Jonny Greenwood Teaches Radiohead Fans Some Class

Brad Lubman conducts the Wordless Music Orchestra. Photo: Chris Owyoung

Last night, at the Church of St. Paul the Apostle, the 48-member Wordless Music Orchestra tuned up and blasted through three experimental selections that sounded not altogether unlike their tuning exercises. The occasion was the U.S. debut of Popcorn Superhet Receiver, a piece by Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood, the world's first rock star to forge a non-embarrassing side career in classical music. The performance was the centerpiece of the 2007–2008 slate of Wordless Music shows, an excellent concert series that aims to fill orchestral venues with indie-rock audiences. Ardent Greenwood fans, all of whom likely spent $82 on the In Rainbows box set, braved the beer-less venue, sitting politely through the two pieces not written by the guy who played the guitar solo on "Paranoid Android" (Gavin Bryars's 40-minute, conceptual The Sinking of the Titanic and John Adams's Christian Zeal and Activity) before the main event.

Popcorn, composed in 2005 and reputedly inspired by the work of Polish modernist composer Krzysztof Penderecki, is excerpted in Greenwood's score for Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood. But even absent the exploding oil derricks and Daniel Day-Lewis, it still makes for a jarring listen, especially when ricocheting through St. Paul's echoing acoustics. The Wordless Orchestra gave it an impressive read-through, decorating the pretty sections with stabs of ear-bending discord. Had Greenwood himself been there (he was in England, playing an in-store), he'd have been beaming, assuming the happy-go-lucky members of Radiohead are capable of such a thing.

Worthy of special note is conductor Brad Lubman, who was able to keep all musicians in tempo without using a baton, and whose exaggerated body language proved invaluable to fans who might not have otherwise known when to clap.

Wordless Music Series [Official site]