Álvaro Cassuto is Portugal’s leading international conductor. Born in Porto, in his early twenties he established himself as one of Portugal’s most promising composers of the avant-garde. He studied in Darmstadt with Stockhausen, Boulez, and Messiaen, and his works were widely performed in Portugal and many other countries. He was a recipient of numerous commissions from different institutions, among which a variety of Portuguese orchestras as well as the Eastman School of Music (for its 50th anniversary celebrations), the Philadelphia New Music Group, and the Israel Raanana Symphony Orchestra and others. In the early 60s, he studied conducting in Portugal, Holland, Italy and in Berlin, where he worked with Herbert von Karajan. After graduating in Law from the University of Lisbon, he received the Kapellmeister degree at the Vienna conservatory in 1965.
After a period of guest conducting in many European cities, in 1968 he made his American debut at New York’s Avery Fisher Hall with The Little Orchestra and Ruggiero Ricci as soloist. In 1969, at Tanglewood, he was awarded the Koussevitzky Prize by Erich Leinsdorf, Music Director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. In the same year, he made his debut at Robin Hood Dell conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra, after which Leopold Stokowski invited him to become his Assistant Conductor at the American Symphony Orchestra. Although established in the United States, in 1970 Alvaro Cassuto was appointed Music Director of the Portuguese National Radio Symphony Orchestra (1970-89). In 1974, the University of California at Irvine appointed him Music Director of its orchestra in the capacity of a Lecturer in Music, promoting him to Professor of Music one year later. He relinquished this position in 1979 to become the Music Director of the Rhode Island Philharmonic, a position he retained through 1985. In 1981, he was simultaneously appointed Music Director of the National Orchestral Association in New York, and under its new name of National Orchestra of New York, he developed a close collaboration with Columbia University while its annual concert series at Carnegie Hall were widely expanded artistically improved, meeting with enthusiastic reviews from the New York Times.
His success led the Portuguese Government to invite him in 1987 to establish successively three new orchestras in Portugal of which he was also Music Director: the Nova Filarmonia Portuguesa (1988-93) with which he performed 140 concerts annually all over the country. In 1993 he founded and was appointed Music Director of the Portuguese Symphony Orchestra (1993-99) with which he also initiated his extensive recordings for NAXOS. In 2002, he founded yet another Orchestra in Portugal, the Algarve Orchestra (2002-2005), which toured extensively and also recorded for NAXOS. He was also Music Director of the Israel Raanana Symphony Orchestra (2000-02) and of the Lisbon Metropolitan Orchestra (2004-07), and principal conductor of the Bari Symphony Orchestra in Italy (2009-2010).
As a guest conductor, he led many of the world’s leading orchestras. In England, he conducted the London Symphony Orchestra and the City of London Sinfonia both at the Barbican Centre as well as in CD recordings, the Royal Philharmonic and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, both on tour to Portugal, the BBC Philharmonic in Manchester, and in various music festivals during a series of years. He also guest conducted other British orchestras, such as the Bournemouth Symphony, the Northern Sinfonia, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, and the Irish National Orchestra. In Germany, he conducted dozens of orchestras such as the Berlin Radio Orchestra with which he made his German debut with Mahler’s Fourth Symphony being greeted a “Mahler Meister” by the Berlin press. Many guest engagements ensued with the Berliner Symphoniker (also in concert series at the Berlin Philharmonie), the Leipzig Radio Orchestra (both in Leipzig as well as at the Berlin Festspielhaus), the Philharmonia Hungarica in its home town Marl and in many cities on tour, the Munich Symphony Orchestra (in concerts and CD recordings), the Weimar Staatskapelle, among many others. After guest conducting twice the Bochumer Symphoniker, in 1981 he was invited to become its Music Director, a position he was unable to accept due to his commitments in the US and in Portugal. He was also a frequent guest of the Orchestre de la RTB in Brussels which he also conducted on tour at the Antwerp Festival, the Orquesta Nacional de España in Madrid, the Prague Symphony Orchestra, having also conducted a series of 14 concerts at the Tivoli in Copenhagen, in Bucharest, Athens, Milan (both the RAI Symphony and the Milano Classica (in concerts and in CD recordings), the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, then Moscow Philharmonic, and Vienna (including at the Musikverein), and many other cities. He has also conducted frequently in Rio de Janeiro, and in Mexico City, among many others, cities in South America.
In the United States, in addition to the Philadelphia Orchestra, he conducted many Regional Orchestras such as the Savannah Symphony, the North Carolina Symphony, the Glendale Symphony in Los Angeles’ Music Center, the Long Beach Symphony, as well as repeat performances with the Oklahoma Symphony, the San Antonio Symphony, and the Colorado Festival Orchestra. While living in New York, he also regularly conducted the orchestras of the Juilliard School of Music of which he was a member of the Faculty during the 1980-81 season.
He made his operatic debut with Verdi’s Otello at Lisbon’s São Carlos National Theatre of which he was also the Artistic Director from 1981 to 1982. He conducted many Portuguese operatic premières, including Erwartung by Schoenberg, Il Prigioniero by Dallapiccola, The Bear by William Walton, as well as his own opera In the Name of Peace.
He recorded over 25 CDs with the Nova Filarmonia Portuguesa alone, and initiated an important recording project of music by Portuguese composers for Marco Polo and Naxos. So far, he recorded almost 20 CDs with the Portuguese Symphony Orchestra, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, the City of London Sinfonia, the Northern Sinfonia, the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, the Orquestra do Algarve, the Lisbon Metropolitan Orchestra, and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. In 2004, his recording of Braga Santos’ Fourth Symphony for Marco Polo was awarded the Prix International Du Disque at the Midem Convention, in Cannes. Since then, he recorded four CDs for NAXOS with works by Portugal’s leading composer of the first half of the 20th Century, Luís de Freitas Branco with the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, as well as another four CDs with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. All of these recordings have been met with highly enthusiastic reviews on the internet.
In June of 2009, the President of Portugal bestowed on him the degree of Grand Officer of the Order of Sant’Iago da Espada, the highest order ever attributed to a musician, while the Coliseu of Porto – his birthplace – unveiled a plaque in its “foyer” during a Gala Concert in celebration of the 50th anniversary of his musical career.
Currently, Álvaro Cassuto is pursuing a busy guest conducting schedule, in addition to recording for NAXOS the most important orchestral works of Portugal’s leading composers with a variety of international orchestras. The Monterey Symphony is privileged to have Mr. Cassuto as our guest conductor in March 2014.