Music by Jonny Greenwood and Krzysztof Penderecki @ the Barbican

23 March 2012

To the Barbican for a fabulous concert of pieces by Grand Old Man of European Modernism, Krzysztof Penderecki [pron: Penderexki] (b. 1933) and Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood [pron: Green-wood] (b.1971).

I hadn’t realised Mr P would be there himself, portly, suave and owl-like, to conduct his 1961 classic, ‘Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima’. It was way better live than on disc, as the bowing, scraping, plucking, hitting and furious sawing that he requires of the string players made them look like demented ballet dancers.

‘Polymorphia’ was even better. The stage lit brilliant red, with 40 or so performers writhing and bashing their instruments, it looked and sounded like a scene from hell. I hadn’t realised from disc the way these pieces are divided into distinct sections which explore different aspects of the basic, mind-bending soundscape. Brave, floppy-haired Mr Greenwood had composed both his pieces as replies to Mr P, and they stood up very creditably – though why a composer in 2012 is writing pieces pastiching the style of 1961 is something my neighbour and I discussed for a while afterwards in the bar.

Music by Jonny Greenwood and Krzysztof Penderecki

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