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Bryce Dessner | Johnny Greenwood: Bio

Bryce Dessner – who composes "gorgeous, full-hearted music" according to National Public Radio – seamlessly blends aspects of the classical and the popular in his concert works, the compositions simultaneously alive to past and present and the potential of the future. Dessner's scores, described as "deft" and "vibrant" by The New York Times, draw on elements from Baroque and folk music, late Romanticism and modernism, minimalism and the blues, as well as the inspiration of iconic figures from Béla Bartók, Benjamin Britten and Henryk Górecki to Morton Feldman, Terry Riley, Philip Glass and Steve Reich. Such disparate American iconoclasts as John Fahey, La Monte Young and Glenn Branca also figure into this young composer's sonic world. All these influences – not to mention his globetrotting experiences as a keenly collaborative musician across genres – wind together to inform Dessner's organic and individual voice as a composer.

The most impressive document to date of Dessner's art is the Deutsche Grammophon album St. Carolyn by the Sea, which features his debut recordings for the storied Yellow Label. To be released March 3, 2014, St. Carolyn by the Sea includes three luminous Dessner compositions – the title work, Lachrimae and Raphael – performed by the Copenhagen Philharmonic under conductor André de Ridder. The recordings also feature performances on guitar by Dessner and his twin brother, Aaron. Born in 1976 in Ohio and now based in New York City, Dessner first earned wide renown as a co-founding guitarist (along with Aaron) of the Grammy Award-nominated rock band The National. Yet, as WQXR New York has pointed out: " ‘… Of The National' is a phrase that often follows Bryce Dessner's name. It's not too shabby a suffix, but… listeners may find that title to be inadequate for his talents, if they haven't already."

The stage was set for the release of Dessner's DG debut by the enthusiastic reception for Aheym, a 2013 album by the ever-trailblazing Kronos Quartet devoted to his compositions. In the cross-cultural arts magazine Bomb, veteran avant-garde composer-guitarist Elliot Sharp wrote about Dessner's compositional method in the title work: "a dramatic opening, dark and insistent, then a breath, then an emerging melodic seed… The seed ultimately grows… to a rousing climax." The U.K's Independent singled out the title work, describing it as "an elegant braiding of interlaced lines that pushes the music forward in waves." WQXR's contemporary music site Q2 made Aheym an Album of the Week, praising the music as "stunning, nostalgic and beautifully hypnotic." Pitchfork declared Dessner's compositions to be "fierce, vivid music."

St. Carolyn by the Sea presents Dessner's works alongside a suite by Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood, one of Dessner's peers as a rock guitarist and genre-bounding composer. For all his rock success, Dessner was trained as a classical musician. He graduated with a master's degree in music from Yale University, having studied classical guitar, flute and composition. Settling in New York City, he performed with such contemporary-music ensembles as the Bang on a Can All-Stars, along with co-founding the improvisatory instrumental group Clogs, which was influenced by contemporary takes on early music. He worked with the likes of Pulitzer Prize-winning composers Steve Reich and David Lang, as well as with Philip Glass, Michael Gordon and Nico Muhly. In 2006, Dessner founded the MusicNOW Festival, a celebration of contemporary music that he curates annually to acclaim in his native Cincinnati. He is currently composer-in-residence at Muziekgebouw Frits Philips in Eindhoven, the Netherlands.

In a video about the making of the album St. Carolyn by the Sea, Dessner explains: "It's not that as a rock musician you come into classical and then you go back to rock. You're the same musician wherever you go." But, he adds: "Part of what draws me to concert music is that there is a celebration of risk-taking. There's a lot of talk about classical music and its audience aging, but I disagree with that. The reason that someone like me, who can perfectly well tour around in my rock band, is drawn to this culture is that there is a certain appetite and energy for performing adventurous music."

In a recent article on Dessner as a composer in Listen magazine, Kronos Quartet leader David Harrington recalled: "When we were performing Bryce's music along with Steve Reich's Different Trains and Triple Concerto at a Reich festival, Steve said to me: ‘I can't believe one person can be such a good composer, a great guitarist, a wonderful curator – and a nice guy!' But it's true. That festival of his in Ohio is fantastic – it symbolizes all the varied communities he brings together in music." Composer Nico Muhly shared his theory about what sets Dessner apart in the classical world: "In classical, virtuosity can sometimes be its own goal. Bryce has wonderful technical facility, but it's always about musicality for him."

