On Saturday, February 22 pianist Conrad Tao joins the Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra for a performance of George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. Kate Remington talks with Conrad about how he gets inside this familiar work.
"Tao is a riveting performer."
"'More Forever' is fascinating every step of the way."
He gave the world premiere of 'Spoonfuls' with the Iris Orchestra in January 2020.
Conrad Tao and Caleb Teicher bring their Bessie Award-winning ‘More Forever’ to Boston.
The Flyer caught up with Tao to ask him about the blues, Brahms, and the tension between performing and listening.
"His interpretation with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra makes us rethink the piece end to end, reminding us Beethoven was the pathway to both the free-flowing introspection of Chopin and the pyrotechnics of Liszt."
"He can do just about whatever he wants with a piano, playing with it, as much as playing it. It is his plaything, if you will, and a big intelligence governs everything he does."
"Whether pinch-hitting as soloist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood, playing a barefoot recital at Carnegie Hall, helping choreographer Caleb Teicher tear up the floor at Jacob’s Pillow, releasing an album of “American Rage,” or creating chamber-music alchemy with the JCT Trio, he faces the world with open mind and heart."
"This is a powerful album that demands attention whether or not you accept all of its premises, and it marks a fascinating new stage in the career of one of the most exciting young American pianists."
"Mr. Tao brought out inner voices, pungent harmonies and obsessive rhythmic elements that many pianists gloss over."
"When Tao followed a gorgeous opening improvisation by singing the song as he played, everyone knew its touching, tender hope.”
"Furiously energetic, wildly virtuosic, and totally engrossing: full of pummeling rhythms, dense clusters, and spectacularly florid passagework.... Taken together, American Rage’s selections form a tough, refreshing quartet: hard-edged and defiant, yes, but also poignant and stirring."
"One of Conrad Tao‘s distinguishing characteristics on his latest album American Rage ... is that he goes much more deeply than so many of his contemporaries into the many styles he’s called on to play."
"Conrad Tao tends to slip into celestial metaphors. During a recent interview, this musician — a veteran at just 25 — referred to his ideas about concert programming as “constellatory.” When he thought he was rambling, he cut himself off and apologized for 'galaxy-braining.'"
“I can’t praise Tao’s programming here highly enough. It’s ambitious and satisfying, and its message remains vital. It’s through the arts that we find pathways away from the messes we make for ourselves, and this recording takes you by the arm and sings you inspiration.”
"Interlochen Center for the Arts recently welcomed violinist Stefan Jackiw and pianist Conrad Tao to the Dendrinos Chapel and Recital Hall. They performed music of Stravinsky, Lutoslawski, Saariaho and Brahms."
"This powerful, thrilling album of American political and protest music is played with abundant angst and virtuosity by American pianist Conrad Tao... Commanding and exciting pianism."
"One of the most dynamic and deeply communicative keyboard artists on today's scene."
"This gifted pianist and composer makes his debut at Weill Recital Hall on Nov. 20 with a program that reaches from Bach to the Bang on a Can composers David Lang and Julia Wolfe, as well as Schumann (“Kreisleriana”)."
"One of the most compelling voices in classical music."
"A number of concertgoers had the pleasure of 'discovering' Tao when he took the stage to perform Maurice Ravel’s dazzling Piano Concerto in G. It’s a thrilling show piece, and Tao delivered it with supreme aplomb and obvious relish — not to mention overwhelming force."
"The evening’s most exciting moments belonged to pianist Conrad Tao, a confident young magician at the keyboard.... With any luck this sparkling performance will punch Tao’s BSO return ticket. Technically, he nailed the short concerto’s acrobatic and lyric episodes, with his temperament flashing between effusive and reflective."
"Tao is happily building a career shaped chiefly by his multifaceted interests and ever-expanding curiosity."
"'More Forever' is a true conversation between Tao and the dancers, always with a sense of freshness, discovery and collaboration."
"The relationship between the music and the seven dancers feels almost tangible—an intimate, vibrating exchange of sound and silence. A note, a footfall, the scritch-scratch of a tap shoe tracing an arc across a sand-covered floor, and then the sequence begins again, gaining speed and intricacy."
"Pianist Conrad Tao stepped barefoot onto the stage and proceeding to relay all the wonders that Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 has to offer...Technique? Tao had it in spades... he reveled in the challenge, finding warmth, nuance, and haunting expression where many see little more than virtuoso display."
"Watching the trio perform, one really couldn’t tell who was happier to be there — the rapt audience or the musicians, who threw themselves into repertoire they clearly love."
"It’s not every musician who makes The New York Times Best Classical Music Performances’ list two years in a row (2017, 2018.) But that’s precisely what pianist/composer Conrad Tao has done. At a mere 24 years old, this Illinois-born phenom has been dazzling audiences since his first recital at age 4."
