The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music news: Roland Johnson, co-founder of the Madison Opera and longtime conductor of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, has died at 91.

June 3, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

Roland Johnson (below), a longtime pioneer of classical music in Madison who paved for the way for the current artistic and financial successes of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Madison Opera, died Wednesday at the age of 91.

He was also active as the head of the music department at Madison Area Technical College and cultivated local talent at MATC and the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music as well as working with the many stars and guest soloists of the classical music world he brought to the city. During his retirement, he also guest conducted in Japan and elsewhere.

So far, no cause of death has been given.

Here is a link to a story in the Wisconsin State Journal (whose archives also provided the photo below) and The Capital Times/77 Square.

And here is a link to the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s website entry on Johnson and Music Director Laureate, which has a lot of background:

I have not yet seen a full obituary published, but I expect one soon. I also so far do not know about plans for a memorial service. When I know details, I will pass them along.

PLEASE NOTE: I just heard details of the Memorial Service,  Here they are: Funeral services will be held on Saturday, June 9, 2012 at 11 a.m. at MIDVALE COMMUNITY LUTHERAN CHURCH, 4329 Tokay Boulevard, Madison. A visitation will start at the church at 10 a.m. and a reception will follow. Memorials may be made to the Madison Opera, the Madison Symphony Orchestra or the Midvale Community Lutheran Church.

Johnson died just a year after the death of his very close friend Ann Stanke, who, along with Johnson’s late wife Arline, co-founded the Madison Opera and led the Madison Symphony Chorus.

I personally knew Johnson to be a generous and amiable man, one who took great pride in his fidelity to a composer’s intention and who also prided himself on studying with the great German conductor Hermann Scherchen.

Johnson, a dedicated violinist, also played in a string quartet at the University of Alabama, prior to coming to Madison in 1961. He retired in 1994 and was succeeded by John DeMain.

Johnson was not a temperamental artist but a forgiving man. When I once criticized in print the tempo at which he took a Beethoven symphony, he later explained in the most friendly of terms why he chose that tempo but at the same respected my right to disagree with his choice.

For me, Roland Johnson was a great man and a great musician. He embodied the idea of the artistic humanist who is more than a performing perfectionist. I and many other will miss him.

Please leave your tributes and observations in the Comments section.

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