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 Gilbert Kalish, Garrison Keillor, Kurt Masur, Sylvia McNair, Brian Mulligan, 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 Archibald Bush Artists Fellowship Grant and is the recipient of a Leonard Bernstein Fellowship from the Tanglewood Music Center. His piano performances of Russian music and 20th century works have been broadcast on New York’s WQXR and internationally through Europe. In collaboration with filmmakers Ismail Merchant and James Ivory and the Merchant-Ivory Foundation, Johnson gave a piano recital to support film preservation which included works by Villa-Lobos, Janacek, and Sorabji’s Pastiche on the Hindu Merchant’s Theme from Sadko. 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. Johnson’s new composition, Etudes for piano, will be released this year in three volumes accompanied by a recording by the composer. He recently collaborated with Pakistani vocalist-composer Sana Illahe on a “Raag Gehra”, an hour-long work in the Hindustani-Pakistani classical tradition.

In November 2022 Tellef will give several Sorabji world premières at Mills College in Oakland, California. His long-awaited recording of Kaikhosru Sorabji’s Piano Sonata V: Opus Archimagicum will be released on 9 CDs at the end of 2022, as well as accompanied by a 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.