This performance was recorded on March 11, 2020. We will continue releasing Tiny Desk videos of shows that had already been taped. In light of current events, NPR is postponing new live tapings of Tiny Desk Concerts. In the meantime, check out Tiny Desk (home) concerts! They’re recorded by the artists in their home. It’s the same spirit — stripped-down sets, an intimate setting — just a different space.
June 22, 2020 | Bob Boilen -- Sudan Archives is a truly singular artist, inspired by Irish and African music, especially Sudanese music. The first time I saw her was in a crowd of people at Cheer Up Charlies during SXSW in March of 2018. The show was wild and wonderful: effects pedals transformed her violin into a full-on band, with electronic beats keeping it all moving.
Almost exactly two years later, things couldn't be more different. On March 6, SXSW 2020 was canceled due to COVID-19. By the time Sudan Archives arrived at NPR in Washington, D.C., on March 11, everyone was concerned about the coronavirus threat. So we sanitized the desk, the mics and the cameras. We also kept our distance.
She came not with an array of electronics, but with violinist Jessica McJunkins, violist Dominic Johnson and cellist Khari Joyner. The new arrangement at the top of "Confessions" was the perfect tension queller. And those arrangements also heighten the lyrics. Listening again three months later, three weeks into police brutality protests, the words — "There is a place that I call home / But it's not where I am welcome / And if I saw all the angels / Why is my presence so painful?" — take on new meaning.
When the show was over and the small, socially-distant crowd of NPR employees dispersed, our crew began to wipe everything down with disinfectant wipes. Our incredible audio engineer, Josh Rogosin, started to set up for what we thought would be the next Tiny Desk show, the Pulitzer Prize-winning opera p r i s m by Ellen Reid and Roxie Perkins.
Josh Rogosin remembers the day clearly. "After the Sudan Archives concert, I optimistically went about setting up for a string quartet plus an eight-person choir and two vocal soloists, plus harp and conductor," he told me. "About halfway through my set-up, our boss gathered us around the Tiny Desk and made the painful but obvious decision. No more Tiny Desks until further notice."
Three months later, things are not looking much better. I miss it madly. There will be Tiny Desk concerts again and the celebration will be joyous. We'll do it as soon as it feels safe. Stay tuned and enjoy the nearly 1,000 concerts in our archives.
This performance was recorded on Feb. 4, 2020. We will continue releasing Tiny Desk videos of shows that had already been taped. In light of current events, NPR is postponing new live tapings of Tiny Desk Concerts. In the meantime, check out Tiny Desk (home) concerts! They’re recorded by the artists in their home. It’s the same spirit — stripped-down sets, an intimate setting — just a different space.
May 11, 2020 | Tom Huizenga -- Violinists have special relationships with their instruments, almost like marriages. And so it was that when the Grammy-winning fiddler Augustin Hadelich came to play his Tiny Desk concert, he brought with him the equivalent of a new significant other. Unpacking his beautiful Guarneri del Gesù, built around 1744, Hadelich admitted that he had played this extraordinary violin for only about a month. But when he began to make music on the instrument, it was clear that these two are perfectly matched. The violin, once owned by the famed virtuoso Henryk Szeryng, has been called one of the finest concert violins in the world. And Hadelich has been called one of the finest concert violinists in the world. Born in Italy to German parents, he studied at Juilliard in New York. His sweep of the top awards at the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis in 2006 launched his career. With his discerning pianist Kuang-Hao, Hadelich put the 276-year-old del Gesù through its paces in the propulsive "40% Swing" from John Adams' Road Movies. He made the instrument croon sweetly in Dvořák's "Humoresque," a chestnut of old world charm, especially in violinist Fritz Kreisler's beloved arrangement. And a burst of energy returned to round out the set with the bustling "Burlesca," by Czech composer Josef Suk, a favorite pupil of Dvořák who later became his son-in-law. Hadelich and his fiddle might still be in that honeymoon period, but for his sake – and ours – let's hope they remain the best of friends.
SET LIST Adams: Road Movies, III. "40% Swing" Dvořák: Humoresque in G-flat (arr. Kreisler) Suk: 4 Pieces for Violin and Piano, Op. 17: IV. Burleska
MUSICIANS Augustin Hadelich: violin; Kuang-Hao Huang: piano
CREDITS Producers: Tom Huizenga, Morgan Noelle Smith, Maia Stern; Creative director: Bob Boilen; Audio engineer: Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Maia Stern, Melany Rochester: Editor: Melany Rochester; Associate Producer: Bobby Carter; Production Assistant: Shanti Hands; Executive producer: Lauren Onkey; VP, programming: Anya Grundmann; Photo: Kisha Ravi/NPR
Australian Chamber Orchestra: NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert From The Archives
Tom Huizenga | December 21, 2009
Classical music has a long and distinguished history in Australia, from the eccentric composer Percy Grainger to opera diva Joan Sutherland to the guests for this Tiny Desk concert: members of the Australian Chamber Orchestra.
