Andrew James Johnson is a Composer and Pianist from the UK renowned for his melodically inspired and elegantly crafted solo piano works. His music speaks directly to the heart, conveying a range of emotions from the first few bars. Each time Andrew sits down at the piano music begins to flow effortlessly from his fingers... Beginning with improvisations and exploring keys and pianistic textures, Andrew seeks out a melody to use as the foundation of his creations. His compositional style is pure and boundless in its invention, coupled with a harmonic language that is both daring and intuitive. We encourage you to discover the beauty of his music as you explore works that include Moonlight Shadows, Echoes of Love, Out of Solitude, Winters Heart and of course, Elysian Dreams…
What does music mean to you personally?
Music is my life force. It lives with me every second I’m awake, to when I fall asleep at night and it’s still with me when I dream! Music is such a part of who I am as a person, and always has been from my earliest memory. No matter what happens in life, even during the hardest times of stress and sadness music lifts my soul and makes me want to live.
Do you agree that music is all about fantasy?
I’ve actually never heard music being described as a fantasy?! Not sure what you mean by that but if you mean it stimulates the imagination and makes one conjure up images in the mind, in our emotions, feelings, then yes I would yes it is! The word ‘Fantasy’ is used often in Classical music too, such as the two op 27 piano sonatas by Beethoven (‘Quasi una fantasia’) or Schubert’s ‘Wanderer Fantasy’ and the ‘Fantasie’ in F minor by Chopin…these pieces all have a common theme of searching, exploring…like a musical odyssey that encompasses all human emotions and experiences. Music definitely has the ability to take a person away from the mundane routine of every day life and make their imaginations come alive.
If you were not a professional musician, would you have been?
I love history, creative writing and film, so I would probably be a Director or Script Writer. I have to create, invent, tell stories. I think it’s the greatest gift to have as a human....to make up wonderful, complex, riveting stories that grip our imaginations. Musicians and composers are story tellers in their own way. So are artists and actors. Who knows maybe I will still do this! I have so many stories in my head and I would love to find the time to do all of this. Not easy. Only 24 hours in one day if only we had more!
The classical music audience is getting old, are you worried about your future?
I’m more worried about getting old myself! LOL! Age is probably the most irrelevant factor to consider in how a person enjoys a piece of music. Do you think Paul McCartney is worried that his fans are getting old? Or Stevie Wonder or Elton John? Of course not! They have young people discovering their music and loving it because it’s GREAT music. It’s not even an issue in Pop music and it shouldn’t be in classical music either. (I hate the term ‘classical music’ anyway…more on this later…) Great music lives forever, regardless of genre and will always appeal to future generations. So my worry is to write music that is great! No pressure, hey?! That’s my solution. If my music is worthy, people will respond, engage, come to concerts, buy my sheet music, stream the tracks, buy a t-shirt! I really believe that this is the best time ever to be a composer and performer. Opportunities are endless.
What do you envision the role of classical music to be in the 21 century? Do you see that there is a transformation of this role?
Classical music definitely needs to be re-invented for each new generation and the 21st century is no different. We live in extremely unique times – the age of information and technology, and the way music is delivered and received by new audiences is also very new and constantly changing. A great starting point would be to address how classical music exists in our culture. As I mentioned earlier, I find the words ‘classical music’ to be very outdated and one dimensional. It’s just music! The word ‘classical’ instantly makes it seem holy, special, raised up on a pedestal. By doing this it limits people from experiencing and connecting with the music itself. The great composers Bach, Mozart, Beethoven etc would never have used that word! It was just the music of their time! We should treat it as this too! Will we start calling The Beatles Classical Pop Music?! That would be stupid, of course! This is a HUGE topic of conversation but at least you have my opinion, for what it’s worth. I know that Classic FM are doing a lot to dis-associate the word ‘classical’ from this music to reach younger audiences and I think it’s having a very positive impact. We’ll see what happens!
