Click on the jacket covers for further information on each of these discs (tracklisting, jacket notes, audio samples and reviews).
The Albania Project
I had a Rotary International Foundation Scholarship back in 1992-1993. While studying at the Hochschule für Musik in Vienna, I was invited down to Albania to give a piano masterclass and recital. Flying into Tirana was an eye-opening experience. Communism had only recently fallen, and the country was still lacking a lot of infrastructure. There was only one traffic light in Tirana, at their main square. The roads were either dirt or full of pot holes, with animals freely wandering about.
I stayed in the home of a composer, Llazar Morcka, who had been sent to a labour camp under Enver Hoxha’s regime. Hearing his story, and meeting other composers, inspired me to delve into the Albanian piano repertoire. It became the subject for my doctoral work.
I travelled to Albania two more times for research in the 1990s, once playing a Mozart concerto with the Chamber Orchestra of Tirana, another time playing a solo concert in the Opera Grand Hall. I collected scores from the National Archives, and was given copies of scores by many composers themselves. After finishing my doctorate, I wrote to quite a few record labels and was fortunate that Mr Kaikoo Lalkaka of Guild (www.guildmusic.com) believed in my project and agreed to a CD of Albanian piano music. After Këngë’s release and the amazing reception it had in the press (‘Johnson plays with nuance and color; the recording is rich and resonant.’ American Record Guide), I recorded a second disc of Albanian music, Rapsodi. In between the two discs, I made a concert tour to Albania under the auspices of the American Embassy and played a televised concert to a hall full of dignitaries and VIPs. After a solo first half of American and Albanian solo pieces, I was joined by two gifted Albanian musicians for Charles Ives’ Piano Trio. I also played a solo concert in Vlorë, and remember bringing the house down with my encore, Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag…they’d never heard it before!
Very few scores are available, but here are some contacts for some of the scores.