Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia Presents a Dazzling New Talent

  • Bernard Jacobson, Seen and Heard International

“[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.”


Conrad Tao and friends play Rachmaninoff, Bartók and Copland

  • Dallas Morning News

“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.”


Show thief!

  • San Diego Reader

“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.”


Utah Symphony, Conrad Tao give a concert to please emperors and commoners alike

  • Salt Lake Tribune

“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.“


Public Radio’s Best In-Studio Performances Of 2014

  • NPR

“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.”


Pianist Conrad Tao an explosive force in the BSO’s latest program

  • Baltimore Sun

“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.”


Memorable night of music-making at Baltimore Symphony’s Strathmore Hall

  • Washington Post

“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.)”


Letter: Battle Creek Symphony brings amazing talent

  • Battle Creek Enquirer

“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.’”


In Performance: Conrad Tao

  • New York Times

“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.””


Classical music review: Slatkin leads concert of fun and virtuosity with SLSO

  • St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“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?””