Concert review: A triumphant return by pianist Conrad Tao and the St. Louis Symphony under Leonard Slatkin


“Mr. Tao’s performance of the opening mini-cadenza was appropriately splashy, but not overpoweringly so. It set the tone for a performance that did full justice to the composer’s keyboard pyrotechnics without ever descending into mere flash for flash’s sake.

Mr. Tao’s ability to project a more delicate sound was most obvious in the second movement—a fleet-footed scherzo with a piano part that sparkles like Champagne. A less sensitive player might (to carry on the metaphor) cause the bubbles to go flat, but Mr. Tao remained effervescent.

The manic tarantella finale that followed generated all the required thrills and resulted in a much-deserved standing ovation. That, in turn, resulted in an encore that gave Mr. Tao a chance to truly show off: the concludingVivace—Moderato—Vivace from Prokofiev’s “Piano Sonata No. 2 in D Minor,” Op. 14 (1912). The movement is a wild, percussive ride that covers almost the entire eight octaves of the keyboard and even (with its repeated triplets) suggests something of thetarantella—which makes it a most appropriate choice following the concerto.”


Review: ‘Hungarian Rhapsodies’ provoked by gifted Conrad Tao

  • Calgary Herald

“… this was no ordinary pianist. Conrad Tao, the CPO’s guest, is now all of 20 years old, but his playing was little short of a miracle. Technically gifted on a level with Yuja Wang or Lang Lang, he has already joined the ranks of the super-gifted few, his accomplishments as an artist are far beyond anything one might expect at such an age.”

“First there was a tremendous account of the Totentanz, with Tao’s playing at its most imaginative in colour and character. Technically, one could only be in awe.

In response to the overwhelming ovation that greeted the final chords, Tao offered an encore of the well-known Rhapsody No. 6 by Liszt, a favourite of Horowitz, which was performed with absolute clarity and an amazing delivery of the notes. it was a performance that indeed did send the audience in to Hungarian rhapsodies, the shouts of approbation heard throughout the hall. It was nothing less than a complete triumph.”


REVIEW: Tao tops Tchaikovsky

  • The Gazette

“Tao took off in a blaze with Rachmaninoff”s “Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini.” This is an ever-shifting score comprised of 24 variations with appropriate packaging. Tao conquered this wild ride, easily projecting its extremes: heavy handed, almost comical histrionics, and thoughtful, patient and, at times, supremely beautiful intimacy.

Bonus points…were scored by Tao’s ability to tell a dramatic story through his playing, and, ironically, how he set up and reveled in the few moments of silence the score provides.

Next, more of the same. Liszt’s “Totentanz” (“Dance of Death”) had to have been a model that Rachmaninoff had in mind for his “Rhapsody.” The theme here was the ancient Latin setting of the “Dies Irae” (“Day of Wrath”), which had also invaded the first piece.

Again, variations. And now, with Tao hurling himself at the composer’s insanely difficult keyboard demands at death defying speed, the daemonic underpinning came off more like a cartoon than a harrowing journey to the grave. It was over the top and wonderful.”



  • Reichel Recommends

“Pianist Conrad Tao… completely mesmerized the audience with his performance of the Third Concerto by Prokofiev. What a performer! The level of precision on display was beyond impressive, and the closing minutes of the third and final movement revealed an energy that was simply exhilarating. Tao’s mastery of technique is only part of the picture, though. His approach to the music itself was dynamic, unusually expressive, and engaging with the technical mastery always serving to aid in the interpretation. Prokofiev was a brilliant writer for the piano, and Tao found some incredible sounds. Like any savvy performer, Tao saved his best stuff for the end, and the audience responded with an uncommon level of enthusiasm. The encore, a prelude by Rachmaninoff, capped off one of the strongest musical stretches I’ve heard in Abravanel Hall.”


Review: Pianist Conrad Tao is in his element at Abravanel Hall

  • The Salt Lake Tribune

“The American pianist made his first visit to Abravanel Hall in 2010 (when, a seasoned pro at age 16, he pinch-hit for an ailing Horácio Gutiérrez), and it has been exciting to witness his growth as an artist. This weekend, he’s playing Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3, an ideal vehicle for his remarkable talents. Tao’s fluid, confident phrasing meshed with Utah Symphony music director Thierry Fischer’s bracing tempos to exhilarating effect. Concerto performances sometimes take on the quality of chamber music, when the soloist seems to click with one particular section or player in the orchestra; on Friday night, it was principal percussionist Keith Carrick whose rapport with Tao riveted the listener’s attention.”


Oklahoma City Philharmonic review: ‘Sizzling Sparklers’ shine

  • The Oklahoman

“Tao navigated Prokofiev’s complex passagework with confidence and musical understanding, all the while illuminating the composer’s acerbic wit, sly insouciance and unrelenting rhythmic drive.”

“The central movement’s theme and variations spotlighted the soloist’s pianistic range, from elegance and playfulness to hushed mysticism and exuberance. Tao’s intelligent approach to music making was apparent throughout the vivid finale, one of the repertoire’s finest showpieces.”


Classical Tributes to Kennedy in Dallas

  • New York Times

“The World Is Very Different Now,” the young Conrad Tao’s new piece in the Dallas Symphony program, also plays personal against public, taking its origin, in Mr. Tao’s words, from “the many devastatingly personal stories that use J.F.K.’s assassination as a starting point,” responses to “a seemingly inexplicable act of public violence.” The demarcations here are not so clear, and it was hard to take the measure of the piece at all on first hearing, since the performance was overwhelmed by strong but distracting visual images from a film commissioned for these performances but not an integral part of the work.

So I went back to hear Mr. Tao’s piece again on Friday evening, this time with eyes firmly closed, and it proved shapely and powerful, especially in its haunting, accepting if not optimistic coda. At 19, Mr. Tao knows his way around a large orchestra (here including scrap metal as percussion) as well as many an elder master.”


A Conrad Tao Premiere Honors Kennedy in Dallas

  • New York Times

“ ’The World Is Very Different Now,’ its title derived from Kennedy’s inauguration speech in 1961, seemed an episodic but smooth and mostly attractive series of mood paintings: ominous, tortured, reflective, triumphantly clangorous, resigned. There were little quirks, like the use of scrap metal as percussion and a skewed lick from ‘Reveille.’”


Review: Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s JFK memorial concert

  • Star-Telegram

“Tao is quite a talented pianist and, judging by the new composition, is gifted as a composer as well. His work, whose title is a line from a Kennedy speech, is remarkably atmospheric, creating shifting moods that arguably reflect the atmosphere of a world that Tao himself never actually experienced…the work is never truly funereal. There are haunting passages that are strikingly appealing…the work draws listeners by creating moods and with remarkable orchestral color.”


Review: Mozart, Shostakovich mix proved a rare blend

  • Ottawa Citizen

“[Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 19 in F] is among Mozart’s finest… Tao’s playing was almost startling in its clarity of sound and purpose. The Allegretto was especially ravishing. It is surely one of Mozart’s finest concerto movements and the playing was impeccable…By the way, Tao is 19 and is still studying at Julliard and Columbia. His talent is almost beyond belief.”