"John Musto’s two piano concertos are works of enormous imagination,
freshness and feeling that require a soloist who combines sensitivity with
almost ferocious virtuosity. As this new disc reveals, the composer had the
ideal pianist in mind when writing the concertos – himself. The two pieces are different in numerous ways, though they share Musto’s acute ear for a range of
styles, including ragtime and jazz. The Piano Concerto No 1, whose gestation
unfolded from 1998 to 2005, was initially inspired by Musto’s friends who died
from HIV/Aids. Its dramatic personality is established in the opening
movement, with dark ruminations between orchestra and piano. Hints of
ragtime dot the landscape of the second movement, while the finale is a burst
of perpetual motion rubbing shoulders with remembrances from the opener.
The Piano Concerto No 2 (2006) finds Musto in upbeat frame of mind, eager to
sail across the keyboard in dazzling fashion or tease with bluesy sweetness.
It’s an entrancing score, full of vibrant interplay. Musto writes audaciously not
only for the piano. He also takes pleasure in exploring orchestral colours and
possibilities. The last movement is a tour de force of cheeky and alluring moods,
with the piano as the galvanic centre of attention.
As soloist, Musto makes a rich meal of his concertos, collaborating with
fine forces in Denmark and the US – the Odense Symphony Orchestra, under
Scott Yoo, in the First; the Greeley (Colorado) Philharmonic Orchestra, led by
Glen Cortese, in the Second. Between concertos, Musto plays two of his Five
Concert Rags to irresistible effect." – Donald Rosenberg, Gramophone, Jan. 2014
"His grandly jazzy Passacaglia for large orchestra (2003) sounds like Bach rediscovered by Krazy Kat. His Five Piano Rags (1995) cast the smoky nonchalance of Scott Joplin in a Rachmaninoff glow. His opera Volpone, which had an acclaimed premiere at the Wolf Trap Festival last March, employs everything from Broadway to bel canto in a ferociously clever musical adaptation of Ben Jonson’s play. Like Bernstein, Mr. Musto is not afraid to entertain."
-- Charles Michener, The New York Observer
"Musto spins flaxen pop into golden art, with an intuitive sense of how to make each instrument fill the others' gaps. The energetic coda at the end of the first movement prompted a burst of audience applause."
-- Ken Smith, New York Newsday, on Piano Trio
“(Musto’s) Chamber Music on this disc wraps arms around many musical styles, even as it delivers on its own appealing, colorful and moving terms. The players who make up Music from Copland House sounds like they relish every phrase. Everyone seems completely immersed in this captivating and penetrating activity, as likely will music lovers smart enough to add this disc to their collection.
-- Gramophone, on Koch International CD 7690
"Mr. Musto’s pianism was exquisite and exploratory.”
-- Paul Griffiths, The New York Times
"If there is a finer composer of song with piano alive and working in the world today, I would very much like to know his or her name." -- Graham Johnson
John Musto is regarded as one of the most versatile musicians before the public today. His artistry as composer and pianist was made abundantly clear in 2006 when he appeared as soloist in the premieres of his Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 in the space five months: possibly the first such accomplishment since Beethoven introduced his own first and second piano concertos. Michael Barrett led the Orchestra of St. Luke's at the Caramoor International Festival of the Arts in the first concerto, and George Steel led the Gotham Sinfonietta, at Columbia University's Miller Theater, in the second.
Musto has cultivated a richly allusive and eclectic style, wedded to an exacting compositional technique. His works embrace the many strains of contemporary American concert music, enriched by sophisticated inspirations from ragtime and the blues. These qualities lend his vocal music a particularly strong profile, ranging from a series of operas written in collaboration with librettist Mark Campbell to a catalogue of art songs that is among the finest of any living American composer.
Musto and Campbell have teamed up on four operas. The Wolf Trap Festival for the Perfoming Arts commissioned Musto's first opera, Volpone, whose success was a highlight of the 2004 season. Its second production at Wolf Trap in 2007 was quickly followed by the premiere of the genial drama Later the Same Evening, inspired by five paintings of Edward Hopper, at the National Gallery of Art in Washington and the University of Maryland Opera Theater, the co-commissioners of the work. The enthusiastically received, innovative work had its New York premiere in 2009 at the Manhattan School of Music, and was presented at the Glimmerglass Festival in the summer of 2011. New York and Caramoor audiences saw the lively one-act comedy Bastianello, commissioned to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the New York Festival of Song, later recorded on Bridge Records. And to cap them off, a second commission from Wolf Trap, The Inspector, sets Campbell's libretto based on a satirical play of Gogol. Following the success of the Grammy-nominated Volpone recording on its own record label, Wolf Trap will release a CD of The Inspector in 2012.
Further on the vocal front, Musto's Collected Songs have been published, and CDs of his songs have appeard on Bridge Records, performed by soprani Amy Burton, baritone Patrick Mason, and the composer at the piano; and Centaur, with baritone Alexander Hurd accompanied by Jacob Greenberg.
Musto’s chamber works have been been premiered by such ensembles as the Ahn Trio, eighth blackbird, and the Jupiter String Quartet. Three major chamber works were released recently on Koch International. The wonderful performances of his Piano Trio, Clarinet Sextet and Divertimento by the ensemble Music from Copland House fully deliver on the concentrated energy and bravura these works demand.
John Musto earned degrees in piano performance at the Manhattan School of Music under Seymour Lipkin and Paul Jacobs. He has been a visiting professor at Brooklyn College and is a frequent guest lecturer at the Juilliard School and the Manhattan School of Music. As a pianist, Musto has recorded for Bridge, Harmonia Mundi, Nonesuch, The Milken Archive, Naxos, Harbinger, CRI and EMI, and his compositions have been recorded for Hyperion, Harmonia Mundi, MusicMasters, Innova, Channel Classics, Albany Records and New World Records.
For more information, see JohnMusto.com
the John Musto page on the Song of America website.