Real Old School Nr. 03: Johnny Greenwood and the London Contemporary Orchestra

Real Old School
Classical Music Worth Curating

  • Is it cheating if I feature one of my favorite rock musicians in this “Real Old School” series on classical music?
    • I don’t think so
  • Radiohead guitarists and multi-instrumentalist savant Johnny Greenwood has been dabbling in classical composition for a while. And, he is very good at it.
    • His soundtrack for There Will be Blood should have won an Academy Award, but was disqualified on a technicality. He also scored The Master. Haunting Stuff.
  • Here he is with the London Contemporary Orchestra performing some new and old stuff at the Royal Albert Hall.
    • It is on a “live” loop, so just hit play and let it go in the background.
  • In quasi-related news, Radiohead are reportedly in the studio right now recording.

Real Old School Nr. 2 – Shostakovich, Symphony Nr. 10

Real Old School
Classical Music Worth Curating


A couple of weeks ago I attended my better half’s Salt Lake Symphony concert where they performed Dmitri Shostakovich’s 10th Symphony. A few weeks earlier, I had it playing at home and our 4 year old son made me turn it off because it was “too creepy.” Indeed, it is pretty intense. The director, Robert Baldwin, prefaced the piece by saying the 2nd movement may be the most terrifying and intense 5 minutes we would ever hear a symphony play. He may have been right. There are some portions, towards the end of the 1st movement, however, that got pretty nuts. I honestly caught my heart rate speeding up a few times – I could feel my heart beating against my chest. In any case – I’m all about intense heavy classical music – so here you go.  Enjoy!

A few other observations:

1. Nothing can growl out a low register like a contrabassoon (see 1st movement)

2. Did you know that they make mutes for tubas? I did not. It was bigger than my head.

Real Old School Nr. 1: Saint-Saëns vs. Liszt – Danse Macabre & Totentanz

Real Old School
Classical Music Worth Curating

Let’s kick off this new classical music series with something heavy.

Today’s episode of On the Media was entitled “Staring Into the Abyss” and featured a fascinating discussion of nihilism, its historic roots and contemporary manifestations (building off a prior conversation on RadioLab).

It got me thinking about death and as I was cooking up some crepes for a breakfast/lunch, I turned to my iPod for a soundtrack.

I sampled 2 pieces which share the same name and theme of a Dance of the Dead: Danse Macabre by Camille Saint-Saëns and Totentaz by Franz Liszt.

Hungarian composer Franz Liszt’s came first, seeing its final iteration in 1859. French composer Camille Saint-Saëns wrote his in 1874.

Saint-Saëns’s is definitely more listenable – and the opening (and repeated) violin double-stops are killer. Love it!

Liszt is a bit more heavy handed (literally), perhaps going a bit overboard in pounding out low notes on the piano. Definitely scary sounding, but perhaps a little bit obvious. I once saw it performed by the Oradea Symphony Orchestra (in Romania, 1999) and live, it was powerful.

Listen below

Real Old School Nr. 0: New Series on Classical Music Worth Curating

Real Old School
Classical Music Worth Curating

Yes, yes, I know this blog has heretofore been exclusively dedicated to modern music, but believe it or not, times do occasionally call for classical music. For me, it is usually Sundays – in the morning while making a big breakfast for the family. We are quite snobby and opinionated about classical music in our house. My wife is a cellist and plays in the local symphony. We like the classical music we like and really dislike the stuff we dislike. We skew heavily towards the Romantic era, especially the nationalist composers out of central and eastern Europe…and a bit of the early modern – before things got weird.  In any case, I think I’ll start blogging here on occasion, because there are definitely some classical mixtapes I would want with me if stranded on a desert island