“[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.
All during his magnificent rendition of Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto, Tao’s arms were straightjacketed by a tight-fitting suit. He had to flail his arms out vigorously behind him. Had they gone up instead, ripping sounds would have supplemented the music.
Following patrons’ tumultuous response to the concerto, Tao returned, now coatless, for two minutes of encore virtuosity with a combination of speed, difficulty, and perfection of execution that was utterly jawdropping: Elliot Carter’s 2006 ‘Caténaires.'”
– Jeff Dunn, San Francisco Classical Voice (February 2016)
“Best Encore: To pianist Conrad Tao, for daring to play Elliott Carter’s ultra-thorny ‘Caténaires’ and for wrestling it into submission.”
– Tim Mangan, Orange County Register (December 2015)
“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.
He’s returned a couple times since and there he was again, Thursday night in Segerstrom Concert Hall, 21 and bearded and stylishly dressed now, but still with a friendly, glad-to-be-here stage deportment. His vehicle was Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3, a piece he’s been playing for almost a decade already, he said.
It is a famously spiky, muscular and percussive work, written for a virtuoso to do his zing. Tao hunkered down and went at it like a determined demon. The allegro tempos were taken at racing speed, even faster than usual. The phrases all snapped, held taut, wound up and then cracked like a whip.
Even the dreamy passages in the slow movement had a certain firmness, as if Tao (and by extension Prokofiev) were saying, “This isn’t Rachmaninoff anymore.” Throughout, the playing was clean and dry, pointed and hammered, but never flashy. This was Prokofiev’s Third dispatched through gritted teeth. It was an exciting performance and in response to the ovation Tao offered an encore.
This was very likely the first time that the ultra-thorny music of Elliott Carter (1908-2012) was played in Segerstrom Concert Hall. Tao took a chance with “Caténaires,” written by Carter in his late 90s and which sounds like a blistering atonal jazz solo on steroids. But he played it with such aggression and exactitude and rapidity that he put it across and looked pleased at the applause.”
– Tim Mangan, Orange County Register (December 2015)
“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. His brush strokes were vivid but not ostentatious. Humorous scenes sparkled. The hut of Baba Yaga was drawn with bizarre but not horrific colors, and no pounding or ringing hammers besmirched the grandeur of the Great Gate of Kiev. Toward the end of his uncannily flawless performance, Tao prominently missed a single left hand octave, as if to prove he was human after all.
After being called back several times, Conrad Tao noted that this had been a “stressful” program, but that he would give the crowd a little something extra. That turned out to be the last movement of Prokofiev’s seventh sonata, a lengthy, fierce toccata that only a 21-year-old would think of dashing off at that point. It was spectacular.”
– Daniel Hathaway, Cleveland Classical (November 2015)
’“I don’t think that familiarity is all that sustainable and it’s also, from a selfish perspective, just not that interesting to me,” he said. Tao hopes to create a more welcoming atmosphere than fostered by formal concerts, saying he feels satisfied when concert-goers feel comfortable coming up to him and saying what they did not like. “Audiences do enjoy feeling challenged, as long as you are not being pedantic or patronizing,” he said.
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.“
– Shaun Tandon, Agence-France Press (November 2015)
”[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.” Mr. Tao leaned heavily on the work’s intrinsic syncopated character, which he punched out with an in-your-face, American candor (the first-movement duet with slapstick comes to mind). But he also displayed a lustrous tone and nimble technique.“
– Elizabeth Bloom, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (October 2015)
“The composer was 18 when he wrote ‘Pangu,’ a seven-minute tone poem inspired by an ancient Chinese creation myth. It is vivid music, effectively scored, which sounds thoroughly American and was persuasively performed by Slatkin and the orchestra.
Nothing is more American or more New York than George Gershwin, whose Piano Concerto received a stunning performance Friday night. 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.
[…] Tao’s encore was Elliott Carter’s “Catenaires” in a stunningly high-energy performance, the first Carter performance at Heinz Hall in many years.”
– Mark Kanny, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (October 2015)
“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. All of these pieces, in different ways, evoke images and people through music. The program opens with David Lang’s rhythmically hypnotic “cage,” a tribute to John Cage, and ends with Mr. Lang’s ruminative “wed” (from “Memory Pieces”). There is also a mysterious, alluring work by Toru Takemitsu; Mr. Tao’s dreamy “A Walk (for Emilio),” a portrait of Emilio del Rosario, Mr. Tao’s first significant teacher; and Elliott Carter’s “Two Thoughts About the Piano,” a pair of breathlessly skittish, complex pieces, played dazzlingly by Mr. Tao, especially the perpetual- motion “Caténaires.” Though his account of “Pictures at an Exhibition” is sometimes a little percussive for my taste, he plays it with enormous imagination, color and command.”
– Anthony Tommasini, New York Times (October 2015)
“[An Adjustment] plays for about 30 minutes, and is laid out in two movements, each in two sections. 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. The prevailing impression left by the piece is of a fearlessly up-to-date musical language, situated somewhere between tonal and atonal elements, sometimes astringent but often sensuously luxuriant in sound. Rather like the great Xenakis, Tao is a composer whose recourse to contemporary techniques serves not to conceal but rather to illuminate by contrast an underlying vein of rich romanticism. With all the uncompromising vehemence of many passages in the piece, it also features some richly expressive string textures, and moments, like the well-judged chordal writing for the horns in the big climax near the end, that penetrate the orchestral textures very effectively. The piano part, too, embraces lyrical delicacy as well as emphatic declamation.
