VAE Music Director Craig Hella Johnson brings unparalleled depth of knowledge, artistic sensitivity, and rich imagination to his programs. He has earned a reputation as one of the finest choral conductors in the United States. Beloved by audiences, lauded by critics and composers, and revered by vocal and instrumental musicians, Johnson is known for crafting musical journeys that create deep connections between performers and listeners. A unique aspect of Johnson’s programming is his signature “collage” style: programs that marry music of many styles from classical to popular to create profoundly moving experiences. The Wall Street Journal has praised Johnson’s ability to “find the emotional essence other performers often miss.” Distinguished composer John Corigliano wrote, “I believe that [Johnson] has understood my music in a way that I have never experienced before. He is a great musician.” Composer and collaborator Robert Kyr observed, “Craig’s attitude toward creating a community of artists … goes beyond technical mastery into that emotional depth and spiritual life of the music.”
Johnson resides in Austin, TX, where he is the Artistic Director and founder of Conspirare. Since 1991, he has assembled some of the finest singers in the country to develop a world-class, award-winning ensemble committed to creating dynamic choral art. Johnson’s work with Conspirare is featured in over 20 recordings. In 2015, Johnson and Conspirare were awarded a Grammy® for Best Choral Performance for The Sacred Spirit of Russia. The 2015 release Path of Miracles was recognized with the Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik, a respected German CD award. Recent releases include Pablo Neruda: The Poet Sings (2015), >Samuel Barber An American Romantic(2012),Sing Freedom! African American Spirituals(2011). The 2010 releaseCompany of Voices: Conspirare in Concert garnered Conspirare’s fifth Grammy® award nomination. Previous nominations were in 2006 for Requiem (Best Choral Performance and Best Engineered Album, Classical) and 2008 forThreshold of Night (Best Choral Performance and Best Classical Album). In 2010, Requiemreceived the distinguished Edison Award (Dutch equivalent of the Grammy).
Johnson is Conductor Emeritus of the Victoria Bach Festival, where he previously served as conductor and Artistic Director from 1992-2015. During his tenure, Johnson brought critical acclaim to the Festival with inspiring performances of such masterworks as Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem, J.S. Bach’s Mass in B minor, Brahms’ A German Requiem, and Felix Mendelssohn’s Elijah. Of the 2000 performance of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, Michael Greenberg of the San Antonio Express-News wrote “A full 24 hours after it was over, it was still with me – a fleet, magisterial account of J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, conducted with total authority and sweeping sense of line by Craig Hella Johnson.”
In 1998, Johnson was Artistic Director of San Francisco-based Chanticleer and from 2000-2005 was Music Director of Houston Masterworks Chorus. He has served as guest conductor with ensembles including the Taipei Male Choir, the Berkshire Choral Festival, the Austin Symphony, San Antonio Symphony, Santa Fe Symphony, Chicago’s Music of the Baroque and the Oregon Bach Festival.
Johnson was Director of Choral Activities at the University of Texas at Austin (1990-2001) and remains an active educator, teaching and giving workshops statewide, nationally, and internationally at conferences and universities. In fall 2012 he became the first Artist in Residence at the Texas State University School of Music. As composer, arranger, and music editor, Johnson works with G. Schirmer Publishing and Alliance Music Publications; his works have sold thousands of copies.
Johnson’s accomplishments have been recognized with numerous awards. In June 2015 Chorus America recognized his achievements with the Michael Korn Founders Award for Development of the Professional Choral Art. The Texas Legislature named him the Texas State Musician for 2013. Other honors have included 2008 induction into the Austin Arts Hall of Fame, Chorus America’s 2009 Louis Botto Award for Innovative Action and Entrepreneurial Zeal, and the 2011 Citation of Merit from international professional music fraternity Mu Phi Epsilon. Johnson studied at St. Olaf College, the Juilliard School, and the University of Illinois, and earned his doctorate at Yale University. Under the auspices of a National Arts Fellowship, he was a student of Helmuth Rilling at the International Bach Academy in Stuttgart, Germany.