On February 22, Tao made his LA Opera debut in David Lang’s The Loser. Listen to his wide-ranging conversation on KUSC with Brian Lauritzen in which he discusses the production, how he doesn’t remember the first time he played the piano, the social/relational side of making classical music with others, and more
“A collaboration with the pianist-composer Conrad Tao, and six other dancers, the work is a marvelous, transporting meeting of fantasy, wit and intelligence … Stillness, silhouettes, geometries: Everything combines to make ‘More Forever’ a new dance world of the imagination.”
“The award for best performance of a work of standard repertory—the reader has no doubt gleaned from this piece that standard repertory is not exactly my passion—would easily go to pianist Conrad Tao’s spectacular account of Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto with the San Diego Symphony in November.”
“Another choreographer who reached a new peak this year was the tap artist Caleb Teicher. He, the pianist-composer Conrad Tao and six dancers gave a preview performance of “More Forever” as part of the Guggenheim Museum’s Works & Process series in October. “More Forever” constantly extended the sonic aspects of dance.
“Combining seriousness and youthful abandon, Mr. Tao grappled with Bruckner’s symphony in his restless piece.”
“I expected to be enthralled by Tao’s performance of Tchaikovsky’s Concerto No. 1, but I never thought he would make me love that tired chestnut. He did. And then some."
"Tao is only 24. He has a brilliant career ahead — and many more secrets to discover. If I could, I’d hear every performance he plays.”
"Conrad Tao, who earlier in the evening had prefaced a Bruckner symphony with an ear-opening “overture” commissioned for the occasion, was featured as a pianist, his best-known guise."
“With Mr. Tao on the piano, Mr. Teicher tap danced on a platform, sprinkled with sand that lent gritty sounds to his elegant gyrations."
"To Tao’s credit, Everything Must Go transparently reflected his stated idea about ‘the image of a cathedral gaining sentience as it melts.’ With the segue to the opening wisps of Bruckner’s Eighth, two eras were connected."
With Jaap van Zweden as its newly-appointed music director, the New York Philharmonic kicks off its 2018–19 season with two world premieres. Ashley Fure’s Filament was introduced at the opening gala concert, and next up is the premiere Conrad Tao’s Everything Must Go.
Twenty-four-year-old pianist-composer Conrad Tao is no stranger to major orchestra audiences worldwide. He has performed with or had his compositions played by the likes of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Hong Kong Philharmonic, Utah Symphony and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra.
Conrad Tao and Ashley Fure spoke to the New York Times about their upcoming commissions with the New York Philharmonic.
“Conrad Tao made a humble Lincoln Center debut with a piano recital one Sunday morning last December, in front of a white-haired audience sipping coffee. But there was nothing sleepy about his performance: adventurous, agile and often electrifying as he navigated works both contemporary and classical."
"Passages of soft, buzzing string tremolos were almost more nerve-racking than the thick demonic eruptions. But the piece eventually lost “appendages,” to borrow Mr. Tao’s word, and thinned out, quizzically, as if turning over the stage to the Bruckner symphony — which, in this context, seemed to pick up from Mr. Tao’s music."
"Tao was also a delight to watch. His assured, resolute musical ideas voraciously reverberate beyond his fingers and through his entire body. With his commanding performance of Rachmaninoff’s thrilling audience-pleaser, Tao earned an immediate standing ovation."
"But Tao was never content simply to wow his listeners with rapid and impeccably executed scales and arpeggios, or to dazzle them into submission with ferocious chordal passages. Throughout both performances, he modulated his showmanship with graceful phrasing and elegant rhetoric."
"The young pianist Conrad Tao made a humble Lincoln Center debut last weekend, at 11 a.m. on a Sunday. But his performance did more to wake me up than the espresso served in the lobby. After closing the program with Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 31, he played Scarlatti for an encore.
“CONRAD TAO As part of the Crypt Sessions series, this adventurous young American pianist presented a compelling program called “American Rage” in the intimate crypt of a Harlem church."
“Under the molten heat of the 23-year-old Tao’s genius, what seems in some hands to be little more than empty note-spinning was transformed into gold. No matter how rapid the passagework or how routine the phrase, Tao’s attentive mind found nuggets of passion, humor and beauty. The experience of hearing him play was one of astonishment."
“Maurice Ravel’s Concerto in D minor begins mysteriously: Over the rumbling sound of double basses, Steve Vacchi entered with a wonderfully evocative contrabassoon solo, and soon woodwinds, horns, then the full orchestra joined in to reach a simmering crescendo until — Bam! — Tao dug vigorously into the first of the work’s two lengthy cadenzas.”
We’ll hear a young pianist triumphantly perform one of Rachmaninoff’s most complex pieces for the piano, a teenage violinist recounts a life-changing realization, and we feature a world-premiere of “Asymptotes”, a newly commissioned work for clarinet, viola, and piano from composer and From the Top alum, Conrad Tao.
HIS NAME HASN’T changed, but mentally splicing the twenty-three-year-old Conrad Tao with the child prodigy who first came before the general public more than a decade ago is likely to make you do a double take.
“What did we get from Tao? We got effortless action, frugality, simplicity, spontaneity, and Tao took compassion upon us by giving us an encore by Elliott Carter which showcased a terrifying technique.”
