Craig Hella Johnson, Conductor Emeritus, served as conductor and Artistic Director of the Victoria Bach Festival from 1992 to 2015. He brought critical acclaim to the Festival with inspiring performances of such masterworks as Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem, J.S. Bach’s Mass in B minor, Felix Mendelssohn’s Elijah, and Roberto Sierra’s Missa Latina. Of the 2000 performance of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, Michael Greenberg of the San Antonio Express-News wrote “A full 24 hours after it was over, it was still with me – a fleet, magisterial account of J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, conducted with total authority and sweeping sense of line by Craig Hella Johnson.”
Johnson is the founder and Artistic Director of the Grammy®-winning choral ensemble Conspirare, based in Austin, TX. Since 1991, he has assembled some of the finest singers in the country to develop a world-class, award-winning ensemble committed to creating dynamic choral art. Johnson’s work with Conspirare is featured in over 20 recordings, including Sing Freedom! African American Spirituals, and Samuel Barber An American Romantic.
Johnson has been honored with numerous awards, including 2008 induction into the Austin Arts Hall of Fame, Chorus America’s 2009 Louis Botto Award for Innovative Action and Entrepreneurial Zeal, and the 2011 Citation of Merit from professional music fraternity Mu Phi Epsilon, the organization’s highest honor for a non-member. In 2012 he was an invited speaker for TEDxAustin. He was one of seven panelists for the Fetzer Institute and Eranos Foundation’s “Love and the Musical Arts” gathering in Switzerland in 2011.
In April 2013, Johnson was designated the Texas State Musician for 2013 by the Texas Legislature, following recommendation by the Texas Commission on the Arts. Johnson was awarded the 2015 Best Choral Performance Grammy® for conducting Conspirare Company of Voices on the CD The Sacred Spirit of Russia (Harmonia Mundi label). In June 2015, Johnson received The Michael Korn Founders Award for Development of the Professional Choral Art, Chorus America’s lifetime achievement award.
Johnson is Music Director of Cincinnati’s Vocal Arts Ensemble. He was Artistic Director of San Francisco-based Chanticleer from 1998-1999 and has served as guest conductor with ensembles including the Taipei Male Choir, the Berkshire Choral Festival, the Austin Symphony, San Antonio Symphony, Santa Fe Symphony, Chicago’s Music of the Baroque and the Oregon Bach Festival.
A unique aspect of Johnson’s programming is his signature “collage” style: through-composed programs that marry music and poetry to blend sacred and secular, classical and contemporary, classical and popular styles. His compositions, arrangements, and edited scores are published by Alliance Music and as part of the Craig Hella Johnson Choral Series with G. Schirmer and Hal Leonard.
As the Director of Choral Activities at the University of Texas at Austin from 1990-2001, Johnson led the graduate program in choral conducting. He remains an active educator, traveling across the country and world working with professionals and students alike at conferences and universities.
A native of Minnesota, Johnson studied at St. Olaf College, the Juilliard School, and the University of Illinois, and earned his doctorate at Yale University. Under the auspices of a National Arts Fellowship, he was a student of Helmuth Rilling at the International Bach Academy in Stuttgart, Germany.