Graham Johnson

Graham Johnson

Piano

• Born 1950

Biography

Pianist Graham Johnson has established a reputation as a leading accompanist through his collaborations with the world's foremost vocal artists. Johnson has recorded over 100 albums, winning several awards, and authored several books.

Born on July 10, 1950, in Bulawayo, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Johnson attended the Royal Academy of Music in London. There, he met accompanist Gerald Moore, whose influence was instrumental to his career. After graduation, he pursued further studies with Geoffrey Parsons, another respected figure in the world of vocal accompaniment. Fresh out of school, Johnson received a high-profile career boost when tenor Peter Pears selected him as the official accompanist for his first master classes at Pears' and Benjamin Britten's annual Aldeburgh Festival. During periods when Britten -- Pears' longtime accompanist -- was ill, Pears frequently called upon Johnson as a replacement. In 1975, Walter Legge, the impresario and EMI records producer, selected Johnson to accompany his wife, soprano Elizabeth Schwarzkopf. By this time, it was clear that he was on track to become one of the most prominent figures in his field.

In search of creative new ways to explore the art song repertory, Johnson founded The Songmakers' Almanac in 1976. With the approval and guidance of Moore, Johnson formed the Almanac to seek out neglected piano/vocal works and build recitals incorporating several singers. For over a quarter of a century, he planned and accompanied over 150 Almanac recitals. In addition, he regularly presented summer recital cycles for the London South Bank and Wigmore Hall series and was invited by Alte Oper of Frankfurt, Germany, to give a seven-part cycle of music on texts by Goethe. One of Johnson's most frequent partners was his Royal Academy classmate Felicity Lott. He has also partnered with some of the most distinguished singers of the second half of the 20th and early 21st centuries, including Victoria de los Angeles, Peter Schreier, Marjana Lipovsek, Felicity Palmer, Anthony Rolfe Johnson, Elly Ameling, Tom Krause, Jessye Norman, Margaret Price, Arleen Augér, and Brigitte Fassbaender.

Johnson has recorded for a variety of labels, including Naxos, EMI, and Champs Hill. However, he is best known internationally for his Hyperion recordings of Schubert's complete lieder with such singers as Janet Baker, Philip Langridge, Stephen Varcoe, Thomas Hampson, Lucia Popp, Thomas Allen, Ian Bostridge, and a number of his regular collaborators. His other recordings include the songs of Britten, Gounod, Schumann, and Mendelssohn. In 2019, Johnson was heard on Vol. 8 of Hyperion's complete Brahms cycle, accompanying Harriet Burns. His numerous honors include multiple Gramophone Solo Vocal Awards. He also appears frequently on the BBC.

In addition to performing a traditional accompanist's role, Johnson has written and served as a presenter in programs explaining the songs of Schubert, Poulenc, Liszt, and Shostakovich. He has taken to writing the booklet notes for many of his recordings and has written five books, including the 2014 compendium Franz Schubert: The Complete Songs. He is the senior professor of accompaniment at the Guildhall School of Music and has given master classes in Finland, New Zealand, Israel, and the U.S. He was named an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1994. In 2002, Johnson became a Chevalier of France's Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, and in 2010 he was given an honorary membership in the Royal Philharmonic Society.

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