‘Greenwood doesn't need any false modesty when it comes to his classical pieces. His 48 Responses… is a dazzlingly imaginative, gripping and novel work, full stop.' The Guardian
Jonny Greenwood (b.1973) is best known as the lead guitarist of the band Radiohead whom he joined whilst still at school. He started to study psychology and music at Oxford Brookes University, but only finished his first term before leaving to sign a six-album deal with EMI, and start his recording career with Radiohead. Radiohead have realised phenomenal success over the past decade, with multi-platinum album sales and an ever growing worldwide following.
Greenwood is no stranger to classical music, though. His musical interests included Messiaen and Ligeti and he started out as a viola player. He plays several other instruments too, including piano, recorder and harmonica, and has a particular love for the ondes martenot. To date Greenwood has penned a number of “classical” works: smear (two ondes martenots and ensemble), Popcorn Superhet Receiver (string orchestra) Doghouse (string trio and large orchestra) and 48 Responses to Polymorphia (48 strings), Water (chamber orchestra) and Horror vacui (solo violing and 68 strings).
smear, commissioned by the FuseLeeds festival, was premiered there in March 2004 by the London Sinfonietta. In March 2005 Greenwood was Featured Composer at the South Bank Centre’s cutting-edge Ether Festival, where the revised version of smear was performed by the London Sinfonietta in the Royal Festival Hall, one of its’ two sell-out concerts there. It was later released on CD on the London Sinfonietta Label as part of their Jerwood Series.
In 2004, Greenwood was made Composer in Residence with the BBC Concert Orchestra. The first fruit of this association was Popcorn Superhet Receiver, a BBC commission, premiered by the BBC Concert Orchestra and Robert Ziegler in April 2005. The piece was inspired by radio static and the extended, dissonant chords of Polish composer Penderecki’s Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima. Popcorn Superhet Receiver won the BBC Radio 3 Listeners’ Award at the 2006 British Composer Awards and, as part of the award, Greenwood received funding from the PRS Foundation towards the commission of a new orchestral work, Doghouse, which was premiered by the BBC Concert Orchestra and Robert Ziegler in February 2010. Water was a commission from the Australian Chamber Orchestra, and toured worldwide by them in 2014. His violin concerto Horror vacui was commissioned by the BBC and premiered at the 2019 BBC Proms by Daniel Pioro with BBC National Orchestra of Wales, BBC Proms Youth Ensemble and Hugh Brunt. It subsequently won 2020 The Ivors Composer Award for Large-Scale Composition.
Sections of Popcorn Superhet Receiver were later worked into his soundtrack for the Oscar-winning Paul Thomas Anderson film There Will Be Blood (2007) – the soundtrack itself controversially declared ineligible for an Oscar as “the majority of the music was not composed specifically for the film.” However, Greenwood went on to scoop Best Film Score award at the 2007 Evening Standard British Film Awards, and Critics’ Choice Award for Best Composer by the Broadcast Film Critics Association of the USA. Subsequent film credits include Tran Anh Hung’s Norwegian Wood, based on the novel by Haruki Murakami, Lynne Ramsay’s We Need To Talk About Kevin, and the Paul Thomas Anderson films The Master and Inherent Vice.