“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. (The finished product will be performed at the museum on Jan. 6 and 7.) “More Forever” constantly extended the sonic aspects of dance. The use of release and silence at the end of phrases was astounding; the interplay between quiet and loud, between percussive and stroked footwork, and the immense range of dynamics and meters within a phrase.”
“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.
To say that his account of the concerto was electrifying borders on understatement. He unleashed the concerto’s bravura opening majestically without any sense of bombast, an approach he pursued through the final cadence; his cadenzas exuded a sparkling but stylish improvisatory zeal, and he could dispatch a tornado of parallel octaves in both hands that still maintained the same buoyant touch he employed in Tchaikovsky’s many quiet asides. With the unswerving support of guest conductor David Danzmayr’s expansive yet magnificently detailed direction of the orchestra, Tao made every new idea sound remarkable and fresh, even though we recognized every one.
I could list many more virtues, but the most important observation is that in spite of the immense technical prowess required to make this warhorse splendid again, Tao never called attention to his playing. (Yes, I am contrasting him to a very popular young international pianist who is most familiar to San Diego Symphony audiences.) He completely merged into the piece—including the orchestral portions where he bobbed with the mighty cadences coming from his colleagues on stage—and only emerged from that state when the music stopped and he stood up from the bench.”
“Guest pianist Conrad Tao found undiscovered secrets in Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 that have been there all along, I suspect, but take a musician with admirable musical scruples to ferret out. I do not know if the mellow, almost contemplative approach to this concerto was Tao’s conception or Danzmayr’s, but I know this: Their collaboration was extraordinary.
How? Less volume, more finesse, a sense of restraint, and of examining each phrase as if it were brand-new.
Tao is not afraid of displaying his technical brilliance, especially in blazing octaves up and down the keyboard, where his speed — and accuracy — are astounding. Together, Tao and Danzmayr searched for small things that make a big difference, especially crucial gradations between piano and mezzo-piano, fortissimo and mezzo-forte, to allow us to hear not only the soloist but all the way down through the orchestra’s texture.
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.”
“The first Nightcap event on Sept. 28 showed just how far Sirota and her colleagues are willing to venture in positioning living composers not only as innovative creators, but also as intelligent, curious people with broad, diverse interests. 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.
But he also dug deep into electronics, at one point scrubbing contact microphones through his close-cropped hair to produce visceral noise like you might hear at the Silent Barn or the Ende Tymes festival. His rubbery synth-pop transmutations, meanwhile, might have shared an NNA Tapes CMJ Marathon showcase with Ryan Power and Autre Ne Veut at Death By Audio. Caleb Teicher, a percussive dancer added rhythmic figurations to a Bruckner motet played by Tao on piano; elsewhere; the astonishing vocalist Charmaine Lee offered free-improv flits and gurgles, breathy ASMR stimulation, bells, bird calls, and bubbles blown in a drinking glass, before singing simply and gorgeously in ‘Heavy Rain,’ a Tao original.”
“In a nod to Bruckner, he began with his arrangement of the composer’s “Ave Maria” choral motet, utilizing Vocaloid, a synthesizer choir. The voices sounded eerily (yet endearingly) high-pitched, nasal and slippery like a Bruckner motet performed by Alvin and the Chipmunks, embedded in the overall electronic weirdness of Mr. Tao’s music. This was no joke, but rather a young composer’s attempt to reanimate Bruckner through contemporary musical language and technology.
He then introduced a close colleague, the dancer and choreographer Caleb Teicher, who joined him for an arrangement of another Bruckner motet, “Christus Factus Est.” With Mr. Tao on the piano, Mr. Teicher tap danced on a platform, sprinkled with sand that lent gritty sounds to his elegant gyrations. Later, joined by the experimental vocalist Charmaine Lee, they performed a freewheeling improvisation, mixing the sounds of Mr. Teicher’s sand-scraping footsteps; Mr. Tao’s digital groans, static and thuds; and Ms. Lee’s array of sustained tones, whispered words, gurgling sounds and vocal effects.”
‘[“Everything Must Go”] begins with sustained tones that elide into slides and clusters. Then, bursts of rattling percussion instigate a series of gestures that swell, fracture and break off. The fidgety music goes through shifting states driven by frenzied riffs, or grumbling low strings, or wailing motifs that seem to call out for attention. I could almost imagine certain desperate melodic fragments saying “Listen to me!” and “What do I do next?”
On Thursday, the music built to feverish episodes, thick with swirling strings, writhing riffs and whiplash cracks. Passages of soft, buzzing string tremolos — interlaced with pointillist squiggles and Messiaen-like bird calls — 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. The first movement began with subdued sustained tone, with an ominous, questioning, fragmented phrase in low strings underneath.’
“Everything Must Go is an overture in disguise. It began with fractured gestures of the Classical and Baroque varieties that build to a mass before gradually dissipating, ablating into whistles, chirps and quiet little squeaks. The sound was familiar from the late 1950-early 1960 avant-garde, and the expressive feeling was of powerful anxieties being squeezed through a too-small tube.
But it delivered. 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.”