Monday, August 17, 2009 7:31am by  
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Jonny Greenwood debuts 'Popcorn Superhet Reciever'

Jonny Greenwood's classical composition 'Popcorn Superhet Receiver' made it's BBC Proms debut at the Royal Albert Hall last night, as the opening act for Stravinsky's 'Apollo' and Sir Harrison Birtwistle's modern piece 'The Arches' from 'The Mask of Orpheus'.

Greenwood wrote the piece during workshops with the BBC Concert Orchestra, while he was their associate composer, and it was first performed in 2005. Part of the composition then went into the Grammy nominated soundtrack for the film, 'There Will Be Blood'. 

BBC Radio 2 and 3 presenter, and award-winning conductor, Charles Hazlewood evaluates the piece for 6 Music: "It's the most deliciously gorgeous piece of work. We all knew that he's a great sonic adventurer, he has an amazing aural imagination along with Thom Yorke and the other Radiohead boys, and here he is again applying it to a string orchestra of all things."

And the transition has been successful in his opinion. Charles explained to us how Greenwood managed to pull it off: "The best artists, or the most tasteful artists, are the ones who know how to hold certain things back. So you have this amazing velvety, but rich and passionate, opening section, where he's really scouring the depths of the heat of sound that a string orchestra can make, and then at a certain point he just parks that gently, and starts up that fantastic, and all too brief, percussive section."

 But not everyone was so impressed. Michael Church is a critic for The Independent: "He created a very nice ambiance, and created textures very interestingly, but to me it was an example of how little we expect from our composers compared to what we used to expect."

Church compared Johnny's work to acclaimed contemporary composer Philip Glass, but said it was just too simple: "What he's doing is not so different to what Glass is doing, but it's not a very ambitious aim it seems to me. I like composers to be more ambitious, to put more into it: more thought, more analytical qualities, and this is basically effects - nice effects - but effects."

Mezzo-soprano Henrietta Bewley was also in the audience, she placed 'Popcorn Superhet Receiver' in the spectrum of classical work for us: "It's very contemporary - I don't think Bach or Handel or Haydn would have made much sense of it, but is it really that different to Philip Glass or Nyman? They just start with a simple sound and endlessly vary it slightly. I enjoyed it very much," she told us. "I like hearing new sounds and it was a very different set of colours from a string orchestra; I just enjoyed closing my eyes and imagining a different soundscape. But it's not dramatic, to me it has no emotional drama going through it."

Listen to 'Popcorn Superhet Receiver' below: