Come Back, Joe Johnson
MSO cellist on leave in Toronto
Are you coming back to Milwaukee?
million-dollar question. The opportunity presented itself—Toronto’s a great city and a great international
orchestra. It would be silly to not go. It’s really difficult for me because I
love it here—it’s a great city and a great orchestra and it’s not as if I was
in a situation I wanted to get out of. It would be so easy to not go. I have
been in orchestra for 16 years, since I was 21, so I know what I want and do
not want, so it will really have to be a good deal in Toronto for me to stay.
Are you saying that this might be a step toward becoming a soloist?
Everyone is interested in a child prodigy and I am not 15 anymore. I’m not
really interested in moving around a lot and am not interested in being a big soloist. I like staying at home and
being in my own city, as long as I have a few solo opportunities, which I have
now. Toronto is
a bigger city—they do international concerts as well as Carnegie Hall. The financial situation will also be
good, so I need to check it out. However, I do not like living in a big city
such as New York or Chicago or being in a “Big Five” orchestra
playing in a huge hall.
Because they work too much. They play all year long. In Milwaukee and Toronto you have the summers off. I want to lead a nice, well-rounded life with time off to do the things I like. I am not in it for the fame and acclaim.
How did you feel about the solo performances you gave in Milwaukee, and the duo stint you did with Yo-Yo Ma?
great. A cellist
does not get solo
chances very much. I met Yo-Yo when I was 17—amazing musician; my idol for many
years. He had asked me if I had an encore solo that we both could perform. It
turned out great.
Do you care to make a comparison between past and present MSO music directors, Andreas Delfs and Edo De Waart?
more passionate in his outward motions where Edo
is more inward, more subtle. Still, I thought from the first day of rehearsal
that the Mahler Eighth with Delfs was one of the best concerts I was ever a part of in all the time I was in
orchestra—so incredibly intense.
You are still on the sunny side of 40. Can you see yourself doing something else?
I was a
late bloomer, not a child prodigy. As you get older it’s harder to play. If my playing were going
down, I would not continue to play cello forever—I’d pursue other interests, do something different. I have played all the great symphonies and
sometimes I do get antsy for something different.
Do you think the symphony is well supported in Milwaukee?
I think the symphony plays a lot better than its pay scale. One of the biggest problems facing the orchestra is the hall. Uihlein Hall is an all-purpose hall and the players on the far right cannot always hear the far left. Edo has said that we only hear 60% of the music. We have a world-class orchestra, but only a mediocre hall. Having Edo here increases prestige and awareness, and the orchestra should have a large symphony hall.