Sasha Johnson began his musical training at age 16, studying brass chamber music and tuba with Sam Pilafian at the Empire Brass Seminar of the Boston University Tanglewood Institute. He went on to studies at the University of Toronto and the Manhattan School of Music. His private teachers and influences have included Mark Tetreault, Arnold Jacobs, Gene Pokorny, Alan Baer and Mel Culbertson.
Following his studies, Sasha was the first Canadian tuba player to be accepted to Karajan Academy, the orchestra academy of the Berlin Philharmonic. Having begun his professional career in Berlin, Sasha went on to perform with many other European orchestras including the Berlin Symphony, Berlin State Opera, Radio Orchestra Berlin, Orchestre Symphonique de Radio France, Orchestre de Paris, Ensemble Modern, and Orchestre National Bordeaux. He has performed in such music festivals and concert venues as the Lucerne Festival, Festival d’Aix en Provence, Concertgebouw, Wiener Konzerthaus, Theatre Champs-Elysées, Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival, Salzburg Festival, and BBC Proms, under such eminent conductors as Claudio Abbado, Pierre Boulez, Kent Nagano, Essa-Pekka Salonen, Kurt Masur, and Seiji Ozawa.
Since returning to Canada, Sasha has established himself as a prominent performer and pedagogue. He has performed regularly with the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, with whom he toured to Europe, Japan and Carnegie Hall. Additionally he plays regularly with the National Arts Centre Orchestra, and the Toronto Symphony. In addition to his faculty position at Longy, he is tuba faculty at the Royal Conservatory’s Glenn Gould School of Music, and instructor of tuba, low brass and chamber music at McGill University and the National Youth Orchestra of Canada. In January 2009, Sasha was appointed principal tuba of the National Ballet of Canada Orchestra, where he continues today. He was acting principal tuba of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra for their 2009/2010, and more recently completed the 2019 season as acting principal tuba of the Canadian Opera Company.
In 2015, together with conductor and hornist James Sommerville, Sasha founded the Canadian National Brass Project, of which he remains managing director. This large symphonic brass and percussion ensemble is comprised of Canadian orchestral musicians representing fifteen different orchestras and has received national and international acclaim. Its first self-titled recording was ranked among the CBC’s Top Classical Recordings of 2017, and their second recording Constellations was released in March, 2020 on the Analekta label.
My philosophy of teaching is to act as an advocate for my students, helping them to decide and realize their own musical and professional goals.
In my lessons, as in my my own practice, I prefer to focus entirely on music. However, if technical limitations are hindering the musical product, we need to refocus on basics and fundamental technique in order to address these shortcomings, rather than reinforce our frustrations! As the famous martial artist and actor Bruce Lee once said, “the consciousness of self is the greatest hinderance to the proper execution of all physical action.” I believe that establishing extremely solid fundamentals ultimately allows us tremendous freedom to make music and perform.