This ensemble is among the most culturally current and agile in classical music today. Its young players are unafraid to take risks — or sport enlightened hair styles — and they delight in merging genres. On a recent U.S. tour, they played music by Handel, Bartok, Australia's amazing Carl Vine and Pink Floyd. The icing on the hipness cake is the orchestra's director, lead violinist Richard Tognetti. Last year, he and his surfing buddies were the subject of an award-winning documentary, Musica Surfica.
In this performance, Tognetti, his 1743 Guarneri del Gesu violin and an abbreviated version of the orchestra (five players) huddle around Bob Boilen's desk to prove they can really mix it up.
After a dynamic rendition of the opening movement from Maurice Ravel's String Quartet, Tognetti takes the spotlight in his own arrangement of Ravel's version of the traditional Kaddisch. That seamlessly slides into the song "Oasis," featuring the composer Joseph Tawadros on the Egyptian oud (lute) and his brother James with percussion. It all adds up to a stirring tribute to the unpredictability and vitality of classical music itself.
March 11, 2020 | Tom Huizenga -- The last time pianist Kirill Gerstein was at NPR we gave him a full-size, grand piano to play in a big recording studio. But for this Tiny Desk performance, we scaled him down to our trusty upright. "What will you ask me to play the next time," he quipped, "a toy piano?"
Even if we had handed him a pint-sized instrument, I'm sure Gerstein could make it sing. Just listen to how Chopin's lyrical melodies, built from rippling notes and flamboyant runs, flow like a song without words in Gerstein's agile hands.
The Chopin Waltz, Op. 42 is one of the composer's hits, but the next two pieces Gerstein offers are rarities. The Berceuse for solo piano was written for Gerstein by Thomas Adès, adapted from his 2016 opera The Exterminating Angel. The work, both brooding and beautiful, receives its premiere recording at the Tiny Desk. Gerstein follows by dusting off a truly neglected – and quirky – Hungarian March by Franz Liszt. To my knowledge it's been recorded only once.
The 40-year-old pianist, born in Voronezh, Russia, taught himself to play jazz by listening to his parents' record collection. A chance meeting with vibraphonist Gary Burton landed him a scholarship to study jazz at Boston's Berklee College of Music. At age 14, Gerstein was the youngest to enroll at the institution.
Although he is among the elite pianists of the classical world (he won the coveted Gilmore Award in 2010), Gerstein's jazz background is still close to his heart. Which brings us to his lovely-rendered closer: Gershwin's "Embraceable You," arranged by the American pianist Earl Wild.
Like all master performers, Gerstein gives you the illusion that he's making it all up as he goes along, even though the virtuosic transcription is intricately mapped out. And somehow, he makes that upright piano sound nine feet long.
SET LIST Chopin: "Waltz in A-flat, Op. 42" Adès: "Berceuse from The Exterminating Angel" Liszt: "Ungarischer Geschwindsmarsch" Gershwin-Earl Wild: "Embraceable You"
MUSICIANS Kirill Gerstein: piano
CREDITS Producers: Tom Huizenga, Morgan Noelle Smith, Kara Frame; Creative director: Bob Boilen; Audio engineer: Josh Rogosin; Editor: Melany Rochester; Videographers: Kara Frame, Melany Rochester, Shanti Hands; Associate Producer: Bobby Carter; Executive producer: Lauren Onkey; VP, programming: Anya Grundmann; Photo: Max Posner/NPR
Half way through this performance of Max Richter's achingly beautiful On The Nature Of Daylight, I looked around our NPR Music office and saw trembling chins and tearful eyes. Rarely have I seen so many Tiny Desk audience members moved in this way. There's something about Max Richter's music that triggers deep emotions.
In Daylight, which has been effectively used in movies such as Arrival and Shutter Island, a simple theme rolls out slowly in the low strings until a violin enters with a complimentary melody in a higher register. Richter, at the keyboard, adds a subterranean bass line for added gravitas, while high above another violin soars sweetly, mournfully. With all elements interlocked – and sensitively played by members of the American Contemporary Music Ensemble – the piece gently sways, building in intensity. It all adds up to a six-minute emotional journey that, if you open yourself to the sounds, can leave you wrung out.
