8/1/2013 - Three musicians celebrate their half-century anniversary with the New Hampshire Music Festival this summer, all of whom, coincidentally, have the last name “Johnson.”
Symphonic Chorus conductor Joel and organist Karen Johnson (who are married) and musician Keith Johnson (of no relation) will be honored at the festival’s final summer concerts Friday, Aug. 9, and Friday, Aug. 16, at the Capitol Center for the Arts in Concord.
The New Hampshire Music Festival is a concert series that has attracted some of the finest musicians from around the country since 1952. For the most part, those concerts have occurred in the Lakes Region, and today, the festival is based in Plymouth. But the musicians have played in various venues across the state as well, from Portsmouth to Hanover to the White Mountains. (Sometimes, Joel said, they literally performed on mountains. “You’d spend half the day climbing, and then, all of a sudden, you’d find this woodwind quartet!” he said.)
But the festival has evolved quite a bit since Karen and Joel Johnson joined in 1963. He began as a tenor soloist and started conducting in 1970. Today, he said, the Festival has become even thicker with high-level musicians of more professional caliber, and there’s a greater emphasis on classical music.
One thing that hasn’t changed, though, is the tight community within the festival. In the beginning, the musicians lived in dormitories at Plymouth State, and their families grew up with the festival.
“Many children have been raised in the festival. … In the early days, we [the festival musicians and singers] lived in dormitories, and it seemed that each kid had two or three sets of parents,” Joel Johnson said. Today, they live in student apartments, but the connection is no different. It’s one of the reasons Joel and Karen Johnson have been involved with the festival for so long.
“There’s a sense of family, within the festival, but also within the community at large. Our audience is so loyal and inviting, and here, we’ve got some of the same friends we’ve had for 40 years,” Joel Johnson said in a phone interview. Their kids, Heather and Andrew, grew up as “festival kids,” performing in the chorus as kids and, in Heather’s case, continuing into adulthood. In fact, Heather is a featured soloist, along with soprano Arianna Zukerman.
This sense of community, he said, has helped make the festival what it is today.
“We’re very supportive of one another. There’s a real togetherness and sense of trust, and that creates a good ensemble,” he said.
The Aug. 9 show comprises music by Handel, Mozart, Respighi and Vivaldi. Along with Donato Cabrero, Joel Johnson will conduct “Coronation Anthem No. 1” by Handel and “Gloria” by Vivaldi.
“The singers love the music; they’re embracing it, and they’re on the edge of their chairs the entire time,” Joel Johnson said. “It’s got a lot of contrast. It’s zippy, perky and festive.”
Keith Johnson, who plays the trumpet and teaches at the University of Northern Iowa, also celebrates his 50th year with the festival this summer, and will play at the final concerts. Festival Board member Gene Bishop said in a press release that these benchmarks exhibit the dedication festival musicians share.
“All of the Johnsons’ longevity with the Festival is an attest to the love of music and passion for the organization itself,” Bishop said.