Johann Johansson, who passed away in Berlin on February 9, 2018 dedicated his life to his musical process.
He was a quiet man, capable of deep emotion and stunning creative outpouring. His work resonated a natural truth; a sudden and profound release of a synthesis of ideas. He collected sound colours and composed his music out of the vast palette he had assembled.
He produced his music, his art, without defining it either by or against the fashions of the time, and without subverting for subversion's sake.
Johann's sounds were discovered throughout a career of frequent collaborations and interactions. In conversations with Margaret Hermant of Echo Collective, Johann confided in her that, for him, one of the most important parts of music creation is to surround oneself with good people.
Our work together always included frequent conversations and light moments. We talked during rehearsals. We talked backstage, over dinner after the concert, and on the bus home. And when we talked, it was always about the music: both his ideas and ours. These conversations, and the sharing of life's quotidian routines, were a vital part of the creative process.
Johann talked, but he also listened. Talking and connecting on a human level enabled Johann to write music that emerged unusually quickly and maturely, and which often included what he had learned from and about his collaborators. It was an amazing experience for all of us.
Echo Collective’s first collaboration with Johann came during three years worth of preparation and performance of his work, “Orphée.” Echo was accustomed to collaborating with composers, fostering their vision and adapting it to ensembles of variable sizes and instrumentations. Since Echo Collective's conception, we have defined ourselves as both collaborators and performers.
Echo Collective is comprised of classically trained musicians who bring knowledge of classical music to a broad range of musical genres.
Early on in our work with Johann, he wrote to the Collective:
“Echoes, you are wonderful and talented musicians and kind and generous people - and I really feel that you understand these simple little pieces of mine, which not all classical players do - you understand that every note is there for a reason and that every element is carefully thought out and that it is not easy to play simple music well. And also that apparent simplicity can conceal very complex things and that nuances of emotion are many and that all these simple elements need to (be) calibrated very precisely and carefully to unfold over the course of the set in terms of dynamics and expression. I hardly ever needed to comment on your playing, apart from simple praise and if I did you usually knew what I was going to say before I said it. It's not easy to find players with these sensibilities and I'm so grateful for your dedication and patience. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did and that we will have many other occasions to play together.”
Soon after, Johann approached us to work with him on his project. He intended for Echo Collective to help him finish the composition of the Quartet. The score Echo received after Johann’s death was uncommonly sparse in the sort of markings classical composers typically include to convey their wishes in terms of dynamics, phrasing, and articulation.
As musical interpreters, we have an almost visceral need to perfect a music's intended tone, and to connect its audience to an authentic emotional experience. While a score lacking detailed direction can sometimes frustrate that goal, Echo Collective's musicians found a freedom in Johan's music which allowed them to create without feeling constrained by reference standards or critical comparisons.
When Johann died, it became Echo Collective’s responsibility to determine how the music should sound and what emotions it should convey. Our previous work with him on Orphée, and the many discussions and time spent together, provided us with the tools needed to honour his request to the highest possible standard.
Inspired and informed by the memory of the composer’s energy and masterful command of timing, tension and silence, Echo Collective was able to articulate a musical journey such that every listener could individually experience something meaningful and personal.
We have followed through on what we fully believe were Johann’s intentions for these Quartets.
When we began work on this recording, Richard Thomas, the British philanthropist who originally commissioned the work, came to our studio to get a sense of how the last piece of the collaboration puzzle was developing.
“The first time I heard them play it,” Thomas recalled, “it was like Jóhann was sitting next to me.”