Jonny Greenwood debuts new music during NPR Tiny Desk Concert: Watch

Radiohead guitarist enlists the Ensemble Signal for two moving works

jonny greenwood tiny desk concert npr video ensemble signal
Jonny Greenwood, photo by Heather Kaplan

    New music from Jonny Greenwood was debuted on the latest installment of NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series. Although the Radiohead guitarist wasn’t physically on hand for the recording, he and NPR enlisted the talents of the Ensemble Signal music group to perform two of his compositions, “Three Miniatures from Water” and “88 (No. 1)”, on violin, piano, cello, and more.

    Inspired by French composer Olivier Messiaen, “Three Miniatures from Water” was originally written in 2018, but the Tiny Desk Concert marks the first time it’s ever been performed live. It was “originally a sketch for an Australian Chamber Orchestra commission in 2014,” according to Greenwood, adding, “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.”

    (Read: Ranking: Every Radiohead Song from Worst to Best)

    As for “88 (No. 1)”, the work also nods to Messiaen’s material before “becoming a celebration of the mechanical nature of the piano.” Greenwood explained further, “The performer has to put fingerless gloves on halfway through, partly in tribute to the immortal Glenn Gould, and partly because the technique requires some painful hammering. But don’t let that fool you into thinking the music is dark or angry: It is — or is meant to be — joyful.”


    Greenwood also praised NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series for being able to capture the “rawness” of artists,

    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. 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.

    Watch the full session below.

    Greenwood is expected to debut a new composition, Horror vacui, in London in September as part of this year’s BBC Proms series. He and the rest of Radiohead were finally inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame earlier this year.


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