An Adjustment earns its “concerto” subtitle not from any specific reference to familiar classical or romantic formal devices, but from the sheer force of personality that the solo part exerts over the contribution of a by-no-means damped-down orchestral complement. There is also a pre-recorded electronic track, which, without being too obtrusive, supplied a welcome sonorous underpinning to the solo and orchestral textures; it might even not be needed in large-orchestra performances with more double-bass players than the Chamber Orchestra’s accomplished two.
Impeccably partnered by music director Dirk Brossé and an evidently enthusiastic orchestra, Tao unfurled a fearsome range of pianistic technique and expressive freedom. Returning after intermission, he showed himself equally at home in Saint-Saëns’s Second Piano Concerto, which emerged from this performance sounding at once stronger in conception and more beguiling in manner than ever. As notable as the way Tao ranged from firm classical restraint to warm emotion, coruscating brilliance, and a delightful flexibility of rhythm was his ability to take a seemingly prosaic accompaniment, as at the second theme of the scherzando second movement, and make it dance; I’d love to hear what he would do with the cheeky left-hand part in the finale of Mozart’s A-major Concerto, K. 488.”
– Bernard Jacobson, Seen and Heard International (September 2015)
“Conrad Tao’s An Adjustment, which opened the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia’s 51st season, did not succumb to technology for its own sake. In fact, the electronic sounds he controlled from his screens dropped into the piece only in the most judicious way. The focus was on the interplay between the orchestra and Tao’s Steinway, and any compositional magic – there was plenty – happened the old-fashioned way.
[…] Tao was also soloist in the Saint-Saëns Piano Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, which one wag noted starts with Bach and ends with Offenbach. He was a stunning soloist, but specifically so because he kept his monstrous technique on a leash. At age 21, rather than flaunting it, he used it for sincerity and wit – waiting a split second in certain entrances for a flash of humor, or holding back for emphasis. The opening was moving, and the way he paced mounting intensity in the last minutes uncovered the best in this work, but also mirrored the end of his own new concerto.
It’s perhaps too much to think of An Adjustment as a companion piece to the Saint-Saëns, but they do share contours like the lurching dialogue of orchestra and soloist at the start, and the traversal of bleak territory on the way to an incredible release (an adjustment in medication, perhaps, as Tao writes that the piece is partly about depression).
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. The electronic element was a clever manipulation of beats fed through two speakers on stage – clever not because it suggested humor or irony, but because it extended the impact of the orchestral texture. Cultural bridges were everywhere, but everywhere they elided naturally. The uneasy opening movement gave way to a subtle conversation that worked through despair, a realm both beautiful and creepy, a radiant climax and a brief stopover at jazz before ending in a haze of electronic-acoustical ecstasy.”
– The Philadelphia Inquirer (September 2015)
“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.”
– Dallas Morning News (May 2015)
“Conrad Tao stole the show twice on Saturday, May 2, at Symphony Hall. He tore the place apart with the Shostakovich Piano Concerto No. 1 and then upstaged that monster with the conclusion of Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No. 7 as an encore.
It is difficult for a pianist on the world stage to stand out from the pack but Tao does. His playing leaps off the stage and charges down your ears like a conquering army of musical notation.”
– San Diego Reader (May 2015)
“Pianist Conrad Tao continued his string of impressive guest appearances with the Utah Symphony, filling in on two days’ notice for an ailing André Watts to play Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 (“Emperor”). (His five-season streak, which now includes three late substitutions, is all the more impressive considering he is 20 years old.)
Tao played the “Emperor” with confidence and verve. Undoubtedly Watts, who at 68 is old enough to be Tao’s grandfather, would have given a more reflective reading, but the younger man’s turbo-charged performance thrilled the near-capacity crowd. Guest conductor Hugh Wolff’s bracing tempos added to the sense of immediacy.
Tao responded to the enthusiastic ovation in kind, unleashing a dazzlingly virtuosic rendition of Elliott Carter’s “Catenaires” that made the formidable Beethoven seem like a warmup exercise.“
– Salt Lake Tribune (March 2015)
“Conrad Tao performed Bach’s Toccata in F Sharp Minor in the midst of an evening that also included music by Elliott Carter, David Lang and Chopin. Maybe those other voices injected the vibrancy and color you hear into the 20-year-old composer-pianist’s performance. But it may also have been the setting. It was a Groupmuse event, giving Tao the opportunity to essentially host a party centered on music. Given what we know about Bach, the seriousness and devotion of his life had another side. That night, more than most, his music truly spanned the centuries and the generations.”
– NPR (December 2014)
“Young keyboard phenom Conrad Tao commanded the solo part in Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No 1, with playing of assertive virtuosity, razor-sharp articulation, and an embrace of both the rhapsodic and the anarchic in the writing. (In an encore, Tao further displayed his chops by whipping through a scorching rendition of the final movement from Prokofiev’s Seventh Piano Sonata.)”
– Washington Post (October 2014)
“Tao possesses startling technical elan and an ability to communicate clearly, no matter how thorny a score may become. He also has a hefty dash of charm…
To [Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 1], the informally attired Tao brought remarkable spontaneity and colorful phrasing. And even in the most raucous, jazzy portions of the finale, he managed to avoid a clangy tone. There was always musicality, not just virtuosity, at every turn…
Tao happily offered an encore, tearing into the thunderous finale of Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No. 7 with a ferocity and velocity that seemed in danger of causing self-combustion.”
