Symphony conductor raised the musical bar
Donald Johanos / 1928-2007
Former Honolulu Symphony Orchestra conductor Donald Johanos, who retired from music the same day he left the symphony in 1994, died Tuesday in Naples, Fla., of various heart and kidney ailments. He was 79.
"When he left Honolulu, Donald basically got out of the music business," said former symphony Executive Director Bob Sandla. "He spent a lot of time caring for his second wife, Corrine, who died about six years ago."
Johanos, who hailed from the cornfields of Iowa, is survived by first wife, Thelma Trimble, and current wife, Jane. His four children are Jennifer Johanos, a theater artist in New York; Thea Johanos-Kam, an expert on monk seals for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; Eva Johanos, a Maui teacher; and Andrew Johanos, an emergency room physician in Colorado, plus 12 grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at a later date. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Donald Johanos Scholarship fund at Interlochen Center for the Arts, P.O. Box 199, Interlochen, MI 49643.
Johanos' health had been deteriorating for a while, according to Sandla and son-in-law DJ McDonald.
Johanos, a "square Midwesterner and a darn good second baseman in local softball," replaced the more swashbuckling conductor Robert La Marchina in 1979, said arts writer Jim Becker. "Musicians I've talked to at the symphony said that under Johanos the Honolulu orchestra never sounded better. The proof is in recordings they made in the early '90s."
Hawaii Public Radio played selections from those recordings yesterday in tribute to Johanos.
"He really had an impact on the orchestra," said Sandla. "His legacy is that he recognized the good young musicians he had and was quick to utilize our unique place in the Pacific, incorporating Hawaiian music. He also hired, as his No. 2, Henry Miyamura, who has had a profound influence on the Youth Symphony."
When Johanos finally left the symphony, it was ending a period of bitter union lockouts and management issues. "He stuck it out," said Becker. "He was here as a full-time resident, a fixture in the community." Johanos' successors have lived here part time.
Johanos began his career as a violinist but soon made a name for himself with the Pittsburgh and Dallas orchestras.
In 1962 he succeeded mentor Sir Georg Solti as music director and principal conductor of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. In 1970 he became associate conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.
Guest-conducting appearances included the Mostly Mozart Festival in New York, Lisbon's Golden Festival, the Paris Opèra and the Philadelphia, Boston, San Francisco, Chicago and National symphonies.
Johanos' recording of Glière's Symphony No. 3 in B Minor, Op. 42, with the Czecho-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava) has never gone out of print.
Also wearing the hat of music director, Johanos helped earn the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra a composer-in-residence grant, directly attributed to Johanos' boosterism of contemporary composing. The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers recognized the symphony in 1991 for "adventuresome programming of contemporary music," thanks to Johanos.