“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.”More
“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. Some piano virtuosi use velocity and strongly defined articulation to flaunt their technical prowess, but I felt that Tao used his ample technical gifts to open up Mozart’s complex satisfactions that lurk beneath his glossy surface. The orchestra provided Tao equally spirited and polished complement throughout, and I particularly enjoyed the animated, wry dialogue between the soloist and orchestra in the final movement, the Rondeau di Menuetto.
For his encore, Tao played Elliott Carter’s 2007 “Caténaires,” a breathtaking etude of Lisztian ferocity and brilliance. Those of us who remember his prodigious performance of Dmitri Shostakovich’s First Piano Concerto with the San Diego Symphony in 2015 were not at all surprised by this impressive display, but it proved astounding nonetheless.”
“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. His encore, an Elliott Carter piece called “Caténaires,” jumped out of the concert’s frame in spiky splendor to show us what a uniquely American musical voice sounds like.”More
“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. To be sure, there were moments of incredible lyricism, but the takeaway was Tao’s flying fingers and his flamboyant style. He was as much fun to watch as to hear.
[…] ‘The world is very different now’ displayed a multitude of influences – from the blocks of sound pioneered by Ligeti and Penderecki to ethereal vibraphone sounds created by bowing one note and full-scale assault by four percussionists. There were also dreamy passages that came in waves as the orchestral sound peaked and receded. Add some bugle calls and a haunting alto saxophone beautifully played by Eileen Young, and you begin to get a sense of this sometimes languid, sometimes sinister, intense and fragmented composition.”More
“In the crypt, the sheer volume of Mr. Tao’s sound during frenzied climaxes was near-deafening, yet exhilarating.”
“In between the Rzewski pieces, Mr. Tao played Copland’s 1941 Piano Sonata, which I’ve never thought of as expressing American rage — especially the fleet second movement, which darts around like some blend of American swing and atonal pointillist writing. Leonard Bernstein captures that quality vividly in a 1947 recording I love. It was fascinating, though, to hear Mr. Tao draw out every dissonance-statured, vehement element of the sonata while also bringing affecting tranquillity to the pensive conclusion of the last movement.”More
“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.
You’d think his encore would be something along the lines of Gershwin, but Tao, who won a prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant at the tender age of 17 back in 2012, pulled out a piece by American icon Elliott Carter. It was something the late composer — he died in 2012 a month shy of his 104th birthday — had penned at age 97, but Tao made it sound like it came from a much younger hand.”More
“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 (in this case, Beethoven’s Sonata No 31 in A-flat, Opus 110) can create a fascinating, and, judging by audience response, crowd-pleasing program. Orchestras, artists, and presenters restrained by the concept that audiences have to hear something from the classical hit parade on every concert, and that every new work has to be balanced by a warhorse (which Opus 110 is definitely not), should take notice of Tao’s very successful strategy.”
“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. And the crowd that filled the cozy venue did not hide its approval (one of the fun things about these Live Oak performances is that the audiences hoot and holler when they like something).”
“Instead of delivering Liszt’s usual keyboard bombast, the piece was sweet, gentle and lullabylike. It made a revealing finish to a clever union of works that showcased Tao’s ability to handle the past as well as he does the present.”
“After a brief intermission, the 22-year-old Illinois native closed his concert with a gorgeous rendering of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 31. The opening moderato cantabile molto espressivo (“slightly singing and very expressive”) was exactly that, with Tao playing with great delicacy in one passage and with extreme playfulness in the next. A proud and strident middle movement segued into a closing section that began dreamily, then stormed into a dazzling finish that really allowed Tao to show off.”More
“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. He bent the rhythms at times, showing his mastery of jazz style without disturbing his rapport with the accompanying orchestra. He found connections and bridges that I had been unaware of, observed pauses that emphasized the importance of silence in the midst of music, and generally convinced the audience that this was a performance to remember.”