Graham Johnson has long been recognized as one of the world’s leading vocal accompanists. The Independent of London recently described him as “indefatigable – the one-man powerhouse behind a remarkable flowering of accompanied performance and recording over the past four decades” . Born in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), he came to London in 1967, at the age of seventeen, to study, initially at the Royal Academy of Music and then with the famous accompanists Gerald Moore and Geoffrey Parsons. In 1972 he was the official pianist at Sir Peter Pears’ masterclasses at The Maltings, Snape, which brought him into contact with Benjamin Britten—a friendship which strengthened his determination to accompany, the songs of Schubert in particular. In 1976 he formed The Songmakers’ Almanac to explore new ways of presenting and programming piano-accompanied vocal music; the founder singers were Dame Felicity Lott, Ann Murray DBE, Richard Jackson and the late Anthony Rolfe Johnson CBE—artists with whom he established long and fruitful collaborations both on the concert platform and the recording studio. Some three hundred newly-designed Songmakers’ programmes were presented over the years. The idea of an ensemble of song singers directed by an entrepreneurial accompanist in charge of programming, a novel concept in 1976, has since been echoed throughout the world, as in the New York Festival of Song, The Aldeburgh Connection in Toronto, Australian Songmakers in Melbourne and The Prince Consort in London. In solo recital, or on recordings, Graham Johnson has accompanied such distinguished singers as Sir Thomas Allen, Victoria de los Angeles, Elly Ameling, Arleen Auger, Dame Janet Baker, Ian Bostridge, Brigitte Fassbaender, Matthias Goerne, Thomas Hampson, Simon Keenlyside, Angelika Kirchschlager, Philip Langridge, Serge Leiferkus, Angelika Kirchschlager, Christopher Maltman, Edith Mathis, Lucia Popp, Christoph Prégardien, Dame Margaret Price, Thomas Quastoff, Dorothea Röschmann, Kate Royal, Christine Schaefer, Peter Schreier, Dame Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Sarah Walker.
Graham Johnson’s relationship with the Wigmore Hall goes back over forty years, and he is a recent recipient of the rarely awarded Wigmore Hall medal. He has been been a member of the jury for the Wigmore Hall Song Competition since its inception. He has had a long and fruitful link with Hyperion Records for whom he devised and accompanied a set of complete Schubert Lieder on 37 discs, a milestone in the history of recording. There is also a similarly complete Schumann series, and an ongoing Brahms series. The Hyperion French Song series features the complete songs of such composers as Chausson, Chabrier, Fauré and Poulenc. All these discs are issued with Graham Johnson’s own programme notes which set new standards for CD annotations. He has also recorded for Sony, BMG, Harmonia Mundi, Forlane, EMI and DGG. Awards include the Gramophone solo vocal award in 1989 (with Dame Janet Baker), 1996 (Die schone Müllerin with Ian Bostridge), 1997 (for the inauguration of the Schumann series with Christine Schäfer) and 2001 (with Magdalena Kozena). He was The Royal Philharmonic Society’s Instrumentalist of the Year in 1998; in June 2000 he was elected a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music. He is author of The Songmakers’ Almanac; Twenty years of recitals in London (1996), The French Song Companion for OUP (2000), The Vocal Music of Benjamin Britten (Guildhall 2003) and Gabriel Fauré—the Songs and their Poets (2009). In 2014, Graham Johnson’s Franz Schubert; The Complete Songs, a three-volume encyclopaedia published by Yale University Press with 600 illustrations drawn from the author’s own collection, was hailed by Leon Botstein in the The Times Literary Supplement as “a reference work for the ages…an exemplary achievement rooted in artistry and deep familiarity”.
Graham Johnson is Senior Professor of Accompaniment at the Guildhall School of Music in London. He was created OBE in the 1994 Queen’s Birthday Honours list and in 2002 he was created Chevalier in the Ordre des Arts et Lettres by the French Government. He was also made an Honorary Member of the Royal Philharmonic Society in February 2010. In 2013 he was made Doctor of Music, honoris causa, at the University of Durham and the New England Conservatory in Boston.