Cincinnati Vocal Arts Ensemble
Founded in 1979, for over 30 years Vocal Arts Ensemble (VAE) has brought the power of spectacular, powerful and thrilling choral performances to audiences of all generations.
Because of its small size, as well as the distinctive venues chosen each year across the area, VAE is uniquely able to present diverse performances that engage and enchant a range of music lovers. VAE has enjoyed artistic leadership by some of the nation’s leaders in choral conducting; Grammy® Award winner and six-time nominee Craig Hella Johnson currently leads the talented and dynamic choir. Praised for his visionary approach, Johnson is considered one of the most influential voices in choral music in the US today.
Works presented each season range from emerging composers to the well-loved pieces of the choral canon, and it is this intimate balance of traditional yet innovative programming, as well as the creativity and passion brought to the stage by Johnson that makes VAE so unique. VAE is committed to the presentation and development of modern chamber music, and new works by internationally-known composers are annually premiered through its “Meet the Composer” series. Additional community engagements throughout the year include appearances with the Cincinnati May Festival and collaborations with area arts organizations. Broadcasts of performances on public radio and live streaming video online (through local station WGUC) help VAE to reach an extended and diverse audience across our region.
Over the years, creative collaborations have resulted in unique productions and reached diverse audiences; partners have included the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra; Opera; Ballet; Boychoir; Children’s Choir; May Festival and Youth Chorus; concert:nova; National Underground Freedom Center; Ensemble Theatre; local school choirs; and many more. Partnerships with area choral organizations through the Greater Cincinnati Choral Consortium also provide opportunities to engage the community in Cincinnati’s rich choral arts scene.
Educational activities are key to developing appreciation for the arts in students of all ages. VAE’s music director therefore leads masterclasses and works with students across the region (including serving as a frequent guest at the University of Cincinnati). The VAE also works to expand in-school activities and opportunities for students in Cincinnati’s public schools.
Craig Hella Johnson
Celebrated as one of the most influential voices in choral conducting in the United States, Craig Hella Johnson brings a depth of knowledge, deep artistic sensitivity, and rich imagination to his programs. As founder and Artistic Director of Conspirare, Johnson assembles some of the finest singers in the country to form a world-class, award-winning organization committed to creating dynamic choral art.
Composer, colleague and collaborator Robert Kyr observed, “Craig’s attitude toward creating a community of artists who work together to interpret the score…goes beyond technical mastery into that emotional depth and spiritual life of the music.”
Beloved by audiences, lauded by critics and composers, and revered by singers, Johnson is known for crafting thought-provoking musical journeys that create deep connections between performers and listeners. The Wall Street Journal has praised his ability to “find the emotional essence other performers often miss,” and Fanfare has written that “Craig Hella Johnson has assembled and molded a first-rate choir to be respected as highly as the best we have had.” Following a performance of his work led by Johnson, the distinguished composer John Corigliano wrote “I believe that CHJ has understood my music in a way that I have never experienced before. He is a great musician who understands everything about the music he conducts.”
A distinctive aspect of Johnson’s programming is his signature “collage” style: through-composed programs that marry music and poetry in a seamless blend of sacred and secular, classical and popular, old and new. This programmatic style touched the hearts of viewers nationwide in the 2009 PBS special “A Company of Voices: Conspirare in Concert,” whose accompanying CD release earned a Grammy® nomination for Best Classical Crossover Album – the fifth such honor of Johnson’s career.
In addition to his work with Conspirare, Johnson also serves as Artistic Director of the Victoria Bach Festival, an annual event that draws musicians and critical praise from around the country.
Johnson’s distinctive style and commitment to the choral art have led him to be honored with several awards, including 2008 induction into the Austin Arts Hall of Fame and the 2009 Louis Botto Award for Innovative Action and Entrepreneurial Zeal, given by Chorus America.
Johnson served as Director of Choral Activities (1990-2001) at the University of Texas in Austin where he led the graduate program in conducting. He was artistic director of San Francisco-based Chanticleer (1998-1999) and has served as guest conductor with the Austin Symphony, San Antonio Symphony, Santa Fe Symphony, Chicago’s Music of the Baroque, Berkshire Choral Festival, Taipei Male Choir, and Oregon Bach Festival.
A composer and arranger, Johnson works with G. Schirmer Publishing on the Craig Hella Johnson Schirmer Choral Series, featuring specially selected composers as well as some of his original compositions and arrangements. His works are also published by Alliance Music Publications. Also an accomplished vocalist and pianist, he released his first solo CD Thorns on the Rose in 2008 on the Booker Music label.
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. As the recipient of a National Arts Fellowship, Johnson studied with Helmuth Rilling at the International Bach Academy in Stuttgart, Germany.