Explaining the various merits of rock and classical, Dessner says: "When writing a rock song, economy is vital – a song's emotional core should be apparent quickly. It's a great discipline for learning the virtues of clear, compelling ideas. Extended composition is a more personal space, like poetry – less immediate but perhaps more profound. What I think is great about what's happening now is that the culture is more permeable, with artists collaborating more freely and working in different areas. The fact that such a venerable label as Deutsche Grammophon is opening up to new composers like me is a sea change, and I think you can feel it in the culture at large."

The music on the album St. Carolyn by the Sea artfully blends immediacy and resonance, color and emotion. Rhythmically energized and melodically haunting by turns, the album's beautiful title work – based on an hallucinatory episode in Jack Kerouac's novel Big Sur – features the chiming guitar tones of both Dessner brothers woven into the fabric of the orchestra. "When writing for guitar on St. Carolyn by the Sea, I wanted to do something where it comes out in places with subtle solo lines but that fits in with the overall texture rather than dominating it," the composer says. "I have no interest in importing rock tropes." His bell-like guitar also colors Raphael, which Dessner wrote while experimenting with an old harmonium. "It develops out of a warm drone sound, something that it has in common with some early minimalist pieces." The album's centerpiece, Lachrimae, references both the John Dowland tune of the same name, something that Dessner has long played on guitar, and Britten's orchestral work based on the Dowland. But the actual string writing in Dessner's piece was inspired by one of his desert-island works: "Bartók is my favorite composer, and I think his Divertimento is the pinnacle of string writing."

To celebrate the release of Dessner's DG debut, pieces from St. Carolyn by the Sea will be performed in March 2013 by the Wordless Music Orchestra under André de Ridder at New York's Le Poisson Rouge, as well as by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra with Dessner as part of the MusicNOW Festival.

New Dessner compositions include Murder Ballades, a work inspired by American folk music, for the multiple Grammy-winning new-music ensemble eighth blackbird. The group premiered the piece in Eindhoven in 2013 and has recorded it for release in 2015. So Percussion premiered Dessner's Music for Wood and Strings at Carnegie Hall in 2013, along with recording the piece for future release. The Kronos Quartet has commissioned a quintet from Dessner to perform with the group on guitar, to premiere in May 2014 at London's Barbican. The Brooklyn Youth Chorus commissioned Dessner's Black Mountain Songs to be premiered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in November 2014, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic has commissioned a work from Dessner to be premiered in 2015.

Key past compositions by Dessner include the string quartets for Kronos (Aheym, Tenebre and Little Blue Something); Tour Eiffel for the Brooklyn Youth Chorus; O Shut Your Eyes Against the Wind for Bang on a Can; The Long Count for orchestra and four singers, co-written with Aaron Dessner, for BAM's Next Wave Festival; The Lincoln Shuffle, a cycle of pieces for brass ensemble and electric guitar premiered at Philadelphia's Rosenbach Library for Abraham Lincoln's bicentennial; and Propolis for bass clarinet and electronics, co-composed with David Sheppard and Evan Ziporyn, for a sound pavilion by Matthew Ritchie.

"Every time I compose for a new performer or combination of instruments, I'm inspired and invigorated," Dessner says. "It's a beautiful thing to have a job where you're constantly learning and expanding the limits of what you can do. I'm always dreaming up new ideas."


Jonathan Richard Guy "Jonny" Greenwood (born 5 November 1971) is an English musician and composer best known as a member of the rock band Radiohead. Beyond his primary roles as Radiohead's lead guitarist and keyboardist, Greenwood is a multi-instrumentalist and also plays viola, harmonica, glockenspiel, ondes Martenot, banjo and drums, and works with computer-generated sounds and sampling; he is also a computer programmer and writes music software used by Radiohead. Noted for his aggressive playing style, Greenwood is consistently named as one of the greatest guitarists of the modern era.

