Tellef Johnson

Photograph of Tellef Johnson (© Tellef Johnson)
© Tellef Johnson

Tellef Johnson is an award-winning filmmaker, composer and pianist who has been associated with Sorabji ever since his highly acclaimed and first modern performance of the composer’s Piano Sonata No. 2 in New York’s Merkin Hall at the age of 21. Recently, Johnson helped restore an 1897 Lumière Cinématographe, the world’s first motion picture camera, and then directed and filmed eight 40-second films with it in preparation for his upcoming feature film Les Opérateurs, a magic-realist period fantasy. Johnson has several other films in development and will be directing one of them this year.

Johnson’s music for the concert hall has been showcased at New York’s Lincoln Center and at the Tanglewood Music Festival, where Johnson served as a Leonard Bernstein Fellow. The New York Times called his Chamber Symphony “the most immediately appealing work of the program... highly peculiar with melodic threads evoking electronic sounds in painterly hues.”

Johnson has collaborated with a diverse number of artists, among them Garrison Keillor, Kurt Masur, Sylvia McNair, Alan Pierson, David Dubal, Joel Sachs, and David Del Tredici, who dedicated a virtuoso piano work titled “Wildwood Etude” to him. Tellef has composer awards from BMI, ASCAP, the Eastman School of Music, and a $44,000 Bush Artists Fellowship Grant. His piano performances of Russian music and 20th century works have been broadcast on New York’s WQXR and internationally through Europe. He gave the U.S. première of Kurtag’s “quasi una fantasia” in 1998 at the age of 20 with Ossia (now Alarm will Sound). His massive transcription-piano reduction of John Corigliano’s opera “The Ghosts of Versailles” is available through G.Schirmer.

The year 2021 will bring a staggering 11 CDs of Kaikhosru Sorabji’s music later in the year from Tellef as well as an accompanying 200-page book edited by him and featuring essays from a fascinating slew of celebrities in the worlds of music and film. In the works next from Johnson is a piano concerto, a Symphony, and the preparation of a new edition and performance of Sorabji’s Piano Concerto no.8. A graduate of the Juilliard School, Johnson divides his time between New York and Paris.