Pianist Grant Johannesen will join the Salt Lake Children's Choir, Ralph Woodward Jr. conducting, in a joint concert in Symphony Hall, Thursday, April 25, at 7:30 p.m. The program will span four centuries of music, with special emphasis on masterpieces for piano and voice by composers of the romantic era. Johannesen will perform two major solo works: "Faschingsschwank aus Wien" (Carnival Jest from Vienna), Op. 26 by Schumann, and Ballade No. 4 in F minor by Chopin. Choral composers will include Palestrina, Lotti, Schumann, Brahms, Schubert, Grieg, Wolf and Bizet among others, often arranged by Woodward.The reputation of the Salt Lake Children's Choir has grown with appearances at the western division of the American Choral Director's Convention, the American Mothers' National Convention and the International Convention for Educators of Gifted and Talented Children.
The choir's local concerts are popular events, and it has often performed with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, including a new soundtrack recording for the Hill Cumorah Pageant, accompanied by the Utah Symphony.
"I am interested in the choral tradition," said Johannesen, during a recent visit to his native Utah. "In fact, my earliest musical memories are choral - the Tabernacle Choir, the Utah Oratorio Society, the old Symphonic Choir conducted by Frederick Davis, which sang Russian songs and Palestrina. Davis was a convert to the LDS Church from New Zealand. And there were fine Gilbert and Sullivan productions here.
"Utah has the Utah Symphony, Utah Opera, and Ballet West, but did not have a real children's choir until Chip Woodward took it on. And I am very interested in the training of the child. When I was director of the Cleveland Conservatory, our prep division was the largest of all, around 2,600 students. While there I designed a great deal of public school music, to help the little children, and we depended on the public school teachers to send talent to us.
"Chip has tried to organize his group so the kids get good training. He has two choirs, actually, and he's very interested in letting them try rather good music.
"Chip wanted me to be closer to the students than just as a soloist, so we will do some of the Schumann and Brahms lieder jointly. And after I play a transcription by Earl Wild of Rachmaninoff's `In the Silent Night,' we will again join in his `Floods of Spring,' and a couple of other songs, including the `Evening Prayer' by Humperdinck."
Johannesen believes very strongly that people who perform in the concert world should teach.
"That's why I went to Cleveland for those 10 years (1973-83)," he said. "And I am convinced that conservatories should be run by musicians. It's a pity that conservatories have dwindled so. Now there are only eight in the country, but in the 1920s the U.S. had 22, and Salt Lake's McCune Conservatory was one of them. Frank Asper taught me harmony there, and he was excellent.
"Rudolf Serkin once told me, `we must teach, or else what can we expect from the next generation!' Peter Mennin acknowledged that he couldn't compose while he was head of Juilliard, but he said any artist worth his salt (Salt Lake for me!) will devote some time to teaching.
"Teaching does something for me; it reminds me how difficult this profession is," said Johannesen. "And as a pianist I accept the challenge to teach my students, and demand of myself, to make every sound as if it were bowed or sung."
Johannesen is grateful to be back concertizing, though he never gave it up during his administrative years. And conversely, now that he's mostly a concert artist, playing some 60 concerts a year, he still teaches a little. "I have four graduate students at the Mannes School. And I greatly enjoy teaching at the Mozarteum in Salzburg every summer.
"There are no private lessons, all 20 pupils meet together, and we focus on one person for half a day," he explained. "One great thing about Salzburg, they have two pianos in each studio - a Steinway and a Boesendorfer, and they are tuned every morning!"
Johannesen is making a record for Centaur label, featuring the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his son Franz Xavier, born the year Mozart died, who was taken by his mother Constanze to Copenhagen when she remarried. Franz returned to Vienna at age 10 to study with Salieri, and developed as a piano virtuoso. "As a composer, his music resembles Schubert, or Weber," said Johannesen. "It's hard to play. I was commissioned to play it first at Salzburg - a concerto in three movements - then recorded it with the Chicago Sin-fonietta."
All seats for Thursday's concert are $8, $6 students, and tickets are on sale at the Utah Symphony box office in Symphony Hall, or at Smith'sTix locations.