Kirsteen Davidson-Kelly

Name: Kirsteen Davidson-KellyKDK_colour_pic

Research Area: Deliberate Imagery Rehearsal by Expert Musicians

Department: Reid School of Music




Kirsteen Davidson-Kelly is a pianist and researcher who collaborates with composers, dancers, physical theatre practitioners, visual artists and filmmakers – both as a performer and through creative education projects with diverse communities internationally. She graduated with a BMus (Hons) from the University of Edinburgh in 1989 and subsequently studied piano at the Ecole Normale de Musique Alfred Cortot in Paris, and with Nelly Ben-Or in London.

Kirsteen co-founded the innovative ensemble Piano Circus where she stayed for thirteen years, performing, recording and commissioning innovative works for six pianos. With Piano Circus she worked with composers such as Julia Wolfe, David Lang, Graham Fitkin, Kevin Volans, Heiner Goebbels and Nikki Yeoh; appeared at major venues including at the South Bank Centre (London), Lincoln Center (New York), Huddersfield Festival (UK), Hong Kong and Singapore Festivals, Istanbul Festival, and across Europe, Canada and the USA; and recorded extensively for Decca and other labels, including classic works by Steve Reich, Terry Riley, Graham Fitkin, and Stravinsky’s Les Noces, conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy. In 2002 Kirsteen produced Piano Circus’ critically acclaimed CD Transmission. More recent projects include a performance, installation and recording project with Edinburgh-based composer Vroni Holzmann; performances of work by Max Richter, including Waltz with Bashir Live with the Philharmonia Orchestra at London Southbank’s Meltdown Festival (2014) and Vivaldi Recomposed with Daniel Hope and the Deutsches Kammerorchester Berlin at the Merano Festival (2013); and the two piano duo KDKDK with pianist Katharine Durran, performing some of the most exuberant and virtuosic 20th and 21st century repertoire for two pianos.

Kirsteen returned to the University of Edinburgh to undertake part-time doctoral research and was awarded her PhD in 2014. Her thesis, Mental Imagery Rehearsal Strategies for Expert Pianists, investigated aspects of mental rehearsal for expert pianists in a series of three studies: a participant observation study of a course for advanced pianists; an online questionnaire investigating learning and memorisation amongst conservatoire piano students; and a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study of expert pianists, which was the first in a series of collaborations between the Music Department and the Clinical Research Imaging Centre (CRIC).


Research Interests

  • Deliberate Musical Imagery Rehearsal
  • Expert Pianists’ Learning Strategies
  • Interactive Music Workshops for People Living with Dementia
  • Creative Learning in Schools



Davidson Kelly, K. (2015). Composing with Place. In B. Gilchrist, J. Joelson, & T. Warr (Eds.), Remote Performances in Nature and Architecture (pp. 69-72). Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate.

Davidson-Kelly, K., Schaefer, R.S., Moran, N., & Overy, K. (2015). “Total Inner Memory”: Deliberate Uses of Multimodal Musical Imagery During Performance Preparation. Psychomusicology: Music, Mind & Brain, 25 (1), 83-92.

Davidson-Kelly, K., Hong, S., Schaefer, R.S., van Beek, E. J., Roberts, N., & Overy, K. (2014). Expert musical imagery: an fMRI investigation. In Song (Ed.), Proceedings of the 13th International Conference for Music Perception and Cognition 2014.

Davidson-Kelly, K., Moran, N., & Overy, K. (2012). Learning and memorisation amongst advanced piano students: a questionnaire survey. In Cambouropoulos, Tsougras, Mavromatis & Pastiades (Eds.), Proceedings of the 12th International Conference for Music Perception and Cognition 2012.

Davidson-Kelly, K., Hong, S., Dhinakaran, J., Sanders, J., Gray, C., van Beek, E. J., Roberts, N., & Overy, K. (2011). An fMRI study of expert musical imagery: To what extent do imagined and executed performance share the same neural substrate? In A. Williamon, D. Edwards, & L. Bartel (Eds.) Proceedings of the International Symposium on Performance Science 2011 (pp. 613-617). Utrecht, The Netherlands: European Association of Conservatoires.


Conference Presentations

Davidson-Kelly, Kirsteen (2013). An fMRI study of auditory imagery in expert pianists. Plenary presentation for the Scottish Imaging Network: A Platform for Scientific Excellence (SINAPSE) 5th Annual Scientific Meeting. Aberdeen, UK, 15th May 2013.

Davidson-Kelly, K., Hong, S., Schaefer, R.S., van Beek, E. J., Roberts, N., & Overy, K. (2013). Musical imagery: an fMRI study with expert pianists. Poster presentation for Edinburgh Neuroscience Day, Edinburgh, UK, 20th March 2013.

Davidson-Kelly, K., Moran, N., & Overy, K. (2012). Mental learning techniques for advanced pianists: a participant observation study. Poster presentation for the conference of the Society for Education, Music and Psychology Research (SEMPRE), London, UK, 14th-15th September 2012.

