Two hours after Jonny "Radiohead" Greenwood picked up his British Composer Award at the Hayward Gallery, there was his piece waiting to be heard next door. Popcorn Superhet Receiver was his first work for the BBC Concert Orchestra, where he subsequently became resident composer. For strings only, it owns up to an influence from early Penderecki. But the substance of the music is something else altogether.
A slow blur of impossibly rich chords starts to let through faint solo instruments, now tentative and now stronger. It is at its most captivating when big chords fade and wisps of inner detail are left floating. Unlike the rest of the programme, it paraded the primacy of feeling over guile, a stance that doesn't usually get people far in British music. Let's hope he has the strength of mind to protect this original voice.
Greenwood's presence points up the ongoing make-over of an orchestra once most famous for light music. It hasn't yet bucked the system, which steers it to composers that the BBC Symphony Orchestra won't touch (they win listeners' prizes rather than judges' prizes). The music world's devotion to rank and status remains powerful, for all the inclusion here of Steve Martland and Joe Duddell.
Martland's Crossing the Border made an invigorating if rigorous starter, the latter quality particularly felt by the players, who need to steer their line through a calculated tangle of other lines at a constant fortissimo. There is always enough energy and invention to make the machinery vital, and neither they nor the conductor Robert Ziegler flagged. With a fuller orchestra, Duddell's engagingly laid-back Shadowplay set a solo cello against ear-tickling orchestral patterns. Thomas Carroll played the busy but undemonstrative solo with confidence.
Most successful at combining feeling and guile, however, was Northern Lights by a previous resident composer, Anne Dudley. It's a finely scored and imagined tone poem in which dancing delicacy is given depth and perspective by surrounding evocations of darkness. The simple but magical ending, which revisits the start with a quiet underlying rumble of drums, is one of the best moments in recent British music, unknown to those who follow only the BBC SO's agenda.Reuse content