New Music for New Audiences at the New York Philharmonic

  • Steve Smith

“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.”


Review: After a Concert, a Nightcap to Demystify New Music

  • Anthony Tommasini

“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.”


Review: The Philharmonic Puts a Young Composer’s Twist on Bruckner

  • Anthony Tommasini

‘[“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.’


Musical worlds cohere with rewarding Bruckner and Tao by van Zweden, Philharmonic

  • George Grella

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.”


A Tease of Conrad Tao’s ‘Everything Must Go’

  • James Bennett, II

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. For those of us who can’t make the concerts on Sept. 27 and 28, enjoy the above excerpt from Tao’s new piece — and listen for how it’s linked to the opening of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8…


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.


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.”

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.”

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.”