– Baltimore Sun (October 2014)
“For a jaw dropping performance, there was pianist Conrad Tao
Who one-handed the left-handed Ravel Concerto.
Then he let both hands dance
In his encore performance,
Seemingly playing it ‘with ten fingers and both elbows.’”
– Battle Creek Enquirer (October 2014)
“Conrad Tao, a pianist and a composer, has been on a roll. Last year he produced a new music festival in New York, released his first major-label album, and wrote a piece for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra for the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. This year he will be the artist-in-residence in Dallas, play concerts around the country and the world, and open the New York Youth Symphony’s season Nov. 23 at Carnegie Hall. And he’s only 20.
Here he is playing the impassioned final movement of Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No. 7. “It’s kinetic and scary and exciting,’’ he said just before sitting down at the piano, “but also, I think, extremely harmonically rich.””
– New York Times (September 2014)
“Not quite 20, pianist (and violinist, and composer) Conrad Tao is the best kind of prodigy, über-talented and radiating pleasure at performing great music. Tao made his SLSO debut last season, filling in at the last moment; this performance proved that it was anything but a fluke.
Camille Saint-Saëns’ optimistic Piano Concerto No. 2 in G-minor provided a fine showcase for his talent. The long opening section for solo piano evokes Bach, then moves into Romantic territory, without every becoming overbearing. The soloist must play with Baroque clarity and Romantic power, with delicacy and with strength; Tao made it all seem effortless, and gave the sense that he was having the time of his life.
That was even more clear in his encore, the final movement of the Prokofiev Piano Sonata. With busy, spiky elements, it’s totally different from the Saint-Saëns, and Tao rocked it with a definite air of “Isn’t this cool?””
– St. Louis Post-Dispatch (April 2014)
Concert review: A triumphant return by pianist Conrad Tao and the St. Louis Symphony under Leonard Slatkin
“Mr. Tao’s performance of the opening mini-cadenza was appropriately splashy, but not overpoweringly so. It set the tone for a performance that did full justice to the composer’s keyboard pyrotechnics without ever descending into mere flash for flash’s sake.
Mr. Tao’s ability to project a more delicate sound was most obvious in the second movement—a fleet-footed scherzo with a piano part that sparkles like Champagne. A less sensitive player might (to carry on the metaphor) cause the bubbles to go flat, but Mr. Tao remained effervescent.
The manic tarantella finale that followed generated all the required thrills and resulted in a much-deserved standing ovation. That, in turn, resulted in an encore that gave Mr. Tao a chance to truly show off: the concludingVivace—Moderato—Vivace from Prokofiev’s “Piano Sonata No. 2 in D Minor,” Op. 14 (1912). The movement is a wild, percussive ride that covers almost the entire eight octaves of the keyboard and even (with its repeated triplets) suggests something of thetarantella—which makes it a most appropriate choice following the concerto.”
– kdhx.org (April 2014)
“… this was no ordinary pianist. Conrad Tao, the CPO’s guest, is now all of 20 years old, but his playing was little short of a miracle. Technically gifted on a level with Yuja Wang or Lang Lang, he has already joined the ranks of the super-gifted few, his accomplishments as an artist are far beyond anything one might expect at such an age.”
“First there was a tremendous account of the Totentanz, with Tao’s playing at its most imaginative in colour and character. Technically, one could only be in awe.
In response to the overwhelming ovation that greeted the final chords, Tao offered an encore of the well-known Rhapsody No. 6 by Liszt, a favourite of Horowitz, which was performed with absolute clarity and an amazing delivery of the notes. it was a performance that indeed did send the audience in to Hungarian rhapsodies, the shouts of approbation heard throughout the hall. It was nothing less than a complete triumph.”
– Calgary Herald (March 2014)
“Tao took off in a blaze with Rachmaninoff”s “Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini.” This is an ever-shifting score comprised of 24 variations with appropriate packaging. Tao conquered this wild ride, easily projecting its extremes: heavy handed, almost comical histrionics, and thoughtful, patient and, at times, supremely beautiful intimacy.
Bonus points…were scored by Tao’s ability to tell a dramatic story through his playing, and, ironically, how he set up and reveled in the few moments of silence the score provides.
Next, more of the same. Liszt’s “Totentanz” (“Dance of Death”) had to have been a model that Rachmaninoff had in mind for his “Rhapsody.” The theme here was the ancient Latin setting of the “Dies Irae” (“Day of Wrath”), which had also invaded the first piece.
Again, variations. And now, with Tao hurling himself at the composer’s insanely difficult keyboard demands at death defying speed, the daemonic underpinning came off more like a cartoon than a harrowing journey to the grave. It was over the top and wonderful.”
– The Gazette (February 2014)
“Pianist Conrad Tao… completely mesmerized the audience with his performance of the Third Concerto by Prokofiev. What a performer! The level of precision on display was beyond impressive, and the closing minutes of the third and final movement revealed an energy that was simply exhilarating. Tao’s mastery of technique is only part of the picture, though. His approach to the music itself was dynamic, unusually expressive, and engaging with the technical mastery always serving to aid in the interpretation. Prokofiev was a brilliant writer for the piano, and Tao found some incredible sounds. Like any savvy performer, Tao saved his best stuff for the end, and the audience responded with an uncommon level of enthusiasm. The encore, a prelude by Rachmaninoff, capped off one of the strongest musical stretches I’ve heard in Abravanel Hall.”
