Obituary: Simon Johnson

Simon Johnson, conductor and chorus master: born Penrith 24 June 1934; Founding Conductor, Reading Bach Choir 1966-72; Assistant Chorus Master, Philharmonia Chorus 1975-80; Musical Director, Orfeo Catala, Barcelona 1983-88; married 1959 Margaret Ann Hall (two sons, one daughter; marriage dissolved), 1989 Judith Espejo-Moran; died Cardiff 3 October 1993.

THE SUDDEN death of Simon Johnson at the age of 59 has robbed the musical world not only of one of the leading choral conductors of his generation but of an outstanding musician of wide-ranging accomplishment who inspired generations of music-lovers through his teaching and example.

Johnson's gifts as an educationalist and communicator were evident early in his career, during the period as Director of Music at King's School, Macclesfield, and subsequently at Reading University. He was a horn player and a pianist of considerable accomplishment, but it was his great love of choral singing which came to the fore at this time and shaped his subsequent career. As founder and conductor of the Reading Bach Choir in 1966-72, through his years with the Philharmonia Chorus as Assistant Chorus Master, from 1975 to 1980, and then as Musical Director of the Orfeo Catala of Barcelona, he directed virtually all the great works of the choral repertoire. He had an unsurpassed knowledge of this music and was devoted to it. A committed Christian, he brought to music a purity of vision and a profound spirituality which touched all who came into contact with him.

The seminal musical influence on Johnson was the time he spent studying with Nadia Boulanger in Paris, and to work with him on a piece such as the Faure Requiem was to experience a direct link with the performing tradition. A widely read and deeply cultured man, his starting point was always the text and its significance for the composer. He would spend hours researching every conceiveable nuance of meaning, as an integral part of the musical preparation.

As musical director of Hereford Summer School, essentially his creation, from 1986, he developed courses in choral singing and conducting which established an international reputation. Although physically a slight man, he was possessed of seemingly boundless energy: his enthusiasm was infectious, and in combination with his musical gifts enabled him to transform the sound of a choral group. As a teacher, he had an intuitive insight into personality, and the priceless gift of sensing the needs of each individual at a given stage in their musical development. Student conductors would learn from his example that musical direction consisted not of a series of pre-rehearsed gestures, but that it flowed from a profound knowledge of the composer's intentions. To any who questioned the necessity of a disciplined, totally professional approach, he replied simply: 'The joy will be so much greater . . .'

Generations of youngsters will remember with gratitude the encouragement and kindly advice imparted by him in his work as a leading festival adjudicator.

In recent years, following his return from Barcelona in 1988, he had renewed his involvement in higher education, and was head of the performers' course at the Welsh College of Music and Drama for five years. Only a few months ago he decided to reduce his lecturing commitments in order to devote more of his time to writing.

One project was a book entitled The Capacity of Wonder. It remained uncompleted, but the title itself is a fitting epitaph to a man whose memory will remain an inspiration to so many.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there