David Hackbridge Johnson
David Hackbridge Johnson began composing at the age of 11 and has written works in all genres. He has had works performed by the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra, Gemini, the South Bank Symphony Orchestra, by pianists Stephen Gutman, Chisato Kusunoki and Nicholas Austin, by the North German Radio Choir, by the conductors Saulius Sondeckis, Robin Gritton and Mark Stone and by the Dmitri String Quartet. While living in Switzerland for a year in 1997, he worked as composer in residence at Aiglon College and had music performed by the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra with their conductor Saulius Sondeckis and cellist Mark Drobinsky, a pupil of Rostropovich. He often takes part in performances of his own work either as a singer or violinist, most notably in his Violin Sonata No.2, a piece written for himself and pianist Yeu Meng Chan to play.
He has written many large scale works including 8 symphonies, 8 tone poems, 7 string quartets and many other choral, vocal and chamber works. His wide interests are demonstrated in the inspirations that lie behind some of his music; two recent ballet scores take their scenarios from, the myths surrounding the Merovingian dynasty and an imaginary day in the life of Uganda’s largest beetle, respectively. He has written extensively for the piano including 12 sonatas and many shorter pieces and piano cycles. His largest piano work is Tributes; a 75 minute composition that pays homage to composer as diverse as Faure, Busoni, Alkan, Stevenson and Paganini. There are also a large number of song cycles which reflect the composer’s interest in poetry and language. David has set poems in French, German, Old Norse, Elamite and Ancient Babylonian as well as English.
In 2001 David became a short-listed composer for the Society for the Promotion of New Music. This has led to a number of important premieres by leading contemporary ensembles. In December 2001 the percussion duo of Chris Brannick and Richard Benjafield performed Or Nothing At All as part of the British Music Information Centre’s ‘Cutting Edge’ season. In December 2002, the orchestral work Two Clerical Episodes was performed by the South Bank Symphony Orchestra conducted by Torkjell Hareide. In February 2003 the string orchestral piece Lament for Himbert Blanke was chosen by SPNM curator Steve Martland to be performed in Wolverhampton by the Goldberg Ensemble conducted by Malcolm Layfield. In 2004 Canonic Elegy for Denis ApIvor was performed by the composer on violin and Richard Black on piano. The piece was written in memory of the composer Denis ApIvor with whom David became friends towards the end of Denis’ life. In 2006 Richard Black together with tenor Wills Morgan performed Tauberiana, a virtuoso vocalise inspired by Richard Tauber.
A number of piano works by David have been performed by pianist Chisato Kusunoki. These include Album Leaf which she played in Oxford and London and Five Coloured Parakeet on the Branch of a Blossoming Apricot Tree which was premiered at the National Physics Laboratory and heard again at St. James’s, Piccadilly. Both these pieces have been recorded for Tableaux Records. Ms. Kusunoki recently gave the premiere of Paraphrase on an English Carol in the beautiful setting of Bristol Cathedral. Nicholas Austin has also played and recorded several Hackbridge Johnson piano works including the large scale Nocturne No. 3 and a selection of the Twelve Modal Preludes Op. 227. At a concert for the Edinburgh Society of Musicians in 2007 several of David’s works were performed including selections from Four British Folk Songs and Pastorale for clarinet and piano. The performers were Ishbel Kennedy Maltman; soprano, Salvatore Tomasino; clarinet with Michael Garrett at the piano. Katharine Wake, flute and Michael Garrett, piano performed David’s Pentatonic Melody at St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh in May 2007. Also in May 2007 David was asked to arrange and conduct Christmas carols for an album featuring some of the world’s finest young opera singers accompanied by the Camerata of London. He also composed an original work for the album called Fantasy on Of the Father’s Heart Begotten for orchestra and this has been reviewed favourably.
He is also active as a composer and arranger in jazz and popular music. He has worked with the Oxford University Big Band and the Cambridge University Jazz Society. He has made arrangements and appeared as a violinist with the folk-rock group Grand Drive. He regularly performs as a session musician. Future projects include further recordings of piano music and songs cycles. An album of David’s jazz piano performances will be issued in spring 2008.