– Reichel Recommends (February 2014)
“The American pianist made his first visit to Abravanel Hall in 2010 (when, a seasoned pro at age 16, he pinch-hit for an ailing Horácio Gutiérrez), and it has been exciting to witness his growth as an artist. This weekend, he’s playing Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3, an ideal vehicle for his remarkable talents. Tao’s fluid, confident phrasing meshed with Utah Symphony music director Thierry Fischer’s bracing tempos to exhilarating effect. Concerto performances sometimes take on the quality of chamber music, when the soloist seems to click with one particular section or player in the orchestra; on Friday night, it was principal percussionist Keith Carrick whose rapport with Tao riveted the listener’s attention.”
– The Salt Lake Tribune (January 2014)
“Tao navigated Prokofiev’s complex passagework with confidence and musical understanding, all the while illuminating the composer’s acerbic wit, sly insouciance and unrelenting rhythmic drive.”
“The central movement’s theme and variations spotlighted the soloist’s pianistic range, from elegance and playfulness to hushed mysticism and exuberance. Tao’s intelligent approach to music making was apparent throughout the vivid finale, one of the repertoire’s finest showpieces.”
– The Oklahoman (January 2014)
“[Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 19 in F] is among Mozart’s finest… Tao’s playing was almost startling in its clarity of sound and purpose. The Allegretto was especially ravishing. It is surely one of Mozart’s finest concerto movements and the playing was impeccable…By the way, Tao is 19 and is still studying at Julliard and Columbia. His talent is almost beyond belief.”
– Ottawa Citizen (November 2013)
“The World Is Very Different Now,” the young Conrad Tao’s new piece in the Dallas Symphony program, also plays personal against public, taking its origin, in Mr. Tao’s words, from “the many devastatingly personal stories that use J.F.K.’s assassination as a starting point,” responses to “a seemingly inexplicable act of public violence.” The demarcations here are not so clear, and it was hard to take the measure of the piece at all on first hearing, since the performance was overwhelmed by strong but distracting visual images from a film commissioned for these performances but not an integral part of the work.
So I went back to hear Mr. Tao’s piece again on Friday evening, this time with eyes firmly closed, and it proved shapely and powerful, especially in its haunting, accepting if not optimistic coda. At 19, Mr. Tao knows his way around a large orchestra (here including scrap metal as percussion) as well as many an elder master.”
– New York Times (November 2013)
“ ’The World Is Very Different Now,’ its title derived from Kennedy’s inauguration speech in 1961, seemed an episodic but smooth and mostly attractive series of mood paintings: ominous, tortured, reflective, triumphantly clangorous, resigned. There were little quirks, like the use of scrap metal as percussion and a skewed lick from ‘Reveille.’”
– New York Times (November 2013)
“Tao is quite a talented pianist and, judging by the new composition, is gifted as a composer as well. His work, whose title is a line from a Kennedy speech, is remarkably atmospheric, creating shifting moods that arguably reflect the atmosphere of a world that Tao himself never actually experienced…the work is never truly funereal. There are haunting passages that are strikingly appealing…the work draws listeners by creating moods and with remarkable orchestral color.”
– Star-Telegram (November 2013)
“The call went out to the young piano phenomenon Conrad Tao. Tao had performed in the Symphony’s “Stern Showcase Recitals” Series in 2010 and filled in on late notice for SSO’s Music Director and Conductor Eckart Preu with his orchestra in Spokane. Problem: Tao was in Mexico. He had a performance with an orchestra there on Thursday evening. Advantage: Tao is only 19 and has apparently unlimited energy, so he flew back to Stamford, had only one rehearsal with the orchestra, and knocked the Shostakovich Piano Concerto No. 1 out of the park.”
“Tao played the work hot. So hot that fire seemed to jump out of the piano case. He brought out the full spectrum of its colors, but won us over primarily by his strong intellectual grasp of the music, which is often underplayed by pianists.”
– Stamford Advocate (November 2013)
“Tao was the highlight of the evening. He took on Rachmaninoff’s daunting and infamous Piano Concerto No. 3, a most unreasonable work that he, somehow, made sound perfectly reasonable. …To Tao, Rach 3 is a piece of music with ebbs and flows, highs and lows, little details to be nurtured and thundering bits to be dispatched clearly…[Tao’s] playing was purposeful. The left hand knew what the right hand was doing and most of the time it thought the right hand was more important. This clarified the murk and turmoil. He never dawdled needlessly over the quiet moments. He never swooned annoyingly over climaxes. This was a crisp, clear-eyed and thoroughly musical interpretation. His technique rose to every occasion. The finale was especially fun; he took it very quickly.”
– OC Register (September 2013)
“Tao’s playing [of the Shostakovich Concerto] was bold and decisive, much in the Russian style of playing, and much the way the composer himself would have played it. More than merely dazzlingly technical, Tao also brought out the comedy of this musical satire, especially in the final Allegro, which is often described as quasi circus music. O’Connor masterfully held together all these wildly competing musical forces, especially his energetic pianist, as rambunctious as a young stallion out of the gate.”
“The youthful Piano Concerto No. 9 in E flat “Jeunehomme,” is often thought to be Mozart’s first great masterpiece, full of surprises for contemporaries who would have expected certain formalities of style. Here Tao well demonstrated that his talent is more than that of a brilliant technique. His playing remained bold but with a grace necessary to the subtleties of the music. ”
“This was a deeply felt, passionate and consummate account, full of emotional drama, even operatic at moments. Finally, a delicious sense of mischief informed the Rondo capping off Sunday’s afternoon of music-making of the highest order.”