“At the piano, Tao worked musical magic, finding in this early Mozart concerto a depth and structural sophistication—at least in the outer movements—that could easily be missed in its congenial cascades of scales and figuration.”
“Tao played, brilliantly, in sock feet. If that’s what it takes to achieve his combination of crystalline tone and long legato lines that never allowed the musical arc to waver, piano teachers should take note.”
“Tao tore up the Piano Concerto No. 3 in C, Op. 26 by Prokofiev […] The audience was immediately struck by the pianist’s ferocious power and incredible facility. Tao often played the fiendishly difficult passages like a man possessed.”
“In the crypt, the sheer volume of Mr. Tao’s sound during frenzied climaxes was near-deafening, yet exhilarating.”
“Tao literally took our breath away… He made [‘Rhapsody in Blue’] come to brilliant life with an energetic, bouncing-off-his-piano-bench performance that felt almost improvised. He slowed down for the more sobering passages, but you could sense this energy surging from his fingertips waiting to let loose.”
“While American orchestras these days have acquired the healthy habit of throwing a contemporary work into every other concert or so, Tao proved that balancing a substantial body of new, groundbreaking music with one of the more demanding works from the canon can create a fascinating, and, judging by audience response, crowd-pleasing program.”
“Rzewski’s part of the work was noisy and random, never staying in one place too long and never giving any hint of its source (Tao played a recording of a portion of the song to set up the piece). But Tao’s response to the tune was highly accessible and engaging. It reworked and revealed the song without directly quoting it."
“For the last thirty or more years, my benchmark for this piece has been Earl Wild with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. I have a new benchmark now. Tao has all the brilliant technique that Wild famously displayed, but (a composer as well as a pianist) Tao displays more thought in his interpretation.”
“The performance of Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A Minor gave a clear indication that Tao is seeking his own path, away from orthodoxy. He made an explosive entry, but gave a dark, melancholic reading of the wistful theme.”
“On Sunday, Conrad Tao played an impressive double-header featuring the Schumann Concerto and Beethoven’s Emperor. He wowed not only with his prowess at the keyboard, but with his preternatural sang-froid: Tao spent over an hour trapped in a hotel elevator and arrived at the hall with just minutes to spare."
As Tao’s fleet fingers raced through Caténaires, a dissonant perpetual-motion piece that Carter composed at age 97, the audience listened with breathless excitement
“Tao…surpassed reputation. He delivered an intense, involved, passion-inspired performance that was one of the most thrilling to be heard on stage with this symphony. His was a very physical delivery. Tao seemed to become one with the instrument and the score”
“[Tao] displayed a remarkable affinity for Beethoven at Berkeley, with ever-interesting nuances of interpretation combined with a surprising display of power considering his relatively lightweight frame.”
“Best Encore: To pianist Conrad Tao, for daring to play Elliott Carter’s ultra-thorny ‘Caténaires’ and for wrestling it into submission.”
“Conrad Tao was back. Pacific Symphony audiences were introduced to the pianist (and composer) back in 2011, when he substituted for an indisposed Yuja Wang. He was 16 then, and not very well known, and took everyone by pleasant surprise.”
“Bounding back onstage after intermission, Tao brought vast kinetic energy as well as his keen structural insights as a composer to his masterful playing of Mussorgsky’s Pictures. This is a suite that goads many pianists into self-indulgent flights of pianism, but Conrad Tao was a model of control and restraint.”
"Tao performs “Pictures at an Exhibition” with an emotional intensity so palpable that it comes off physically, with the final movement’s triumphant chords shaking both the pianist and crowd around him in the crypt."
"[Tao’s] interpretation of Gershwin’s Concerto in F served as the highlight of the program, conducted by former PSO principal guest conductor Leonard Slatkin. Mr. Tao’s pitch-perfect interpretation seemed to ooze the spirit of 1920s New York — which was fitting for a work that Gershwin initially called the “New York Concerto.”"
"It was easy to hear why demands on Tao’s time as a performer are cutting in on his time as a composer. This was far more than a virtuoso performance. It was not only thrillingly rhythmical, but extraordinarily sensitive in lyrical passages without being sentimental."
“On this fascinating album, aptly titled, the brilliant 21-year-old American pianist Conrad Tao, a thoughtful artist and dynamic performer who is also a composer, has surrounded a repertory staple, Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition,” with varied works by contemporary composers, including himself.”
If Saint-Saëns touched on two eras, Tao integrated in the most imaginative way the current style of spiritual post-Romanticism and ’90s techno club music.
“That design, you may notice, recalls the formal structure of Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto—but Tao has his own reasons, and his new work, in my judgement, need fear nothing from comparison with one of the 20th century’s accepted classics.”
“Conrad Tao joins great intellect to formidable technique. […] It was a treat Saturday to hear Copland’s unjustly neglected Piano Sonata, dating from 1941. (A quick search suggested that this was the first concert performance of it I’ve heard here in 15 years.) […] Tao gave a gripping performance, finely timed and layered.”