Greenwood wrote the soundtracks for the films Bodysong (2003), There Will Be Blood (2007), Norwegian Wood (2010), We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011) and The Master (2012), and serves as composer-in-residence for the BBC Concert Orchestra. He is the younger brother of Radiohead bassist Colin Greenwood.

Greenwood is the only member of Radiohead to have been classically trained on any instrument, and the only band member without a university degree; he was three weeks into a degree in music and psychology at Oxford Brookes University when Radiohead, then known as On a Friday, signed a recording contract with EMI in 1991, and left soon after. Greenwood stated that hearing Krzysztof Penderecki during that time had a significant influence on his perception of modern classical music.

Greenwood's influence on Radiohead's recording and writing can be heard in many songs, as he usually takes the traditional lead guitarist role. In the 1990s, Greenwood wore an arm brace due to a repetitive strain injury attributed to his aggressive playing, saying "it's like taping up your fingers before a boxing match."

Greenwood is often credited as the second major influence on songwriting in Radiohead, next to Thom Yorke. He wrote the music for the closing track of OK Computer, ("The Tourist"), and the intro, chorus and outro sections of the song "Subterranean Homesick Alien" from the OK Computer album, as well as the "rain down" section of "Paranoid Android". According to Yorke, the track "Just" from The Bends was "a competition by me and Jonny to get as many chords as possible into a song". An example of Greenwood's versatility is his use of the Ondes Martenot, which is featured on songs such as "The National Anthem" and "How to Disappear Completely" from the album Kid A, and "Pyramid Song" from the album Amnesiac. The song "Where I End and You Begin" from Hail to the Thief, which also features the instrument, was dedicated to the memory of Jeanne Loriod, a pioneer of the Ondes.

Greenwood and Yorke also collaborated on the song "Arpeggi" which is a piece in a classical style centred around arpeggios for voice, Ondes, and orchestra. It was performed with the London Sinfonietta and Arab Orchestra of Nazareth at the Ether Festival in March 2005; the song would later be adapted for the full band to play in 2006, rearranged for guitar. A studio version (closer to the full band version than the orchestral version) appeared on the album In Rainbows as "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi".

Greenwood is a computer programmer and builds software used in Radiohead's music. He became interested in programming when he was young, "playing around first with BASIC, then these primitive hex assemblers. Just simple bits of machine code – the closer I got to the bare bones of the computer, the more exciting I found it." At the suggestion of Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, Greenwood began using the music programing language Max, and said: "I got to reconnect properly with computers ... I didn't have to use someone else's idea of what a delay, or a reverb, or a sequencer should do, or should sound like – I could start from the ground, and think in terms of sound and maths. It was like coming off the rails." Greenwood wrote the software Radiohead used to sample their playing for their eighth album, The King of Limbs (2011).

Solo work and current projects
In 2003, Greenwood released his first solo album, Bodysong (2003), which is the soundtrack for the movie of the same title by filmmaker Simon Pummell. Bodysong also features contributions from his brother Colin on bass.

Jonny Greenwood was hired by the BBC as composer in residence to the BBC Concert Orchestra in May 2004, a job which gave him the opportunity to compose several pieces for symphony orchestra, piano and/or Ondes Martenot: smear, Piano for Children and Popcorn Superhet Receiver. smear premiered in 2004, and on 23 April 2005 Greenwood premiered his new work commissioned by BBC Radio 3, with music performed live by the BBC Concert Orchestra in London. The printed music for smear, Popcorn Superhet Receiver, Doghouse, Suite from Norwegian Wood and 48 Responses to Polymorphia (see below) is available from Faber Music Ltd in London. smear has also been recorded by the London Sinfonietta conducted by Martyn Brabbins and was Greenwood's recorded debut in the genre. Popcorn Superhet Receiver and 48 Responses to Polymorphia have also been released commercially.

Greenwood won the Radio 3 Listeners' Award at the 2006 BBC British Composer Awards for his piece, "Popcorn Superhet Receiver". The piece was inspired by radio static and the elaborate, dissonant tone clusters of Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki's Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima. It can be streamed from a BBC website. Upon winning the award Greenwood received £10,000 from the PRS Foundation towards a commission for a new orchestral work. 