– Albuquerque Journal (September 2013)
“The program’s high point was Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit…[Tao’s] best work came in the opening movement, “Ondine,” depicting a seductive water sprite. Here the pianist negotiated its cascades of notes with hands that, octopus-like, seemed everywhere on the keyboard at once. But Tao’s greater triumph was again his delicate sensitivity to rhythm, through which Ravel’s sweeping lines were subsumed into the ceaseless current. It is not often that music and musician seem so completely conjoined.”
– Pasatiempo (September 2013)
“Is there anything that 19-year-old American musical prodigy Conrad Tao can’t do? Here’s a kid whose concert party-piece is to appear as soloist in both the Mendelssohn Piano Concerto and Violin Concerto in the one concert; he’s already won eight ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Awards; this month he’s curating his own festival, made possible through various career grants, and now, with an exclusive contract, EMI have anointed him as the beacon of hope amid their recent slough- of-despond merger machinations. So his debut full-length piano album had better be good, right?
Well it is good, refreshing even, right from the outset where he begins with the seemingly implausible choice of avant-garde polymath Meredith Monk’s Railroad (Travel Song), straight out of the contemporary American minimalist library and ultimately proving an inspired choice, both for its crossover appeal and its sense of a journey lying ahead.”
– Limelight (August 2013)
“Not everyone gets to celebrate his or her 19th birthday the way Conrad Tao will: On June 11, he’ll release a major-label debut album and curate the first day of his own three-day new music festival in Brooklyn. But if any musician is primed for such a workload at this age, Tao might just be the one.”
“All of these honors are heady stuff, but it’s still fairly easy for the jaded to write off the whole thing as a “typical” trajectory for a classical wunderkind. But unlike many classical prodigies of similarly and stupendously young ages, Tao proves himself to be a musician of deep intellectual and emotional means — as the thoughtful programming on this album, Voyages, proclaims.”
– NPR Music (June 2013)
“Voyages, which begins with a debut recording of Meredith Monk’s “Railroad” (subtitled, appropriately, “Travel Song”) is a mix of original compositions by Tao that’s supplemented by piano pieces by more traditional composers as Sergei Rachmaninov and Maurice Ravel, which complement the central concept of the album in seamless fashion.”
“Tao’s playing on a selection of five preludes by Rachmaninov as well as Ravel’s “Gaspard de la nuit” is wonderful in the extreme, but his two original compositions, “Vestiges,” and “Iridescence” (for piano and iPad) are the real treat. In the liner notes, Tao describes “Vestiges” as “surreal images that were undergoing metamorphosis, literally and musically.” Of the four pieces that make up the work (all of which are prefaced with the preposition “upon”), “Vestiges: Upon being” is the one that most lingers. It provides a complex range of emotions, from yearning to contemplation, and leaves the listener with a serene sense of acceptance.”
– Blogcritics Magazine (June 2013)
“Tao…has a new wrinkle, one he shares with few others and executes very well indeed. He is, like Rachmaninov and Liszt, a pianist/composer, and he is one of just a few figures exploring that role. The early indications are good. Tao’s own works, though brief, are quite engaging. With Meredith Monk’s ‘Railroad (Travel Song)’ opening the program and setting the tone for the clean, almost minimalist texture blocks of the whole, he offers four pieces called vestiges, with the humorously dissimilar titles “upon waking alongside green glass bottles,” “upon ripping perforated pages,” “upon being,” and “upon viewing two porcelain figures.” Even better is iridescence for piano and iPad... The Rachmaninov and Ravel pieces are ordered and performed in such a way as to fit with overall evanescent mood, and the program emerges with both imagination and real personality…an extremely promising new figure.”
– AllMusic.com (June 2013)
“During the first 19 years of his life the pianist, violinist and composer Conrad Tao has achieved more than many artists do in twice as many years. Still a student in a Columbia University-Juilliard School joint-degree program, Mr. Tao has earned an Avery Fisher Career Grant, a Gilmore Young Artist Award and eight consecutive Ascap Morton Gould Young Composer Awards, to name only a few of his accolades.
Tuesday was Mr. Tao’s 19th birthday, and he gave a party to celebrate. But in keeping with Mr. Tao’s prodigious ambition and rapid career ascent, Tuesday also saw the arrival of his new EMI Classics CD, “Voyages,” and his fledgling new-music series, the Unplay Festival, which he opened with a concert at the Powerhouse Arena, a bookstore and arts space in Dumbo, Brooklyn.
At a glance, the three-concert series impresses with its clever organization. Tuesday’s program, “ePhemera,” was inspired by the fleeting, unpredictable qualities of the Internet’s digital frontier. The Wednesday program, “REPlay,” proposed a 21st-century canon extending from Ravel to Bang on a Can; Thursday’s concert, “Hi/r/stories,” will encompass performance art and social activism.”
– The New York Times (June 2013)
“The highlight of the program was his own work, vestiges. … There are four movements in this work. The first is Impressionistic, Debussyan. The second is a perpetual-motion exercise, reminding me of a Prokofiev toccata. The next called to mind Mompou—perhaps one of his Impresiones íntimas. The final one is Reichian, minimalistic, in the beginning. Then it becomes rhapsodic, Impressionistically rhapsodic, in the mold of L’Isle joyeuse (Debussy). I have done the lazy thing of comparing new music to preceding music. But Tao’s pieces are not imitative, they are his own, and they are beautiful and intelligent. I would be pleased to see them on any other pianist’s program. They are more than one pianist’s private scribbles.”
