Performance » Music

Hometown Virtuoso Takes on NYC

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From innovative concert hall arrangements to thrashing heavy metal tunes, Derek Johnson's musical meanderings have covered an incredibly wide spectrum of sounds, often taking him far from his Fountain Square home. With the latest of these engagements, for example, the virtuosic guitarist and Ball State University assistant professor of music will join a couple of iconic composers for a very special evening at New York City's Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

This Saturday, the Center's American Songbook Seriesunites classical composer Steve Reich with musical theater composer Stephen Sondheim for an onstage conversation. After which, Johnson and a handful of other artists will also perform influential works from the two composers. For his portion of the concert, Johnson will present Reich's Electric Counterpoint -- a piece he's become quite familiar with over the years.

"Being given the opportunity to work directly with Steve Reich while I prepare the recording has been wonderful," says Johnson, who teaches Reich's music in his courses. "I'm very honored." - COURTESY OF BALL STATE UNIVERSITY
  • Courtesy of Ball State University
  • "Being given the opportunity to work directly with Steve Reich while I prepare the recording has been wonderful," says Johnson, who teaches Reich's music in his courses. "I'm very honored."

"I've performed Steve Reich's Electric Counterpoint for solo electric guitar and prerecorded backing track somewhere around 20 times, in concert halls, art galleries, alternative performance spaces and house shows all over the world," he says. "It is an incredibly effective work, very gratifying to play, and always well received by the audience."

Johnson met Reich back in 2009 while playing in the Bang on a Can All-Stars, an internationally recognized new music ensemble. With this group (that he still regularly performs with), he premiered Reich's "2x5" composition at the Manchester International Festival. Now several years later, the legendary composer still calls upon Johnson from time to time, with Saturday's concert serving as a prime example.

"Reich called me personally at the top of September to see if I could be a last-minute replacement for the Sept. 11 program of the historic Steve Reich/Phillip Glass concerts at the Brooklyn Academy of Music," Johnson recalls. "They ended up finding a different solution, but weeks later he called again and said 'Okay, this time I've got a real gig for you.'"

Several other world-class musicians will also be featured in Saturday's lineup of performers, including Tony Award winners Paul Gemignani and Michael Cerveris, as well as the much-acclaimed Ensemble Signal. Considering all this and more, Johnson feels honored that Reich invited him to play.

Over the summer, Johnson said during a Sky Blue Window interview, "I'm like a 15-year-old in his bedroom learning the album and having a great time doing it." - PERRY REICHANADTER
  • Perry Reichanadter
  • Over the summer, Johnson said during a Sky Blue Window interview, "I'm like a 15-year-old in his bedroom learning the album and having a great time doing it."

To learn more about Johnson and his many musical endeavors, be sure and check out the Sky Blue Window feature on him last summer.

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