A fan of dub reggae, Greenwood released a compilation in collaboration with Trojan Records, entitled Jonny Greenwood Is the Controller in March 2007. This is the latest in Trojan's Artist Choice Jukebox series, to which DJ Spooky and Don Letts have already contributed. Trojan Records provided Greenwood with its extensive catalogue of songs, of which he chose 17. The title is a play on the first track on the collection, entitled "Dread Are the Controller", by Linval Thompson. The album contains tracks by artists such as Derrick Harriott, Gregory Isaacs, The Heptones and many more.

Greenwood composed the score for the 2007 film, There Will Be Blood, from director Paul Thomas Anderson. The soundtrack contains excerpts from "Popcorn Superhet Receiver". His work as the composer for this film was highly acclaimed by reviewers and earned him an award at the Critics' Choice Awards. On 21 January 2008, however, the score was declared ineligible for an Academy Award nomination under a rule that prohibited "scores diluted by the use of tracked themes or other pre-existing music." On 4 February 2008, it was announced that Greenwood had won the trophy for Best Film Score in the Evening Standard British Film Awards for 2007. In its 2009 end-of-decade round-up Rolling Stone magazine named the film the best of the decade and cited Greenwood's score as a major element in its success, "redefining what is possible in film scores".

In 2008, Greenwood wrote the theme music for Adam Buxton's comedy pilot meeBOX,  and collaborated with Israeli rock musician Dudu Tasa on Tasa's Hebrew-language single "What a Day".

In February 2010, Greenwood debuted a composition entitled "Doghouse" at the BBC's Maida Vale Studios. In an interview following the performance, Greenwood and conductor Robert Ziegler revealed that the composition would be extrapolated into a score for the upcoming film Norwegian Wood directed by Anh Hung Tran, based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Haruki Murakami. Greenwood described the writing of the piece to the BBC, "I wrote this piece mostly in hotels and dressing rooms while touring with Radiohead. This was more practical than glamorous – lots of time sitting around indoors, lots of instruments about – and aside from picking up a few geographical working titles, I can't think that it had any effect where, on tour, it was written." The premiere of the entire score took place on 19 March 2010.

In 2011, Greenwood composed the score for the film adaptation of Lionel Shriver's novel We Need to Talk About Kevin.He composed the score for Paul Thomas Anderson's 2012 film The Master. This was the second collaboration between the two.

On 13 March 2012, Greenwood and Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki released an album together on the Nonesuch label. It includes Greenwood's "Popcorn Superhet Receiver" and a new string orchestra work, "48 Responses to Polymorphia" (a homage to Penderecki's "Polymorphia" of 1961

Bryce Dessner | Johnny Greenwood

St. Carolyn by the Sea | There Will Be Blood

Deutsche Grammophon

Click Here For Artist Stories

1 St. Carolyn by the Sea
2 Lachrimae
3 Raphael
4 Suite from There Will Be Blood - Open Spaces
5 Future Markets
6 HW/Hope of New Fields
7 Henry Plainview
8 Proven Lands
9 Oil
Bryce Dessner: St. Carolyn by the Sea - Making Of
Interview with ABC - The Music Show / Andrew Ford
An Interview with Bryce Dessner ? Part 3

Never before have classical and rock converged in so organic, compelling and sensual a way as they do in the three short orchestral works by New York composer and guitarist Bryce Dessner on his new release St. Carolyn by the Sea, performed with the Copenhagen Phil and conducted by André de Ridder. The same is true of Jonny Greenwood, the composer of a suite of six miniatures for the soundtrack of There Will Be Blood which rounds out the album. The pairing of Dessner and Greenwood on the disc didn't come about by chance, but because André de Ridder likes programming their music together, for live concerts too. The defining strand of the collaboration is not so much the similar musical backgrounds of Dessner and Greenwood, but more their mutual preoccupation with quintessentially American themes such as the vast expanses of the country's landscape, or a sense of nostalgic longing; themes which, previously, were largely the domain of other musical genres.

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