"I'm very interested in the idea of a piece of music being a place to think," Richter explained, adding that he had written Daylight as a response to the 2003 Iraq War.
Richter, whose music can't be easily pigeonholed, lightened the mood with a miniature called Vladimir's Blues. Its delicately toggling chords are an homage to novelist Vladimir Nabokov who, in his spare time, was a respected lepidopterist, obsessed with a subfamily of gossamer-winged butterflies called the blues. Richter plays the piano with the practice pedal engaged for a warm, muted sound.
Again in the final piece, Richter counters violence with calming, thoughtful music. His ballet Infra is a meditation on the 2005 terrorist subway bombings in London. It's music about travel, too, Richter explains, saying that he was inspired by Schubert's melancholy song cycle Winterreise (Winter Journey).
In trying times, music by the soft-spoken Richter can feel like a safe haven, a place for personal reflection or a welcoming, utilitarian space to clear the mind.
SET LIST "On The Nature Of Daylight" "Vladimir's Blues" "Infra 5"
MUSICIANS Max Richter: piano, keyboard
American Contemporary Music Ensemble: Clarice Jensen: cello & artistic director; Ben Russell, violin; Laura Lutzke, violin; Isabel Hagen, viola; Claire Bryant, cello
CREDITS Producers: Tom Huizenga, Morgan Noelle Smith, Kara Frame; Creative director: Bob Boilen; Audio engineers: Josh Rogosin, Alex Drewenskus; Editor: Kara Frame; Videographers: Maia Stern, Kara Frame, Jack Corbett; Associate Producer: Bobby Carter; Executive producer: Lauren Onkey; VP, programming: Anya Grundmann; Photo: Mhari Shaw/NPR
Oct. 15, 2019 | Bob Boilen -- From the moment Brittany Howard walked into the NPR offices, I could sense her intense commitment and passion. Her eight-piece backing band, all decked out in red and black, played with a soulful subtlety that bolstered Brittany Howard's tender songs about her family — stories of a mixed-race child growing up in Alabama.
All the songs performed at the Tiny Desk come from Jaime, an album Brittany Howard dedicated to her sister who died at the age of 13 from a rare form of eye cancer, the same disease that has left Brittany Howard partially blind in one eye. On these songs (and in particular at this Tiny Desk Concert), there is more nuance than I've heard in Brittany's past projects, including her work with Alabama Shakes and Thunderbitch. The music has a sense of wonder and playfulness, even when the subject is heavy, as in "Georgia." She tells the audience that it's a tale of "a little young, black, gay girl having a crush on an older black girl and not knowing what to say and how I was feeling."
Brittany Howard knows how to tell a story, to foster empathy and understanding and, in this intimate setting, the songs feel at home. The connection with the audience felt visceral as I looked around the room and into the eyes of my workmates and their friends. Even a small child in the arms of their parent screamed at the appropriate moment during the climax of Brittany's song, "Baby." It gave us all a good laugh just when the weight of the words felt the heaviest.
SET LIST "Stay High" "Georgia" "Baby" "Goat Head"
MUSICIANS Brittany Howard: vocals, guitar; Nate Smith: drums; Alex Chakour: guitar; Brad Allen Williams: guitar; Zac Cockrell: bass; Lloyd Buchanan: keys; Paul Horton: keys; Shanay Johnson: vocals; Karita Law: vocals
CREDITS Producers: Bob Boilen, Morgan Noelle Smith; Creative Director: Bob Boilen; Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Morgan Noelle Smith, Kara Frame, Beck Harlan, CJ Riculan; Associate Producer: Bobby Carter; Executive Producer: Lauren Onkey; VP, Programming: Anya Grundmann; Photo: Laura Beltran Villamizar/NPR
Dec. 11, 2019 | Robin Hilton—For most of her performance at the Tiny Desk, Nataile Mering, the transfixing voice behind Weyes Blood, sang with her eyes closed, lost and blissed out in the gently sweeping sounds. She didn’t say a word until just before the last song, when she smiled and thanked everyone for coming. But you could feel the warmth and beauty and yearning in what was a tranquil, stirring set.
