Summary: William Masselos was born on August 11, 1920 in Niagara Falls. His main teachers included Carl Friedberg and David Saperton. Masselos made his Town Hall debut at the age of 18. He made his first appearance with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra (1952) followed by a long line of appearances with major orchestras, including the Montreal Symphony, the London Philharmonic, and numerous others. Masselos was known as a champion of contemporary music and played first performances of many contemporary concertos and solo pieces by composers such as Aaron Copland, Ben Weber, Charles Ives, and John Cage. He has held teaching positions at Indiana University (Pianist in Residence 1955-56), the Catholic University of America in Washington DC (Ordinary Professor, Pianist in Residence 1965-68), Georgia State University in Atlanta (1972-75), and the Juilliard School in New York. In addition he has served on the artist faculty at major music festivals. William Masselos died on October 23, 1992 in Manhattan.
Full History:William Masselos was born on August 11, 1920 in Niagara Falls to a Dutch mother and a Greek father. Weeks after his birth, the family moved to Colorado Springs, where they remained until Billy was nine, two years after his first public recital. In New York, Billy played for conductor and music educator Frank Damrosch who prescribed a musical education. An educational career of 14 years commenced at the Juilliard School of Music where he studied with Nelly Reuschel and Clara Schumann disciple, Carl Friedberg. Masselos made his Town Hall debut at the age of 18.
On April 5, 1952, Masselos played the Brahms Piano Concerto in D minor in his first appearance with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, led by Dimitri Mitropoulos. This impressive debut was the first in a long line of appearances with major orchestras which also included the New York Philharmonic under Monteux and Bernstein, the Montreal Symphony under Klemperer, the London Philharmonic under Haitink, the American Symphony under Stokowski, the Philadelphia Orchestra under Onnandy, and numerous others.
A momentous occasion in Masselos's career occurred on December 11, 1969, with the presentation of a "marathon recital" at Carnegie Hall. The concert started at 7:00pm and ended at 11:00 pm, beginning with contemporary music, and then regressing through time as the night wore on, ending with the Chopin F minor Concerto led by Max Wilcox. A concert with four intennissions, Washington Post reviewer Harris Goldsmith described the marathon as being "of heavenly length." The reviewer continued:
Until his recent Carnegie Hall triumph, greeted by a chorus of kudos from both critics and audience, Masselos could have been described as dwelling in a self-imposed exile from a fame easily within his reach. As his performance of the Chopin Concerto at the concert's end clearly showed, he could have followed the path of the Cliburns, the Brownings, or the Ashkenazys through the potboilers of Liszt, Tschaikowsky, and Rachmaninoff in order to court public adulation. He has more than enough tone, technique, and flair to have gone that route, and to have come out, indeed at the summit. Only an artistic conscience that would not be denied has kept him to his lonely course as a crusader for the forgotten, the neglected, the strange, and the new. (Jan 11, 1970)
Known as a champion of contemporary music, Masselos has premiered many works including the Charles Ives Piano Sonata No.1, the Piano Fantasy by Aaron Copland, most of the piano literature by Ben Weber, including the Concerto for Piano and Orchestra and the Fantasy (Variations), Op.25. He can also be credited with first perfonnances of concertos by Alan Hovhaness, Johan Franco, Marga Richter, Carlos Surinach, and William Mayer, in addition to solo pieces by John Cage, Dane Rudhyar, Robert Helps, Carlos Chavez, and many others.
Masselos has held teaching positions at Indiana University (Pianist in Residence 1955-56), the Catholic University of America in Washington DC (Pianist in Residence 1965-68, ordinary professor 1975-present [?]), Georgia State University in Atlanta (1972-75), and the Juilliard School in New York (1976-present [?]). In addition he has served on the artists faculty at major music festivals, among them Berkshire Festival Concerts, Tanglewood (1956, 1960, 1965), Coe College Festival (1958 and 1959), International Society for Contemporary Music Festival (Strasbourg, France, 1958), and Aspen Music Festival (1958-59, 1967-75).
Masselos's commercial recordings can be found on the following labels: Columbia Masterworks, CRI, Desto, Dial, Disc, Epic, Heliodor, MGM, Odyssey, Paradox, RCA, and Turnabout.
William Masselos died on October 23, 1992 at his home in Manhattan.