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5 Questions to Conrad Tao (composer) about Everything Must Go

  • Don Clark

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. On September 27th, he will add the New York Philharmonic and its new Music Director Jaap van Zweden to his roster with the world premiere of his latest composition Everything Must Go. Commissioned by the Philharmonic for its 2018-2019 season, Everything Must Go functions as a “curtain raiser,” or overture of sorts, to a performance of Anton Bruckner’s monumental Symphony No. 8 composed in 1887-1890. I CARE IF YOU LISTEN had the opportunity to ask Conrad Tao 5 questions about his new work and some of his current and future projects.

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5 Classical Music Faces to Watch This Season

  • Joshua Barone
“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. This season, the 24-year-old polymath is back, now as a composer with a much larger platform: the New York Philharmonic. In recent years, Mr. Tao has caught the attention and admiration of Jaap van Zweden, the Philharmonic’s new music director, who invited Mr. Tao to write a new work for the orchestra. The piece, “Everything Must Go,” has its premiere on Sept. 27 and is intended as a curtain-raiser for Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony. Mr. Tao will also perform at Lincoln Center’s Kaplan Penthouse for the inaugural program of Nightcap, an afterparty-like Philharmonic initiative created with the violist and new-music specialist Nadia Sirota. And that’s not all: Mr. Tao will be busy with the score for “More Forever,” a new evening-length dance work Caleb Teicher is choreographing for his company. The Guggenheim Museum’s Works & Process series will host a preview in October, ahead of the dance’s premiere at the museum in January.”
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Berkeley Symphony With Pianist Conrad Tao Leaves the Audience Searching for Their Socks

  • Jessica Balik
“A risk-taker with staggering technique but also a wide emotional range, Tao radiantly ran Rachmaninoff’s gamut. An innate soloist, he commanded attention even when blending into the orchestral palette or thoughtfully playing the accompaniment, like in a variation that featured the oboe…
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.”
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Conrad Tao, a piano prodigy grown up, dazzles in Berkeley

  • Joshua Kosman

“Tao’s ability to get around a keyboard — with either nimble agility or pounding intensity as required — is something to marvel over. And both pieces, written by artists steeped in the 19th century tradition of the composer-pianist, are designed to show off those skills.

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 crystalline textures of the early variations in the Rachmaninoff, for example — an evocation of Paganini’s original piece that Rachmaninoff gradually fills in — found an echo in Tao’s pointed sonorities, blossoming into the luxurious lyricism of the famous 18th variation.

And Liszt’s ghoulish death-haunted romp, built around the tolling strains of the “Dies Irae” that also make an appearance in the Rachmaninoff, found Tao balancing the percussive energy of the main episodes with solo passages of suavity and almost eerie intimacy. The latter qualities came through again, in more concentrated form, in a gorgeous encore of Scarlatti’s A-Major Sonata, K. 208.”

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Brazen Virtuosity: The Week’s 8 Best Classical Music Moments on YouTube

  • JOSHUA BARONE

“The young pianist Conrad Tao made a humble Lincoln Center debut last weekend, at 11 a.m. on a Sunday. (The center awarded him one of its Emerging Artist awards on Thursday.) 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. As I was leaving someone said, “I thought he’d encore with the Carter” — meaning Elliot Carter’s “Caténaires” (2006), which Mr. Tao had played for The New York Times in a recent Facebook Live concert and interview. The brief and restless work is unapologetically virtuosic, with one continuous line (no chords!) passed back and forth between the right and left hands. But Mr. Tao puts the exact amount of weight on his left hand to achieve a Bach-like implied polyphony that gives the piece deceptive complexity. “

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The Best Classical Music Performances of 2017

  • ANTHONY TOMMASINI

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. He gave blazing performances of Copland’s flinty Piano Sonata and two fiendish works by the maverick composer Frederic Rzewski that incorporate labor movement songs and anthems.”

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Concert review: Conrad Tao spins gold with the Spokane Symphony

  • Larry Lapidus

“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.

Of his technique we need say little. It is perfect. Whatever can be done at the piano, he can do, whether it requires speed, delicacy, color or power, and always with an impeccable sense of style..

Having neglected to breathe for the 30 minutes of the performance, the audience leapt to their feet to convey their thanks to the soloist, who rewarded them with an interpretation of Domenico Scarlatti’s Sonata in A major K. 208, in which sunshine glinted in every trill and each modulation opened onto new vistas of beauty.”

 

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‘Piano Fireworks’ indeed: Eugene Symphony, soloist Conrad Tao put on dazzling display Thursday

  • Terry McQuilkin

“Maurice Ravel’s Concerto in D minor for the Left Hand 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.

There are certainly delicate passages in the single-movement concerto, which Tao delivered with sensitivity and nuance, but when the blustery, march-likes scherzo section begins, around the eight-minute mark, the dominant mood is one of insouciant brashness, and the pianist’s muscular assertiveness and razor-sharp clarity kept listeners enrapt… After intermission, Tao once again demonstrated the strength of a Marvel superhero and the grace of a ballet dancer, collaborating with the orchestra to deliver a fiery account of Franz Liszt’s Totentanz, a set of variations on the chant, Dies Irae.”

 

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