HCMC – Geir Johnson, formerly the head of the Vietnam-Norway classical music cooperation project Transposition, has died, aged 68.
Transposition was founded in 2006 and actively operated from 2007 to 2015. It involved collaboration between Vietnamese music institutions and Norwegian ones and was largely financed by the Norwegian Government.
During this period many notable productions were staged in Saigon by the HCMC Ballet, Symphony Orchestra and Opera (HBSO), one of the music institutions involved, under the umbrella of Transposition. They included the ballets Nutcracker, Cinderella, and Coppelia, the operas Dido and Aeneas and The Magic Flute, plus many others, and a large number of concerts.
Some of the ballets were originally choreographed in the early days by the Norwegian choreographer Johanne Jakhelln Constant, and then frequently revived.
Transposition was suspended in 2015 following a change of government in Norway, and the dramatic decline in the value of the Norwegian currency. Johnson always hoped it could be revived.
In 2015 he edited a book Vietnam Overtures on the history and development of Transposition.
Geir Johnson led a very full life as a composer, writer, performer and project organizer. He composed over 60 works, including Silent Spring for string orchestra, commissioned and performed by the Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra (VNSO) in 2014. He also wrote choral works, song cycles and string quartets. He published articles in more than 100 periodicals worldwide, and wrote novels and short stories.
He founded Norway’s Bergen National Opera, and when Transposition started work was the director of the Ultima Oslo Contemporary Music Festival.
His musical work wasn’t entirely confined to classical music. He was briefly a member of a rock band, and in 1993 composed Sentimental Journey for orchestra, in homage to the Beatles drummer Ringo Starr.
Transposition was also involved in exchange programs. Taken almost at random from many such exchanges, in May 2010 oboist Do Kien Cuong from the HCMC Conservatory and horn-player Kim Xuan Hieu from the VNSO went to Norway as visiting students of conducting, while in November of that year Swedish guitarist Magnus Andersson conducted master classes for guitarists at the HCMC Conservatory for the second time.
In 2015 Geir Johnson was awarded a medal by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism in Hanoi in recognition of his work with Transposition.
Johnson began his performing life early, as a boy soprano. Once embarked, he never stopped. Earlier this year he told me he was preparing a sound installation on an island just outside Oslo in commemoration of an order of nuns who lived there 400 years ago, was organizing another piece about the Swedish king Karl VII, and also arranging performances of a song-cycle he had written for his wife.
In 2010 he wrote “Since 2007, Transposition has transferred knowledge between the partner institutions through concerts, workshops, residences for students and performers, musical education, development of archives and libraries, documentation and instrument maintenance.”
Transposition means a change of position and the consequent adoption of a new perspective. Both Vietnam and Norway, it was envisaged, would benefit in this way from their cooperation, and so it proved. Geir Johnson will be sorely missed by all who knew him here in Vietnam.
By Bradley Winterton