When I say that classical music is searching for new ways or that the classical music is getting a new face, what would come to your mind?
I just saw a concert being promoted at the Royal Albert Hall called ‘Playstation in Concert’ – wow that is what you call a great example of transforming the role of classical music! The RPO playing music by video game composers! Even if you hate the content, you have to applaud the concept. It’s a radical approach to bringing new audiences to classical music. If people new to orchestral music can love the sound of sinister cellos and trombones from a game they might then go on to discover Mahler or Wagner? Or if the love the evocative sounds of woodwind they may venture in the world of Grieg or Ravel?
I think we could also re-invent the recital format, the dress code, the atmospheres that usually come with classical concerts. Even the radio stations, presenters and media outlets that deliver the content could do with changing, in my opinion. For example, classical music should be incorporated into festivals, by this I mean pop festivals. Glastonbury should be showcasing composers and have orchestras so there is no divide between classical music and pop music – great music should not be pigeon-holed but be made accessible to everyone. It’s happening, that much I know and I’m so glad! It will make my job of being a composer of the piano and orchestral instruments much easier….BTW I also write songs, so am I still a classical composer?!
Do you think that the classical musician today needs to be more creative? What’s the role of creativity in the musical process for you?
I think overall Classical musicians are extremely hard working and dedicated to their Art. The immense amount of practice that most classical musicians do is quite staggering! In my experience true creativity flows when you are working without limits, when you push boundaries and are not afraid to try new things. Only those who are not afraid of failing can be truly creative. It’s the risk one has to take. But the rewards are you do something unique. That’s the true sign of a creative genius. Think of what Beethoven did for the piano sonata… The moonlight sonata is well known, but if you think about that opening movement, it blows my mind to think how creative Beethoven was in his approach to have this immensely emotional and personal slow first movement. No one had ever done that before. He channelled his talent into new ways to express and create music and that to me is true creativity. It’s a timeless endeavor.
Do you think we musicians can do something to attract young generation into the classical music concerts? How will you proceed?
My observation of young people across all nations and cultures is that they have one thing in common. Social Media! They are like ducks on water with social media and technology in general. Therefore, I think Classical musicians can benefit immensely from embracing social media and see it as a platform not just for artists in the pop world or for celebrities. Many artists use social media to grow their fan base and bring exciting content to fans just waiting to receive it. Platforms such as Instagram and Facebook, if used correctly; can be a great way to bring their music to young audiences with things such as live streams, Instagram ‘stories’ - talking about their repertoire or practice methods in an informal way…all these are super interesting for fans. It might not seem so for the musician but trust me, it is so impactful and will bring new fans very quickly. I would encourage every classical musician to see themselves as a brand and not just a musician. Also, I think Classical musicians should not be scared to improvise, play some jazz or get involved in contemporary music, or even do session work for pop/rock/urban artists where their technique can be appreciated and give them a refreshing change from their usual repertoire.
Tell us about your creative process. Do you have your favorite piece (written by you) How did you start working on it?
I like to improvise at the piano to start the creative process. I have moments where I can sit at the piano and compose an entire 3-4 minute piece in one go. It’s my method. My emotions are always flowing and they need to be channelled into composing. I need to be near a piano all the time because I get these sudden urges to compose, I know something is about to come out. I connect my Yamaha Silent upright to my Macbook and then record everything I play into Logic Pro X as that records not only the audio of what I’ve done but it also gives me the notation. It’s rudimentary but it works for me and I then develop the piece if I think it’s good. I play back what I’ve recorded and develop it from there. I suppose it’s my digital sketch book of musical ideas! I then notate the new composition into Sibelius and build the orchestration if required. One of my favourite pieces is the orchestral version of my piano piece ‘Winter’s Heart’, as it has this huge string orchestral arrangement that has so many layers. Writing for strings is a real passion of mine and I was lucky enough to record a full string ensemble last year at RAK studios in London for my album. Funny thing is I actually wrote the piece ‘Winter’s Heart’ on an old Bechstein grand piano whilst on holiday in Devon in the middle of summer! We rented a big house and it had this super cool vintage piano. I was on it every single day of course! I had about six children running around the house playing games while I was composing this piece, and when you listen back to the demo (recorded on my phone!) you can hear all of this mayhem going on around me with kids shouting, laughing, but I was still able to compose even with this going on! Such is the life of a composer! ;-)
We, Moving Classics TV, love the combination of classical music with different disciplines: music and painting, music and cinematography, music and digital art, music and poetry. What do you think about these combinations?
