. I started to work with the pianist Mark Springer and began to improvise and write with him. I realised there’d been a missing link. I hadn’t been making my own music. I wrote a song on the piano for Bjork to sing which she’s recorded. Eventually I split from Mark in order to really find my own voice as a composer.

Curiously enough my piano playing began to emerge again as I was no longer working with a pianist. I was always writing, writing, I’d often go to the piano first.

I played in orchestras from the age of 8 and I realise that when you sit at the piano alone, you can make a panorama of sound that goes all around you just like when you are sitting in an orchestra, but just with your with ten fingers. The sonic range of the piano is enormous. All these elements conspired in me. I never really thought of going along in one musical line – electronica and sound are also a very important part of my work.

I’ve been composing at the keyboard recently. At Kings Place last December I performed ‘Found’ an event of my work and collaborations with other artists, dancers, singers and musicians which included video – some of which I shot recently in Karachi. Piano that I’d recorded myself ran through quite a few pieces. ‘Music To Swim To’ was a film with music based on a swimming race I’d won as a child and a collaboration with the artist Sophie Molins. The music included a sample of Ravel’s 2nd piano concerto and tabla by Talvin Singh. I decided I’d play live piano on stage too, for the first time in public.

At the moment I’m working on an ongoing project which is an exploration and reflection of the worlds I and many others like me inhabit – a teeming, sometimes confusing, challenging but rich kaleidoscope of both intertwined and oppositional worlds – perhaps it simply is the world now. I have been discussing musical forms and creating some exciting work with the Pakistani guitarist and composer Aamir Zaki and I have a collaboration with Vincent Katz the poet and translator. We’re writing an opera based on his translation of ‘The Complete Elegies of Sextus Propertius’ (National American Translation Award 2005). Vincent is in New York, Sextus Propertius was an Ancient Roman Poet so that’s a cross cultural/time travel project too!” (Sarah Sarhandi)

Short Bio
Sarah makes new sounds whilst drawing on her classical inheritance. Her music is characterised by a layering of strong themes and rhythms, sounds that are both acoustic and programmed, vocals and the geometric shapes of her viola. The complexity of the composition offers a different experience each time they are heard, so that the listener explores new moods and emotions, different areas of time and space.’ – Anthea Eno.

Sarah studied viola at the Royal Academy of Music in London and is known for her work as composer, performer, film director, and visual artist. In 2002 Sarah Sarhandi received the ‘Time Out Award For Outstanding Collaboration for Sheer with Russell Malpihant, which was performed at the London Coliseum in 2009 by Thomas Edur and Agnes Oakes. Her show ‘FOUND’ featuring recent collaborations premiered as part of the Out Hear series at Kings Place, London in December 2013.

She has recorded and performed worldwide. Previous collaborators include Bjork, Jean Charles de Castelbajac, Ivor Guest, Damien Hurst, Michael Nyman, recently and currently Paul Benney, Gina Birch, Jamie Irrepressible, Vincent Katz, Lore Lixenburg, Sophie Molins, Jemima Burrill and Aamir Zaki.