Virginia Symphony Orchestra starts season with “fireworks”

  • Virginia Gazette

“Tao…surpassed reputation. He delivered an intense, involved, passion-inspired performance that was one of the most thrilling to be heard on stage with this symphony. His was a very physical delivery. Tao seemed to become one with the instrument and the score; he moved about constantly on the piano bench, often, in moments of heightened emphasis rising up from the bench, his feet frequently moving about and not strictly on the pedals. As he molded the lush lines of the piece, he seemed transfixed, his eyes closed, his head tossed backward in dream-like fashion. 

Tao was the master of the Rachmaninoff and its many moods, offering inspired lyricism and ponderous power. As for technique, his defined virtuoso in a brilliant display of total musicianship and artistry. Even though the Rachmaninoff was a major workout, Tao generously responded to his thunderous and spontaneous applause with an encore of Elliot Carter’s “Catenaires,” a devilishly difficult work. The chordless work is a nonstop rapid fire delivery of notes that bounce all over the keyboard in what might seem haphazard fashion, offering colorful and often dissonant combinations of sound, all carried off to perfection.”


Conrad Tao Wows at Berkeley Symphony

  • Jeff Dunn, San Francisco Classical Voice

“[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.’”



2015 Reger Awards: The year in classical music

  • Tim Mangan, Orange County Register

“Best Encore: To pianist Conrad Tao, for daring to play Elliott Carter’s ultra-thorny ‘Caténaires’ and for wrestling it into submission.”



Threes are the charm for Pacific Symphony

  • Tim Mangan, Orange County Register

“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)


Tuesday Musical: Conrad Tao at E.J. Thomas Hall

  • Daniel Hathaway, Cleveland Classical

“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.”


Pianist Tao on quest to revive concert experience

  • Shaun Tandon, Agence-France Press

“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.“


Pianist captures Gershwin’s charisma in Pittsburgh Symphony debut

  • Elizabeth Bloom, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

”[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.“


America stars in composer’s thrilling music

  • Mark Kanny, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

“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.”


Classical Playlist: Conrad Tao, ‘Scrapyard Exotica’ and More

  • Anthony Tommasini, New York Times

“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.”


A ‘screen test’ for Chamber Orchestra

  • The Philadelphia Inquirer

“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.”