“This month, from the 11th through the 13th, Tao will host his own festival in Brooklyn, the Unplay Festival. About Chopin, Schumann famously said, “Hats off, gentlemen, a genius.” I don’t know whether Tao is a genius. It depends on our standards for that category. But I know that he is extraordinary, and that our hats should be off.”
– New York Press (June 2013)
“The 19-year-old American pianist (and violinist and composer) Conrad Tao plays these pieces with obvious love, commitment and meticulous care in matters of dynamics, color, contrast and rhythmic nuance. … Tao tells a story, paints a picture or creates a little adventure with every piece. His playing is so imaginative and persuasive that he virtually commands your attention.“
– Classical Voice North America (June 2013)
“Eighteen-year-old Chinese-American wunderkind Conrad Tao is a composer-pianist in the tradition of Liszt and Rachmaninov, blessed with prodigal performing skill and compositional imagination beyond his tender years.”
“Voyages is themed around dreams, with impressive renderings of Ravel’s creepy, crepuscular “Gaspard de la Nuit” and five Rachmaninov preludes alongside Tao’s own “vestiges”, four dream-inspired miniatures. Tao’s slightly florid immersion in the emotional depths of Rachmaninov’s preludes is balanced by the more postmodern tone of Meredith Monk’s rippling, rhythmic “Railroad (Travel Song)” and his own aptly titled “Iridescence”, a new piece for piano and iPad.”
– The Independent (May 2013)
So What Will He Do When 20?
Conrad Tao, at Le Poisson Rouge
“Meet Conrad Tao. A composer, concert pianist and award-winning violinist, he also runs a festival in Brooklyn, Unplay, which starts on June 11. He will turn 19 that day…On Tuesday evening at Le Poisson Rouge Mr. Tao performed works for solo piano from his latest CD, “Voyages,” which will also be released on his birthday. While there was much to admire in his confident and sensitive playing, it was above all the program, with pieces by Rachmaninoff and Ravel,Meredith Monk and Mr. Tao himself, that conveyed the scope of his probing intellect and openhearted vision.”
– The New York Times (May 2013)
“Tao is not only an acclaimed pianist, but also an accomplished composer. He approached each work as a composer might, as a complete and coherent utterance, in which each phrase advanced the argument of the whole. To accomplish this through five enormous works requires terrific focus and stamina, both psychological and physical, which Tao possesses in abundance. Tao played the lengthy and difficult Concerto No. 1 in C major Op. 15 without a flaw: not a missed or imperfectly struck note, not a careless or routine phrase, not a poorly voiced chord.”
– The Spokesman-Review (May 2013)
“On a Saturday afternoon in 2005, a 10-year-old pianist named Conrad Tao performed at the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale, one of two child prodigies presented in the Miami International Piano Festival.
This week Tao has returned to the same stage to play all five Beethoven piano concertos, and judging from his performance of the first three Monday night with Symphony of the Americas, he has brilliantly fulfilled his early promise. The mastery he displayed was more than the predictable brilliance of the grown-up prodigy, it was a performance that brought out the nobility, the eloquence and the dramatic power of these works.”
– The Miami Herald (April 2013)
“Eighteen-year-old Chinese-American pianist Conrad Tao was the soloist in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No21. Excellently partnered by the orchestra, he generated some wonderful subtleties of phrasing during the opening movement, a light-as-air sense of line in the next and a different glint in the eye for every few bars of the finale.”
“He played Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No6 as an encore with impressive panache and musicianship. The rapt attention and half smiles on the orchestra’s faces said more than I can achieve in a few words here. The buzz in the interval was how his mix of virtuosity, eccentricity and showmanship came in just the right proportions, notwithstanding the red socks.”
– South China Morning Post (February 2013)
“Remember the name Conrad Tao. You’re going to be hearing a lot about him. Tao, who was to make his St. Louis Symphony Orchestra debut next season, stepped in to play Sergei Prokofiev’s tricky Piano Concerto No. 3 with the SLSO on less than three days’ notice, when an ailing Markus Groh had to cancel.”
“The Prokofiev is a big sweeping score that requires wit on the part of its interpreter while making intense technical demands. Tao flung it all off with insouciant ease and apparent enjoyment, in a real triumph that was fully supported and shared by the conductor and orchestra, in a score that’s a challenge for everyone. Tao’s flair and musicality won him a huge ovation, which he rewarded with an equally demanding encore.”
– St. Louis Post-Dispatch (February 2013)
“Guest pianist Conrad Tao alternated between pounding rhythms and familiar melodies that ran through Rachmaninoff’s 24 variations in the “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.” Tao, an 18-year old Chinese American, played with intensity and control, at times seeming to curl into the keyboard and then lean back, nodding his head furiously to the beat..”
“Tao impressed the Lubbock audience, whose members jumped to their feet immediately after the piece and remained standing until his encore performance…Tao had it all — lyricism, drama and joy. One expects flashy technique from a young virtuoso, but he had poetry about him.”
