EVAN JOHNSON, like many musicians, has lived a kaleidoscopic career. As a period-violin specialist, he won awards and acclaim for performances and recordings. He toured with a baroque trio-sonata group and a classical string quartet. As a New York City freelancer, he played everywhere from Carnegie Hall to the Coney Island Bandshell, while also logging countless weddings, funerals, parties, jingles, albums, and movie soundtracks. He taught students of all ages, levels, talents, and motivations; he coached small ensembles and directed large ones. He wrote articles for music magazines on rhythm, vibrato, and following a conductor. As the orchestra manager for a long-running Broadway show, he enjoyed promoting the tiny personal accommodations, communications, and gestures that keep people in a tight space sane—and even happy. In this book he codifies a lifelong list of music-making peeves, while also celebrating his discoveries and joys relating to music and to musicians.
Evan Johnson proved to be a consummate storyteller at the Cleveland Museum of Art without saying a word. . . . Johnson’s free and passionate performance poured from him with apparent ease in baroque style both scholarly and profoundly thoughtful.
Akron Beacon Journal
Evan Johnson gave an unusual glimpse of a Baroque spiritual world Sunday afternoon . . . . [He] approached the epic task with sensitivity and musicianship. The unusual church was a fascinating setting. And the final solo passacaglia was dramatically illuminated, leaving a taste of the more metaphysical tuning the composer had in mind.
New York Times
. . . the stunning success of Evan Johnson’s complete recording—a set of impassioned performances that, above and beyond a thorough knowledge and understanding of Baroque performance practice, display consummate instrumental command, nearly Herculean endurance, and an instinctive sense of proportion and flow that helps place even the wildest of Biber’s flights of fancy into a coherent perspective.
In one further respect is Johnson’s playing a revelation: he is one of the very few Baroque violinists (the only one I have heard in this repertory) who takes seriously the idea that vibrato should be used only as an ornament; when he uses it, often at moments of particularly expressive harmony, the effect is most moving. . . . This is an important recording.
What is with Melkus very broad, suggesting a familiar-sounding romanticism, is with Johnson extremely finely chiseled, precise, rich in nuance, profiled. . . . Therefore I can only admire this recording, even if it were only for Evan Johnson’s excellent technical standards.
Alte Musik Aktuell (translated from German)
Beethoven certainly belongs in the sanctum sanctorum, and Evan Johnson and Anthony Newman present the two most recorded and well known of the master’s sonatas for violin and piano. . . . What will immediately strike the listener here is the assertive and straightforward character of Johnson’s tone . . . . Beethoven’s brusque sforzando gestures take on a real immediacy. The sound of Newman’s piano . . . blends admirably with the violin, and the close interplay between the artists, the quick rise and fall of gestures, captures the bright colors and strong contrasts of Beethoven’s conception.
A rather extreme thesis, vigorously articulated and defended, is staked out here, with extremely familiar music chosen for what in a sense is a clinic. It’s hardly unimportant, but almost secondary, that these musicians provide thrilling, if brash, virtuoso readings of the sonatas . . . . the sound is clear and intimate. I was intensely interested in, and sometimes upset by, what I heard here.
“New Cadenzas for the Beethoven Violin Concerto,” Strings, January/February 1992
“Keeping Up With Your Conductor,” Strad, May 1994
“Rethinking Rhythmic Irregularity,” Strings, May/June 1991
“Good Vibrations?” Historical Performance, Spring 1992
“Good Vibrations—Without Vibrato,” Strad, June 1994
Biber “Mystery” Sonatas, Newport Classic, 1987
Beethoven “Spring” and “Kreutzer” Sonatas, with Anthony Newman, Newport Classic, 1990
Evan Johnson received the Noah Greenberg Award from the American Musicological Society, in 1986, “for distinguished contribution to the study and performance of early music.”