Grant Johannesen (July 30, 1921 – March 27, 2005) was an American concert pianist. Mr. Johannesen made his New York debut in 1944 and undertook his first tour of Europe in 1949 as a soloist with the New York Philharmonic, having made his debut with the orchestra two years earlier. Also in 1949, Mr. Johannesen won first prize at the Queen Elisabeth of Belgium International Music Competition. In the early 50's, he performed regularly on the "Bell Telephone Hour" and other television and radio shows, and was at the top of his form as a recitalist. He toured extensively, both with the New York Philharmonic under Dmitri Mitropoulos, and as a solo performer. His performances in Moscow were especially well received. He was once encored 16 times.Mr. Johannesen played frequently with the New York Philharmonic through the early 70's, but starting in the 50's, devoted himself increasingly to touring South America, Europe and the Soviet Union, where he performed to great acclaim in 1962, as a soloist with the Cleveland Orchestra in 1965, and in 1970.
He was known as an interpreter of French piano music and recorded the complete piano works of Gabriel Fauré.Mr. Johannesen was a sensitive player who was more interested in exploring musical byways that fascinated him than in repeating the warhorses of the repertory, and as a teacher, he advised his students to follow a similar path. That is not to say that he ignored the standard works entirely: throughout his six-decade career, his recital programs often included music by Bach, Beethoven or Chopin amid contemporary American works and French scores, and he made superb recordings of Chopin in the 1950's and of Schubert in the late 70's.
Mostly, though, his focus was on the music of Fauré, Poulenc, Milhaud, Dukas and Saint-Saëns, which he played with a graceful touch and an incomparable ear for coloration and nuance.
Mr. Johannesen championed American music, too. On his first tour of the Soviet Union, in 1962, his main showpiece was Wallingford Riegger's Variations for Piano and Orchestra, and he performed and recorded music by Copland, Mennin, Barber, Harris and Norman Dello Joio, as well as that of earlier American composers like Edward MacDowell and Louis Moreau Gottschalk.
After a performance of Gershwin's Concerto in F that was broadcast on the radio early in his career, Mr. Johannesen received a telegram from Duke Ellington saying that Mr. Johannesen's performance was the best Gershwin playing he had heard. More recently, Mr. Johannesen performed works by Crawford Gates, and undertook a project to publish and record the works of his first wife, Helen Taylor, who died in an automobile accident in 1950.
He served as director of the Cleveland Institute of Music from 1974 to 1985. He was a frequent soloist with both the Cleveland Orchestra and the Utah Symphony.
He died in 2005 at the age of 83 in Germany, where he had been visiting friends.