New Classical Tracks

Conspirare conductor Craig Hella Johnson lets his imagination run wild

Craig Hella Johnson leds the Austin-based vocal ensemble Conspirare. James Goulden


New Classical Tracks (Extended) - Craig Hella Johnson

37:50


May 26, 2021
New Classical Tracks - Craig Hella Johnson

Conspirare/LAGQ/Texas Guitar Quartet/Austin Guitar Quartet/ Douglas Harvey — The Singing Guitar (Delos)

Can you imagine the voices of the Austin-based vocal ensemble Conspirare, combined with the delicate shifting textures of 12 guitars?

The conductor and artistic director of Conspirare, Craig Hella Johnson, decided to let his imagination run wild. Their new recording, The Singing Guitar, features Conspirare, the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, the Texas Guitar Quartet, the Austin Guitar Quartet and Douglas Harvey on cello.

Tell me about how this project evolved?

I threw out the idea of playing with textures. I was thinking about St. Mark's in Venice and those quality choral works, those antiphonal choirs across the balconies and choirs of voices and brass. Then an idea about choirs of voices and possibly guitars was said. It got reduced from choirs of guitars to three guitar quartets and a piece that we would commission by Nico Muhly.

“Muhly had written vocal music to the text of these 19th century pioneer women. These were women who were writing on the broad spectrum of life on the prairie. These were women who were running the home base and, in the work, How little you are there's a sense of grandeur for being out in open space.”

How is the first moment of trust reflected in Reena Esmail’s When the Guitar?

She had said once that this is about the power of music to show us who we are. Much like a guitar, each one of us has a unique, complex and resonant body. When we heal, we resonate differently than when we are broken. Music reverberates through each of us. It shows us our own portrait in sound. In a sense, it points to the reverberation one feels in healing.”

What do we learn about Sarah Winnemucca in Kile Smith’s The Dawn’s Early Light?

We learn about her personhood and how she grew up. We learn about the atrocities she lived through. We learn about her lineage. She speaks about her grandfather. She speaks about members of the tribe and the relationship they had with government officials. All of what she lived through leads up to this song that we call our national anthem. She relates the story to us and we see this anthem through her eyes.

“After having really considered all the layers of Winnemucca 's story, the singing of this national anthem shook us to our core. I hope people will hear that in the work.”

 To hear the rest of my conversation, click on the extended interview above, or download the extended podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.

Resources

Conspirare/LAGQ/Texas Guitar Quartet/Austin Guitar Quartet/ Douglas Harvey — The Singing Guitar (Conspirare)

Conspirare/LAGQ/Texas Guitar Quartet/Austin Guitar Quartet/ Douglas Harvey — The Singing Guitar (Amazon)

Craig Hella Johnson (official site)

Conspirare (official site)