James Tocco is an American pianist with a worldwide reputation, particularly noted for performances of music of his countrymen and as a chamber musician and teacher.
Of Italian descent, he was raised in a musical atmosphere that instilled in him a love for music, especially for opera. He began taking piano lessons at the age of six. By the time he was twelve he had made his debut as a concert pianist in a performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2. He won several awards while he was still a teen-ager. These included a stipend to enable him to attend the Mozarteum in Salzburg, then with the noted pianist-teacher Magda Tagliaferro in Paris. He concluded his training with sessions of coaching from Claudio Abbado in New York.
Tocco first came to international attention in 1973, when he won the ARD Competition in Munich. This led to his engagement in the 1975 Vienna Festival, but his breakthrough performance was at the Vienna Festival Week of 1977 when he substituted on short notice for the ailing Arturo Benedetto Michelangeli in Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1. This sensational performance won a huge ovation from the audience and glowing reviews from the Viennese and international critics.
Tocco immediately began a successful international career that has taken him to the U.S., Canada, Europe, the former Soviet Union, the Near East, South Africa, Australia, and Japan. He has performed concertos with the world’s greatest orchestras, including the Royal Concertgebouw of Amsterdam, The Berlin, Munich, and Vienna Philharmonics, the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
He is a regular participant in major international music festivals as a soloist, recitalist, and chamber artist. The Festival of Holland, the Schleswig-Holstein Festival, the Lockenhaus Festival, and the Salzburg Festival are regular European stops, and he often appears in the U.S. at Wolf Trap, Ravinia, the New York Mostly Mozart Festival, the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, and the Hollywood Bowl Festival.
Tocco has a very large active repertory that includes over fifty major piano concertos. For all practical purposes, this represents the entire standard piano concerto repertory as well as more rarely performed works such as Bernstein’s Age of Anxiety Symphony, Szymanowsky’s Symphonie Concertante, and Alban Berg’s Kammerkonzert. As a solo artist, he is particularly known for his concentration on the piano works of Chopin, Beethoven, and Liszt and on twentieth-century works, in addition to being one of the few pianists who regularly includes the keyboard music of George Frideric Handel on his recital programs.
In the recording studio he has had releases on the ProArte, Gasparo, Deutsche Harmonia Mundi and ECM labels. These include a substantial amount of the piano music of Charles T. Griffes, the complete piano sonatas of Edward MacDowell, the complete piano music of Leonard Bernstein, and several works of Aaron Copland. From the European repertory he has recorded the Chopin preludes, the complete Liszt transcriptions of Johann Sebastian Bach organ music, and other Romantic era transcriptions of Bach, including several by Ferruccio Busoni, and the music of Erwin Schulhoff.
He has taught at Indiana University School of Music in Bloomington, the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music in Ohio, and the Academy of Music (Musikhochschule) of Lübeck, Germany.