Davidson-Kelly, K. (2012). An fMRI study of expert musical imagery. In Abstract Proceedings of Hearing, Seeing and Imagining: Visual Arts and Music Summer Workshop, (pp. 32-33), Herstmonceux Castle, East Sussex, UK, 28th-31st August 2012.

Davidson-Kelly, K., Hong, S., Dhinakaran, J., Sanders, J., Gray, C., van Beek, E.J., Roberts, N., & Overy, K. (2011). Middle frontal gyrus as a potential neural indicator for the effectiveness of musical imagery rehearsal. E-poster presentation for the Conference of the International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine (ISMRM), Montréal, Canada, 7th -13th May 2011.


Public Engagement

Invited talk and panel discussion for The Musical Brain conference on Mozart and the Power of Music: Memory, Myth & Magic. London, 24th October 2014.

Remote Performances: collaborative composition, performance and broadcast project, commissioned by London Fieldworks and Resonance104.4fm. Broadcast live from Outlandia, Lochaber, Scotland, 5th August 2014 (

de Rooij, J. (2012, October). Denken maakt je virtuoos. NWT Magazine, 80 (10): 60-62. Interview for Dutch popular science magazine for an article discussing the role of mental imagery in musical rehearsal.


Selected Recordings

Holzmann, V. (in production). All tracks [recorded by Kirsteen Davidson Kelly]. On Reminiscence [CD]. Edinburgh, UK: Synchrony Sounds.

Holzmann, V. (2014). All tracks [recorded by Kirsteen Davidson Kelly]. On Dream Tree [CD]. Edinburgh, UK: Synchrony Sounds.

Richter, M. (2002). The Twins (Prague) [recorded by Kirsteen Davidson Kelly & Kate Heath]; Andras [recorded by Kirsteen Davidson Kelly]. On Memoryhouse [CD]. London, UK: Late Junction.

Tüür, E.S., Yeoh, N., Schmool, B., Bengtson, P., Nakas, S., Nancarrow. C. arr. D. Appleton, Warren, H. (2002). All tracks [recorded by Piano Circus]. On Transmission [CD]. London, UK: Piano Circus.

Future Sound of London/ Richter, M. (1998). All tracks [recorded by Piano Circus]. On Max Richter/Future Sound of London EP [CD]. London, UK: Piano Circus

Stravinsky, I. (1995). Les Noces [recorded by Galina Bojko, Margarita Maruna, Ludovit Ludha, Egils Silins, Kammerchor Ernst Senff, Members of Piano Circus, Deutsches Sinfonie-Orchester Berlin, Vladimir Ashkenazy]. On Stravinsky: Le Sacre du Printemps; Les Noces [CD]. Berlin, Germany: Decca. (1994).

Harris, R., Barber, C., Richter, M., Schmool, B., Wolfe, J. (1994). All tracks [recorded by Piano Circus]. On Loopholes [CD]. London, UK: Argo. (1993)

Volans, K., Lang, D., Reich, S., Moran, R. (1993). All tracks [recorded by Piano Circus]. On Volans/Lang/ Reich/ Moran: Piano Circus [CD]. London, UK: Argo. (1992)

Moran, R. (1992) Arias, Interludes And Inventions From Desert Of Roses. On Desert of Roses [CD] [recorded by Piano Circus Band, Jayne West, Craig Smith]. London, UK: Argo. (1991)

Moran, R. (1992) Open Veins. On Desert of Roses [CD] [recorded by Piano Circus Band, Alexander Balanescu, Robert Moran]. London, UK: Argo.

Fitkin, G. (1992). All tracks [recorded by Piano Circus]. On Graham Fitkin Log Line Loud: Piano Circus [CD] London, UK: Argo. (1991)

Fitkin, C., Nyman, M., Seddon, T., Rackham, S. (1992). All tracks [recorded by Piano Circus]. On Fitkin/ Nyman/ Seddon/ Rackham: Piano Circus [CD]. Cookham & Leatherhead, UK: Argo. (1990/1991)

Reich, S., Riley, T. (1990). All tracks [recorded by Piano Circus]. On Steve Reich/Terry Riley: Piano Circus [CD]. London, UK: Argo.


Selected Reviews

‘… immaculately performed piano recital … in her finely nuanced readings, Davidson-Kelly made every melody sing, and every chord chime with precisely the right weighting … elegant, graceful playing ensured that the listeners were captivated throughout.’

‘ … a contemporary music ensemble in tune with the zeitgeist.’ 
The Guardian, February 2002

‘Pure musical theatre… the effects mesmerise…’ Observer CD of the week, January 2002

‘… brave and singular approach to live performance.’ 
The Guardian, March 2000

‘By opening their own eyes to the innately theatrical nature of performance pianocircus invite the listener into the music itself.’ 
Gramophone, January 1994


Funding Awarded

2012  Arnold Bentley New Initiatives Fund, Society for Education, Music & Psychology Research (SEMPRE): towards fMRI study of expert pianists

2011 – 2014  Clutterbuck & PRE Awards, University of Edinburgh: conference attendance

2007 – 2009  Wilson Evans Scholarship, University of Edinburgh: PhD research

1989 – 1990  Bucher-Fraser Scholarship, University of Edinburgh: postgraduate study