David began work as a violinist in theatre orchestras before becoming a jazz pianist and drummer. He formed the group ‘Constellation’ which featured his own compositions and arrangements. He has appeared as a drummer and violinist in jazz festivals at Montreux, Culle, Glion, Cheltenham, Ealing and Ross-on-Wye and has several jazz recordings to his credit including the album Did You See with Peter Elias, bass and Luigi La Marca, drums. He has also worked as arranger, violinist and percussionist with the Latin-American group ‘Caņa Dulce’ appearing at the Montreux Jazz Festival on several occasions. With Marcus Wright and Paul Rogers, he formed the improvising trio ‘Evorcity’. Their performances have been greeted with much excitement and two albums of experimental music have been issued. For many years he was a member of ‘Jazz Circus’ together with Barry Fantoni and Dan Quinton. This group has played all over the UK providing a unique blend of jazz, poetry and performance art. The group has also broadcast for BBC Radio 2. He has also worked with the pianist and composer Barry Booth. Recently David has concentrated on solo jazz piano and has been acclaimed for contributing to a revival of the ‘stride’ style of playing. His album Prisoner of Love features tunes from the 1920’s and 30’s in stride style. He has recently been working in performance and on recordings with the pianist and composer Paul Williams; David’s violin features on many of Paul’s compositions for radio and television. As well as playing in most of the major jazz venues such as the 100 Club and the 606 Club, David has held many residencies over the years including the Café Royale, Smollensky’s in the Strand and the Chelsea Arts Club. Currently he can be heard playing violin or piano at the Naked Turtle in East Sheen. He has also recently reappeared at the Chelsea Arts Club.
As a classical violinist he has devised, together with the pianist, Yeu Meng Chan, an on going series of concerts featuring neglected British violin sonatas. As a result many works have been revived including those by ApIvor, Michael Berkeley, Holbrooke and Knussen. Works written especially for the duo include those by Gordon Lawson and Mark Henegar. Their concerts also feature many neglected songs by lesser known figures such as Havergal Brian, Bantock and Petrassi. In addition David has sung many songs from the great Lieder tradition as well as many English songs.
Recently David has performed a number of works by Ronald Stevenson including Recitative and Air for violin and piano and the song cycles Songs from Factories and Fields and Four Songs of Christian Morgenstern. David also revived Stevenson’s Violin Sonata in a private performance with Michael Jones on piano and in the presence of the composer. The performance was the first in over 50 years. David was recently involved in the preparation of a vocal score for Stevenson’s epic choral orchestral work Ben Dorain. This work received its premiere in January 2008 in Glasgow. Michael Garrett is another composer with whom David has worked closely. Performances of Garrett include the song Searching for Spring and Poeme Arabesque No. 1 for violin and piano; a piece dedicated to David. He performed both works with pianist Eunee Lee at the Edinburgh Society of Musicians in 2007. Michael Garrett also dedicated his Violin Sonata No. 4 to David and they performed it together at a private concert. David has also conducted several ensemble works by Garrett including What’s in the Air for 3 sopranos and chamber orchestra, Promenade en forme de paean for chamber ensemble and Refrain de Danse Orientale for chamber orchestra and voices.
David Hackbridge Johnson was born in Carshalton, England. He studied violin with Louis Rutland, piano with Martin Wilson, singing with Fabian Smith and conducting with George Hurst before taking up a place at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in order to study singing with Arthur Reckless. He also attended masterclasses with singer John Carol Case and conducting classes with Colin Metters and Norman del Mar. He later continued singing studies with Mark Wildman at the Royal Academy of Music. He holds degrees from the Royal Academy of Music, Trinity College of Music and University of Surrey, Roehampton. At Roehampton his professors included Peter O’Hagan, Caroline Potter and Michael Burnett. David is also an active educator teaching violin, piano, singing and composition.