Oh man what can I say! BRING IT ON! Cross collaboration is so important to me! I think it’s the most wonderful thing any artist can do. I relish any opportunity to work with non-music based art forms. My Nephew is a professional dancer and we are about to shoot a music video with him and a girl dancing in an old dis-used warehouse to one of my piano pieces. I also really want to do some concerts that feature live painting during the performance as a way to further enhance the experience and engage an audience. It can only result in beauty.
Can you give some advice for young people who want to discover classical music for themselves?
Spotify. In one word! This app has literally thousands of tracks from the best artists and best composers! I wish I had this resource when I was a kid! Search out playlists that feature composers that you like. It’s a treasure trove of music waiting to be discovered. You Tube is also amazing as you can watch people perform too, which is an added dimension. Social media is so great and then I would say go to some concerts and get involved, don’t be shy or put off by the word ‘classical’ and what that image conjures in your mind. Just focus on the music and the instruments.
Now it is a common practice in the media to talk that the classical music is getting into the consumption business, do you agree? We are speaking about the supply and demand rules and how to sell your “product” in your case your compositions. How do you see it?
Music has always been tied to economics. From Bach through to the Beatles there have always been people that want to exploit talent. That’s the world we live in. We all need money and it’s always been hard for musicians to figure out the best way to make money from their work. Every musician must see themselves a business, as a brand. Yes, it’s Art but unless you’re from a very privileged background you need to be able to make money to survive. I think the consumption model is not perfect but it’s a natural evolution of the music industry and it is here to stay. I recently had royalty payment from Spotify for many thousands of pounds. I never made money from my music before until this came along so of course, I am glad to have it. My goal is to create multiple streams of income and not rely on just one. For example, live concerts, touring, merchandise such as CD’s, teaching, education work, session playing, playing for private events such as weddings and parties…the list is endless. You have to have an entrepreneurial mind set to be successful. Musician or whatever business you are in.
Do you have expectations what regards your listeners, your audience?
I want my listeners to put aside their pre-conceived notions of what piano music is and appreciate my music at face value. Forget Chopin, Rachmanninoff, Debussy, Phillip Glass…judge the music on what you hear, not on comparisons to other composers. Is that too much to ask?! This is why I actually have better feedback on my music from non-classical audiences who don’t know all of that great music from the famous piano composers. So for them it’s fresh and new. Ultimately I write for myself first and foremost and I write what I enjoy playing. I am a melodic composer. I love creating melodies and developing themes and textures for my own imagination and intrigue. If other people can follow the story within my music and find pleasure from it; then I am a very happy human being.
What projects are coming up? Do you experiment in your projects?
I now have two small children aged 2 and a half and 6 months old so my musical life is on hold at the moment! However, I cannot stop composing! I have written so much new music in the last few months. It’s almost a blessing in disguise to be so busy with every day life that when I get half an hour to play the piano I’m so excited! It’s like a reward and I think this has brought something out from my sub-conscious. It’s so different too. I’ve been doing some epic experimentation with new sounds and ideas. My next album will feature electronic beats, vocal samples and some of the most beautiful solo piano music I’ve ever composed. I’m so excited to make this album…Can’t wait to share it with you all and it will transform my live concerts too. I hope to be touring at the end of 2018 or early 2019 and doing some festivals next year at multiple genre music festivals around the world.
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