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moon east :: music of justin merritt

Composer Justin Merritt was the youngest-ever winner of the ASCAP Foundation Rudolph Nissim Award. He is also the winner of a host of other awards including the McKnight Fellowship, the Copland Award, and the Polyphonos Prize. His music has been played by the Minnesota Orchestra, Indianapolis Symphony, and on A Prairie Home Companion.

His evening length oratorio, The Path, will be premiered at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis in April 2018. The work is a setting of a collection of Buddhist Pali scriptures translated by the composer and set for multiple choirs, soloists, and large orchestra.

He received his Bachelors from Trinity University and his Masters and Doctorate from Indiana University. He studied composition with Samuel Adler, Sven-David Sandstrom, Claude Baker, Timothy Kramer, Don Freund, and electronic and computer music with Jeffrey Hass. He is currently Associate Professor of Composition at St. Olaf College. He resides in Northfield, Minnesota with his wife Faye and their children Cullen Fang Ouxiang and Molly Fang Qinghe.


Several times I wrote “Wow!” next to a work being played.

-Peter Jacobi, Herald Times


Various works for solo piano appeared throughout the year, but the highlight came Nov. 9 with Justin Merritt’s 5 Preludes for piano.

-Peter Schimpf, Bloomington Independent


Justin Merritt describes River of Blood as being inspired by the 1980 massacre in El Salvador. But it would demand an audience’s attention even if they were unaware of that. Merritt seems to have the strongest sense of dynamics of any of the seven composers, most notably when a storm of percussion gives way to a sorrowful solo viola. For singularity of style, Merritt’s piece was the standout.

-Rob Hubbard, St. Paul Pioneer Press


Merritt has a fine ear for instrumental color and know how to exploit the virtuoso resources of an ensemble as fine as this one.

-Benjamin Frandze, The San Francisco Classical Voice


Merritt uses unexpected shifts in tempo and tonality for dramatic effect: long, simple lines with echoing violin and horn phrases reflect the singer’s musing. As his unease increases, so does the music, in an undercurrent of skittery, edgy passages and tight harmonics. Bold use of clashing chromatics intensifies the experience, especially in the score’s starkly luminous finale.

-Diane Windeler, San Antonio Express-News


Blender throws together a potent mixture of energetic works by Minnesota-based composer Justin Merritt, performed by athletic pianist Matthew McCright.

The Blender Project, which includes several pieces scattered throughout the album, arose from a simple question: what kind of music would sound good in a bar attached to a bowling alley?

Merritt began working on a series of high potency pieces for amplified piano with live electronic manipulation, creating duos between the musician at the piano and the musician at the laptop. What emerges is a picture of a composer deeply engaged with the possibilities of the piano, in both traditional and boundary-breaking ways, and a musician deftly handling the diverse demands of that composer’s pieces.

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