Radioheadings with the ASO

Last night the Alabama Symphony Orchestra with Maestro Justin Brown performed Jonny Greenwoods 'Popcorn Superhet Receiver' at the Alys Stevens Center in Birmingham, Alabama. I know i don't qualify to write about classical music since i don't have much to compare it to but I'll do my best. The last time I was at the symphony was to see a production of The Who's 'Tommy'. That's about the extent of my experience but judging by the peoples reactions after the show it didn't matter. Something happened tonight that was so radically different from what usually happens at the symphony and i think it had an impact on everyone young and old. Jonny Greenwood clearly does things differently. As evidenced on the cacophony of violins at the end of 'Climbing Up The Walls' to the use of really heavy strings on 'Down Is The New Up', Jonny just really likes the way they sound.

The Piece performed tonight was "Popcorn Superhet Receiver' which he composed while in residence at the BBC in 2005. Sections of this work were also used in the soundtrack to ' There Will Be Blood' and anyone who saw that movie knows half of the reason that movie was good was Daniel Day Lewis' acting and the other half was the soundtrack. It starts out with what sounds like each played slowly tuning their instrument until the sound builds and roars past you like a locomotive, repeatedly. A constant sound of something ominous, something right over shoulder but when you turn to look its everywhere at once. Leave it to Jonny to have a segment where the violinists are strumming their violins like guitars and the upright bassists are using their bows to create a percussive sound. The effect is somewhat tribal similar to that of the multi drummed attack of 'There There'. Having heard this piece before I thought the ASO did a remarkable job recreating jonnys work.

The second piece they did was by composer Paul Lansky and while that may not ring any bells, there is a connection. Paul Lansky is responsible for a sample that was used on 'Idioteque', the electronic noise that ushers in the song before Thom starts singing. You know the one. Well anyway this piece was written specifically for this evening and he was even there to introduce it. Having been the first time this was played with the composer in house made things really special. I was sitting really close to him and he actually seemed thrilled throughout the performance at the job they were doing.

All in all it was a wonderful evening. If more places did stuff like this I'd imagine a lot more people would get into it and have a positive experience. I love music.


Joel said...

I was at this performance too. I live in Birmingham and thankfully the Alabama Symphony is pretty progressive in the stuff they perform. Last year, they frequently performed works by living composers such as John Tavener and Arvo Part in addition to what you saw. I know their upcoming season is going to have a Frank Zappa night as well as some more world premiers. Of course, they do the standard symphony fare as well (Bach, Beethoven, Mozart), but they do a lot more modern stuff than many orchestras do.

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