Roland Johnson, who passed away May 30, 2012, was the Music Director Laureate of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the founder of Madison Opera. He assumed the position of Music Director and Conductor of the MSO in 1961 and the position as Artistic Director for and founder of Madison Opera in the same year.
During his tenure with the MSO and Madison Opera, Maestro Johnson brought both organizations to new heights of musical excellence. He conducted many of the giants of the music world, including Itzhak Perlman, Eleanor Steber, Richard Tucker, Eileen Farrell, John Reardon, Van Cliburn, Claudio Arrau, Lynn Harrell, Ruth Laredo, Alicia de Larrocha, Sydney Harth, Maureen Forrester, Johanna Meier, and Jon Vickers--to name just a few. He also served as the Conductor for the Madison Symphony Chorus during his 35 years at the helm of what was then known as the Civic Music Association. He was the driving force behind the world premiere (1993) of Shining Brow, the opera based on the life of Frank Lloyd Wright. This continues to be one of the Madison Opera's and the MSO's proudest accomplishments.
In addition to his conducting appointments, he was chairman of the music department of Madison Area Technical College (now called Madison College) and a founding member of the national Conductor's Guild. Mr. Johnson's engagements included conducting the world premiere of John Stevens' Jubilare! for the MSO's 75th Anniversary Season in 2001-2002; Handel's Messiah in Tokyo with the Tokyo Oratorio Society and the New Japan Philharmonic and Bach's Christmas Oratorio in Osaka, Japan with the Quodlibet Choir and the Telemann Chamber Orchestra, both in December 2002.
Roland Johnson graduated with great distinction in violin from the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. In 1993, he received the Distinguished Alumni award from that institution. In 1994, he received the prestigious Leadership in the Arts Award from Madison Community Foundation. He was also a recipient of the Governor's Award in the Arts and was designated as a Life Director for Madison Opera.