Venue made from abandoned pianos to help relaunch Edinburgh’s former Royal High School as a world-class culture hub

It started out as a project to build the world’s first amphitheatre made entirely from old pianos.

Now the company behind the award-winning Pianodrome has been brought in to help reopen one of Edinburgh’s best-known landmarks as as a cultural hub.

A 78-seater pop-up venue made from more than 40 “upcycled” pianos has been commissioned for the former Royal High School on Calton Hill.

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The venue will host intimate shows and events across four months, starting with the Hidden Door festival in June and including the Fringe’s 70th anniversary in August.

The Hebrides Ensemble performing at a previous incarnation of the Pianodrome. Picture: Chris Scott

The new Pianodrome Amphitheatre, which will be around 10m in diameter, was commissioned to help raise awareness of plans to create a National Centre of Music and a new home for St Mary’s Music School in Edinburgh at the historic site.

The city council approved initial proposals for the £55 million project, backed by superstar violinist Nicola Benedetti and bankrolled by American arts philanthropist Carol Grigor, last year.

An official announcement on the Pianodrome Amphitheatre said it would give audiences “a first taste of what it will be like to have a new world-class cultural hub with excellence and accessibility at its core in the heart of our world heritage city”.

An anonymous donor has helped pay for the commission from Pianodrome, a company created in 2017 by musicians Tim Vincent-Smith and Matthew Wright. More than 250 acts have performed at the venues created for sites, including the Royal Botanic Garden, the Pitt Market and Leith Theatre.

The new Pianodrome Amphitheatre will stage events at the Royal High School from June until September.

It emerged last month Hidden Door would be transforming the building, which has been largely empty since the school’s relocation in 1968, using music, theatre, dance, spoken word and visual art.

Mr Wright, Pianodrome’s producer, said: “Since we first invited audiences to play with and sit on our upcycled piano sculptures, we’ve been delighted to find ourselves part of an enthusiastic, growing culture of do-it-yourself creative expression in the city.

“The new Pianodrome Amphitheatre is a chance for us to work with this community, and a growing list of partner organisations, to create a welcoming, sustainable, playful and magical musical space where new sounds and ideas can be shared and celebrated by all.”

Peter Thierfeldt, project manager for the National Centre for Music, said: “It’s such a good fit to have a young, creative and dynamic organisation like Pianodrome involved at this formative stage of the National Centre for Music.

The Pianodrome company's venues have been a popular fixture at festivals and venues in Edinburgh in recent years. Picture: Chris Scott

“This custom-built amphitheatre will be a welcoming new community and heritage engagement space that will create a sense of wonder and fun for audiences and musicians alike.

“Pianodrome work with a range of partners, some of whom might not consider a building like the old Royal High, or its location, as a place for them. It will be a pleasure to hear musicians of all abilities take to the stage.”

David Martin, Hidden Door's creative director, said: "We’re honoured to be hosting the world premiere of the new Pianodrome.

“While our event breathes new life into Edinburgh's forgotten spaces, Pianodrome gives new life to abandoned instruments, and through their inspirational creativity they generate new space for performers and audiences to experience in a completely unique and often interactive way.

The old Royal High School on Calton Hill will play host to the Pianodrome Amphitheatre between June and September.

“Their imaginative vision epitomises the spirit of the festival, so it’s fantastic to be working in partnership together.”

The Pianodrome concept was created by Tim Vincent-Smith and Matthew Wright, musicians in the venue's 'house band', S!nk. Picture: Chris Scott
Bandmates Matthew Wright and Tim Vincent-Smith formed the Pianodrome company to build the world’s first amphitheatre made entirely from upcycled piano in 2017.
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