Lakeland professor, students digging into musical history
Academics - posted on 5/14/2007
What has become a personal crusade for Arthur Johnson has turned into a tremendous learning opportunity for some of his students at Lakeland College.
Johnson and seven Lakeland students will perform works by Hungarian composer/conductor András Viski on Thursday, May 24, at 7:30 p.m. at the Weill Center in downtown Sheboygan. Johnson and six of those students have also recorded 10 of Viski's works on a CD.
Tickets for the concert are $10 for adults and $8 for students and will be sold at the Weill Center Box Office the evening of the performance. Copies of the CD are $10 and will be available for purchase at the concert or from Lakeland's website after May 24th
. Johnson, an assistant professor of music at Lakeland, grew up in southern California and studied piano and composition from 1981-86 with Viski (1912-1997), a popular composer throughout Europe when he fled Communist-controlled Hungary in 1966. He eventually landed in the U.S., settling in San Diego, Calif.
"Much of this is the music (for the project) I studied with him when I was a teenager," Johnson said. "Now my students are learning it. It's neat."
Johnson has performed several of Viski's pieces on numerous occasions (including in Budapest, Hungary), and is often asked about the availability of recordings and scores of Viski's work. He has two goals for this project: providing Lakeland students an opportunity to be involved in the live performance and recording of Viski's music, and further bringing to light Viski's work to music academia and the listening public.
Six Lakeland students were part of the recording session and will appear with Johnson for the May 24 concert: sopranos Emily Rendall of New Holstein and Brittany Wierzbach of Sheboygan, mezzo-soprano Crystal Iverson of Racine; and pianists Heather Gayton, Adell; Drea Wagner, Sheboygan; and Elisabeth Daniels, Plymouth. Violinist Andrew Lietz, Thiensville, will also perform at the concert.
All proceeds from the concert and CD sales are going back into promoting Viski's work, said Johnson, who hopes to present this music and research at national music education conferences.
"This project will promote it on a very local level. I'd like to take it farther," Johnson said. Viski's mother, a Jew, was killed in Auswitch, and when his brother was killed by Communists, Viski started to openly fight Communism. Viski, who studied with popular composers Bela Bartok and Zoltan Kodaly, was often tabbed by the government to write works, but he was jailed six times for speaking out against Communism. He fled Hungary in 1966, ducking out of a concert at which he was conducting during intermission and maneuvering through a mine field when he got a tip that he was about to be arrested again.
Several of his works were attributed to a Janos Visky by the Communist government, a fact Johnson stumbled on accidentally. Johnson was researching his new teacher while studying under him and discovered reference to Janos Visky and his work in a music encyclopedia.
"I brought a copy of what I found to one of my lessons and showed him what I found," Johnson said. "He turned beet red and I could feel all this anger, then he explained to me what happened. I'd like to be able to go to Europe and correct some of this."
Additionally, Johnson hopes to return to California where Viski's estate is located to see if any additional works can be discovered.
Johnson said the work from Viski's American period (1968-93) combines classical and jazz styles (including Bossa Nova and cabaret) along with gypsy influences. The music featured on the CD recorded and mastered in Milwaukee by Johnson and his students tries to capture all those styles.
"His music, for a 20th Century composer, is very accessible," Johnson said. Viski said his drive as a composer came in part from his faith and recognition of his gift. "I do not know why I have been given this power and gift for music," Viski said, "but the Lord has guided and protected me to do some kind of work in this field."
Click to listen to CD online
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