Mering and the other members of Weyes Blood kept the mix simple and restrained — a strummed guitar, two-part harmonies, a brushed beat — but still managed to re-create the majesty and wonder of the band’s latest release, Titanic Rising, one of 2019’s loftiest and most layered albums. The group played three cuts from the record, opening with “Andromeda,” an astral ode to love, followed by the awestruck “Wild Time” and “Picture Me Better,” a heartbreaking remembrance of a friend who died by suicide while Mering was working on the album.
Much of Weyes Blood’s sound and vibe is rooted in ‘70s folk-pop traditions, with mystical themes of rambling on to find meaning and purpose. Mering’s flawless voice recalls Karen Carpenter (though Mering says she doesn’t care much about The Carpenters) and her melodies and progressions channel Joni Mitchell as much as Harry Nilsson. For this performance, Mering wore an all-white suit, a popular style of the era, and played a vintage acoustic Guild she bought “from an old folksinger who had lived in London in the ‘70s and played a lot.” But, Mering later wrote in an email, the woman “played her last show, placed her guitar in the case and barely touched it until I bought it in 2016.” Much like the journey of that guitar, Weyes Blood’s appearance at the Tiny Desk was a beautiful trip.
SET LIST ”Andromeda” ”Wild Time” ”Picture Me Better”
Natalie Mering: vocals, guitar; Eliana Athayde: vocals, bass; Walt McClements: keys, vocals; Stephen Heath: guitar; Andres Renteria: drums
Producers: Bob Boilen, Morgan Noelle Smith; Creative director: Bob Boilen; Audio engineers: Josh Rogosin, James Willetts; Videographers: Morgan Noelle Smith, Maia Stern, Bronson Arcuri, Jack Corbett; Associate producer: Bobby Carter; Executive producer: Lauren Onkey; VP, programming: Anya Grundmann; Photo: Mhari Shaw/NPR
A troubled soul with a talent for writing honest, disarmingly direct songs, Johnston performs in the NPR Music offices. His short set closes with one of his classics: "True Love Will Find You in the End."
Set List: "Mean Girls Give Pleasure" "American Dream" "True Love Will Find You In The End"
July 29, 2019 | Stephen Thompson -- Lots of musicians cut corners during sound check. It's a time to make sure everyone's in tune and in balance, everyone's blocked properly for the cameras, and every piece of recording equipment is doing its job the way it's supposed to, but it's not as if anyone's rolling tape for posterity. Sometimes, Tiny Desk artists do their sound check in shabby street clothes before ducking into the green room to don their fancy performance wear. It's standard procedure, and no big deal at all.
But from the second Lizzo entered the room, fresh off a long interview with Fresh Air's Terry Gross, she was on: all charm, vibrant and gracious, dressed to the nines and ready to sing her face off. In rehearsal, Lizzo belted out "Cuz I Love You," the title track from her wonderful new album, with nothing off her fastball; if you were standing six feet away at the time, you'd swear the gale force of her voice was blowing your hair back. She was the star and the mayor rolled into one, at once ingratiating and commanding, as an audience of maybe 25 milled around and prepared to let in the crowd.
Once we opened the room, there were as many people as we've ever had at a Tiny Desk concert, hanging on Lizzo's every word as she held court and waited for the cameras to roll. She literally needed no introduction; one of us usually says a few words and gets the crowd to applaud for the start of the performance, but Lizzo was master of ceremonies from the second she walked in. Naturally, she needed all of two seconds to blow everyone's hair back once more.
Everything around the singer must have felt alien to her, starting with "this tiny-ass desk" and continuing through the crowd — perched mere feet away, with only a bit of office furniture and a few cameras as a barrier — and a backing band assembled, at Bob Boilen's request, just for the occasion. Lizzo usually performs with dancers and a backing track; the former, though much-missed here, stood in the crowd and bobbed along, while the latter got mothballed in favor of slyly funky arrangements. Together, Lizzo and that brand-new band preside over three songs from Cuz I Love You: the aforementioned title track, "Truth Hurts" (so winning, in spite of its repeated references to the Minnesota Vikings) and the literal and figurative show-stopper, "Juice," which gave her the opportunity to pick up the flute she'd been waiting the whole set to bust out.
SET LIST "Cuz I Love You" "Truth Hurts" "Juice"
MUSICIANS Lizzo: vocals, flute; Devin Johnson: keyboard; Dana Hawkins: drums; Vernon Prout: bass; Walter Williams: guitar
CREDITS Producers: Bob Boilen, Morgan Noelle Smith; Creative Director: Bob Boilen; Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Morgan Noelle Smith, Beck Harlan, Bronson Arcuri; Associate Producer: Bobby Carter; Photo: Claire Harbage/NPR