– Lubbock Avalanche-Journal (January 2013)
“This was a youthful performance (in a good way), enthusiastic and strongly felt. At the same time, he revealed a real understanding of the score [Grieg’s Piano Concerto] in his crisply inflected and strongly sculpted fortissimos and effervescent scherzando playing. His phrasing was consistently alert and active, shaded and colored sensitively, but it never put on airs. The music was the thing. St.Clair and the orchestra supported him handsomely, and caught Tao’s fire.”
– The OC Register (October 2012)
“What lingered most was 18-year-old pianist Conrad Tao’s jaw-dropping performance in Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3…Tao carefully shaped the work’s solemn opening with an even-tempered hand. Gradually, the waves of emotion welled, with seemingly endless, flawlessly executed arpeggios floating between patches of dreamy revelry.”
“Tao charted a dark, furious course through the first movement cadenza, then, hunched over the keyboard, rocking back and forth and occasionally humming to himself, he tackled the mood changes of the second with focused rapture.”
– The Morning Call (October 2012)
“The concerto soloist was the 18-year-old Conrad Tao, a young man whose talent is well beyond the ordinary. His interpretation of Friday’s concerto was balanced and intelligent.He didn’t just toss off a bunch of notes, but neither did he plumb the score for depths it doesn’t possess. This is especially important in the slow movement where it is easy to drift into sentimentality and/or pretension.”
“The outer movements were executed with panache. The first movement cadenza was especially gratifying.”
– Ottawa Citizen (September 2012)
“Musical precociousness can manifest itself in countless ways, from the gifted child who loves to boast about his accomplishments to those who channel their talents into more productive outcomes.
Conrad Tao clearly belongs to the latter group, a pianist of exceptional talent who made a spectacular debut on the Oklahoma City Philharmonic’s 2012-13 season opener. In a lifetime of concertgoing, I’ve encountered many artists who use music to play the piano. Tao uses the piano to make music.”
– The Oklahoman (September 2012)
“It was Tao, who just turned 18, who delivered the most arresting performance, attacking the [Gershwin’s] Second Rhapsody with a lethal combination of power, rhythmic thrust, technical perfection and sheer joy.”
– The Aspen Times (July 2012)
“Featuring a high-flying gaggle of Canadian quartets, the concertmaster of the Montreal Symphony and a rare sighting of artistic director Denis Brott in his cellist’s chair. And yet, with all the strings, it was a 17-year-old keyboard polymath from NYC named Conrad Tao, who stole the show with a once-in-a-lifetime performance of the rarely-encountered American Suite, Op. 98.”
“Tao is ready for his own TV show: he plays music as if the composer were at his side, with color, joy and spontaneous poetry. He composes, studies, researches, writes. He uses words like “gestation” when he talks. Like that whiz kid on the West Coast, Conrad Tao should be licensed to operate by the time he’s 21.”
– Strings Magazine (June 2012)
“The program began with Bach’s Italian Concerto. Tao gave the first movement concerto-like contrasts, crafted a stunning cantilena melody that hummed its way through the soulful slow movement, and concluded with a bravura finale. Next were Tao’s own compositions: the captivating “Three Songs” (2010), intended to decode the relationship between a vocal line and its accompaniment (a theme throughout the afternoon). The contemplative “Cocoon” featured a searching melody paired with luscious harmonies. “Smoke” evoked the impressionistic landscapes of Debussy and Ravel. Floating clouds of music collided and reformed as the melody gradually found peace. “Catharsis” was a riot of color and sonorities.”
– Kalamazoo Gazette (May 2012)
“It was a stupendous performance, covering a considerable range of possibilities for the piano plus some 275 years of musical composition, including Tao’s own compositions. Gleaming Bach, graceful Chopin, mighty Liszt, and mind-boggling Stravinsky poured from Tao’s fingers for a full house in the new, 250-seat recital hall in Calvin College’s Covenant Fine Arts Center, a lovely room to the eye as well as the ear. The 18-year-old musician’s account of Igor Stravinsky’s “Three Scenes from Petrushka” was more than enough to show Tao had the talent and temperament for a major career.”
– Grand Rapids Press (May 2012)
“That Mr. Tao, who gave his first recital at 4, is hugely gifted was evident from the outset. He opened with a cleanly articulated, fluid and fleet rendition of Bach’s “Italian” Concerto. He played the slow second movement with poise and feeling. His impressive technique allows him to navigate difficult works with ease; the finale of Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata unfolded in an exciting blaze of notes…He brought lovely colors and poetic nuances to three works by Liszt: “Au bord d’une Source,” “Vallée d’Obermann” and the “Rigoletto” Paraphrase…”
– The New York Times (Mar. 2012)
“Although [Tao] is clearly a master of the keyboard, his playing was so smooth and fluent that the difficulty of the work was never at the forefront; nor was there ever a hint of the look-how-hard-this-is virtuosity that marks the playing of some young keyboard phenoms. He could be grand, as in the sweeping swirls of notes that open the last movement, and his technical ability was apparent throughout, as he easily handled the rapid chords, runs and other challenges of a concerto composed by one of history’s great virtuosos. But it was his playing of Rachmaninoff’s melodic passages that really distinguished this performance, as Tao’s natural musicality brought out the concerto’s smoky, Romantic quality.”
– The Classical Review (Jan. 2012)
“Whatever the age cut-off may be for child prodigies, 17-year-old pianist Conrad Tao has left that category somewhere back in his young past. To judge from his debut Saturday night with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Tao already owns a place among the world’s musical virtuosos. Prodigious he is indeed. To put it plainly, Tao blew the doors off Saint-Saens’ Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor with a performance that was no less seductive in its lyrical beauty than hair-raising in its technical brilliance.”
