Most musicians, if they are lucky, will master one craft or field within their career. For Michael Price, he’s managed three, with his music spanning across piano, orchestral and soundtrack work.
The soundtrack work – for TV shows such as Sherlock, Dracula, and Unforgotten, and films such as Eternal Beauty, Cheerful Weather and Just Jim – has seen Price win an Emmy, as well as receive countless nominations (including a BAFTA nomination and an Ivor Novello nomination earlier this year for his work on Dracula, with David Arnold).
His work as a solo artist takes the form of beautiful improvised piano works, as heard on albums like Diary (2017), or via lush, grand, hyper-detailed orchestral work, as heard on critically acclaimed releases via Erased Tapes such as Entanglement (2015) and Tender Symmetry (2018). His last release, The Hope of Better Weather, is rooted in the piano world but also exists as a bridge crossing into new terrain, including reworks and remixes from the likes of Yann Tiersen, Bill Ryder-Jones and Eluvium and his forthcoming album, Whitsun, is an exploration of the connection between sound and memory.
Price’s multifaceted approach to music came from a young age. Playing with brass bands in Leeds as a child before discovering the otherworldly magic of the piano. “When I started playing piano, and I could just improvise, somehow little sparks came out. Improvising on the piano still continues to be like real time magic, it’s just beautiful and very present – like real time composition.” This love of creating in the moment positioned him perfectly for his next musical step working in contemporary dance and theatre, creating music for dancers by responding intuitively to the physical movement and response of the room.
Price was also a keen student of the latest music technology and software and was soon sought out for his skills in this department. This led to his first experience working in the world of film as musical assistant, co-producer and arranger to the late Michael Kamen. During this time Price worked on hugely eclectic – and revered – projects including X-Men, Band of Brothers, The Iron Giant, as well as working with Metallica on their live S&M album. He also arranged, or wrote additional music, for films such as Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Casino Royale and Hot Fuzz.
World building is something very familiar to Price. Be it in the form of his solo work that plunges listeners deep into an immersive state via tender piano keys, sweeping strings, soaring sopranos and glistening production, or in the form of soundtracking worlds for people to escape into it. For Price, however, there is an equal value and uniqueness placed across these mediums. “Some people have a moral hierarchy of music,” he says. “In that there’s some things that are more worthy forms of music but that’s not the case for me. The experience of being part of something like Sherlock for 10 years means you’re involved in something that goes right into the middle of popular culture and spreads out around the globe. With soundtracks, if you’re part of the story that captures the zeitgeist of the public mood, then it becomes part of people’s world – their childhoods. I think there’s something beautiful and really meaningful about the cultural glue of stories that are told over time.”
“If Michael Price & David Arnold did not exist, it would be necessary for Man to invent them. Their contribution to ‘Sherlock’ is immeasurable. Thrilling, cheeky, sinister, playful and simply world-class …The music’s not bad either.”
Another thing that ties together the essential three strands that make up the foundation of Price’s world – piano, orchestration and soundtracks – is collaboration. “I find myself drawn to collaborate, even when it’s my own projects,” he says. “There’s something magical for me about connecting to other people and seeing what permissions they give themselves. When I’m writing music for other people to play and interpret there’s always space within it for them to bring some fire and magic.”
This approach was perhaps most potently embodied on 2018’s Tender Symmetry. This saw Price take a host of musicians and collaborators – including soprano Grace Davidson (featured on Max Richter’s Sleep) and Shards (the choir on Nils Frahm’s All Melody) – to a series of iconic National Trust locations across the UK, turning them into unlikely recording spaces and allowing the musicians to respond intuitively to their unique surroundings.
The journey of his 2021 album, The Hope of Better Weather took Price from being alone in a room with a piano improvising, to being brought fully to life via the spark of collaboration. Part reissue, part reworks, the album sees five pieces presented alongside remixed and reworked versions (by Yann Tiersen, Bill Ryder-Jones, Eluvium, Peter Gregson and Malibu). The resulting release captures a stark beauty, tenderness and delicacy, but the pieces are also wind-like in their shifting, expansive and elemental essence – capturing an exploration of the natural world.
The process of putting together the release has been an emboldening and liberating one for Price, which combined with experiencing fatherhood for the first time in recent years, along with a positive change of approach to other areas of work (not saying yes to everything) finds him feeling buoyant about the possibilities of what lies ahead…
Text by Dylan Daniel Wray