NPR's Tiny Desk Concert series is full of surprises, and the latest twist finds Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood enlisting the Ensemble Signal to perform two moving pieces of original classical music.
"I've watched a lot of Tiny Desk concerts over the years. It's good to see musicians in the raw, away from stage lighting and backing tracks — as if they've just stopped by an office to play over a lunch break, with desk-bound employees watching on," Greenwood writes in the introduction to the 22-minute meditative performance.
"The performances should expose flaws, but instead they tend to expose musicians being casually brilliant, like the members of Ensemble Signal, who certainly play these pieces beautifully," Greenwood adds. Though he was unable join the six musicians in the Washington, D.C. NPR offices, they did his compositions justice, opening with "Three Miniatures From Water," performed on violin, piano, cello, bass and the sitar-like tanpura.
In his essay, Greenwood explains that the nearly 13-minute, droning "Miniature" was "originally a sketch for an Australian Chamber Orchestra commission in 2014. I thought it'd be easier to approach writing for full orchestra by starting with a piano miniature and scaling it up. In fact, only some of the material made it to the final commission, and I always felt the original three miniatures hung together well enough as its own piece of music."
They also performed "88 (No. 1), which Greenwood wrote included a tribute to late legendary French composer Olivier Messiaen in its dramatic first movement, before pianist Lisa Moore slipped on fingerless gloves halfway through in a nod to celebrated 20th century pianist Glenn Gould, and to protect her hands as she hammered away at the keys.
Listen to Greenwood talk about his two compositions and his musical heroes here and watch the performance below.