– The Detroit News (Jan. 2012)
“Conrad Tao is for real. The 17-year-old American pianist, whose star has only grown brighter in the 15 months since he bowled over the Abravanel Hall crowd as a last-minute substitute for Horacio Gutiérrez in Rachmaninoff’s Paganini Rhapsody, showed that his return invitation was well-earned. His bravura performance of another crowd-pleasing warhorse, Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, elicited a rowdy ovation from the near-sellout house on Friday.”
– Salt Lake Tribune (Jan. 2012)
“Tao isn’t yet old enough to enter the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, but in a very substantial program at Bass Performance Hall he demonstrated surer technical command and more probing musicianship than most of the competition’s oldest contestants. This is a major talent. Rarely has Beethoven’s Appassionata Sonata had a more gripping performance, by turns mysterious and defiant. The mere chords of the second-movement theme were balanced with exquisite sensitivity to harmonic implications.”
– Dallas Morning News (Sep. 2011)
“he continually uncovered the energy and emotional underpinnings inherent in this music, reaching toward the timeless, universal qualities it contains… Beethoven’s Appassionata Sonata was equally breathtaking… [as was] his ability, through subtle give and take of tempo, to make these works of Rachmaninoff, Debussy, and even Stravinsky sing.”
– Dallas Magazine (Sep. 2011)
“The often exuberant program was cleanly played and technically brilliant and imparted a sense of personality…”
– Star-Telegram (Sep. 2011)
“17-year-old Conrad Tao was the brilliant pianist for George Gershwin’s (1898-1937) Concerto in F Major for Piano and Orchestra. Tao is seasoned beyond his years and he was immediately immersed in the music and in his responsibility to interpret Gershwin’s piece to the audience… If anyone could pull off the Gershwin-esque flair, it was Tao. The young soloist was, in a word, impressive.”
– Season Ticket (Sep. 2011)
“In a dashing account of Rachmaninoff’s ‘Rhapsody,’ his attacks were crisp, with rhythmically tricky high-velocity passages cleanly articulated. Throughout, there was a sense that Tao was having fun.”
– Los Angeles Times (June 2011)
“Shostakovich’s mischievous Piano Concerto No. 1 got a performance by turns playful, flashy and hauntingly lovely. Fifteen-year-old pianist Conrad Tao had brilliance in spades, but also generous and sophisticated expression. Let’s hope he returns soon.”
– Dallas Morning News (May 2011)
” Tao, though, is indeed a remarkably gifted young man. After opening with three Debussy preludes, he gave the premiere of his own “Three Songs” — well-constructed miniatures exploiting different moods and textures on the piano.”
“As a pianist, Tao is also mature beyond his years. His platform demeanor is unself-conscious and totally focused on the music.”
– The Washington Post (Nov. 2010)
“Sixteen-year-old American pianist Conrad Tao won several hundred Utah fans Friday night with his energetic performance of Rachmaninoff’s beloved “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.” In fact, Tao’s dazzling finger work got an even noisier ovation from the Abravanel Hall crowd than superstar Hilary Hahn did with her splendid Tchaikovsky a couple of weeks ago.”
– The Salt Lake Tribune (Oct. 2010)
“Next came the musical highlight of the concert: pianist Conrad Tao’s dazzling rendition of Maurice Ravel’s Concerto in G Major. If NASA had a tenth of his talent, they’d be farming strawberries on Titan by now.”
“The first movement was full of thrills: laser-sharp articulation and accuracy, powerful glissandos (does Tao have bionic, metallic hands?), and, what’s more, heartfelt expression.”
– San Francisco Classical Voice (May 2009)
“Tao’s skills as a keyboard artist would be impressive enough just on their own, and his musicianship only grew more striking as the afternoon went on. His technique seems to have no fault or flaw … he employs that dexterity in the service of a deep and evocative interpretive sensibility.”
“But to witness a young artist take the stage not just as a performer, but as a composer too – that was a whole different level of astonishment. As part of his recital program, Tao gave the U.S. premiere of his “Fantasy-Sonata,” a 16-minute piano extravaganza that seemed tailor-made for his brand of explosive virtuosity.”
– San Francisco Chronicle (Nov. 2008)
“In Mozart’s dark-hued Concerto No. 20 in D Minor, Mr. Tao showed appealing freshness in his use of telling, expressive details that distinguish one interpretation from the next — a slight decrescendo here, a change of tonal color there, a heartfelt response to the piece… And his onstage demeanor was refreshingly free of willful tempo changes, distracting theatrical gestures and other prodigy personality excesses.”
– The Wall Street Journal (Apr. 2008)
Wunderkind Conrad Tao, Ponti and Russian National Orchestra combine for spectacular musical magic at Festival del Sole
“Conrad Tao. Remember that name.
An awestruck audience at Monday night’s Festival del Sole concert in Yountville’s Lincoln Theater certainly will.
Substituting for ailing Italian pianist Fabio Bidini, Tao — native of Urbana, Ill., who recently celebrated his 13th birthday — delivered a mouth-dropping performance of Serge Prokofiev’s “Piano Concerto No. 3 in C” that festivalgoers will be talking about for years to come.”
“His command of one of the classical repertoire’s most difficult works was simply amazing.”
– Napa Valley Register (July 2007)