Conrad Tao
American musician
Conrad Tao
Conrad Yiwen Tao is an American composer, pianist and violinist. Tao's piano and violin performances since childhood brought him early recognition at music festivals and competitions, and he is receiving critical praise for his recitals and concerts with symphony orchestras. He has been featured on the PBS TV series From the Top – Live from Carnegie Hall as violinist, pianist and composer.
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    FORTIES
  • 2016
    In a performance of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 in 2016, John Shulson of The Virginia Gazette commented That Tao's "performance... was one of the most thrilling to be heard on stage with this symphony....
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    In early 2016, Tao joined the Tallahassee Symphony in Tallahassee, Florida, to play Schumann's Piano Concerto, and played Prokofiev's Piano Concert No. 3 with the Colorado Springs Philharmonic and Mozart's Concerto No. 7, among other pieces, with the San Diego Philharmonic.
    More Details Hide Details He next played Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 with the Berkeley Symphony, and, with Cincinnati Symphony, he played Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini to an enthusiastic audience. With West Michigan Symphony, Tao played Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 and next performed the Grieg piano concerto with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra. In addition to recitals, he soon played Karol Szymanowski's Symphony No. 4, Symphonie Concertante, with the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, Tchaikovsky's No. 1 with the Mobile Symphony Orchestra, and Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 with Santa Fe Pro Musica. In May, with Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra, Tao played his piece, "Pangu", and Gershwin's Concerto in F, and with the Swedish Radio Symphony, he played Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 4 in Stockholm. He played Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 with the Berkeley Symphony. Tao returned to the DSO in June to finish his year as artist-in-residence with a recital and the premiere of his orchestral composition, Alice, which was inspired by his recurring childhood nightmares, sometimes described as Alice in Wonderland syndrome. In September, he accompanied the premiere of David Lang's opera The Loser at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, he played Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 with the Giuseppe Verdi Symphonic Orchestra in Milan, Italy, and his composition, I got a wiggle that I just can’t shake was premiered by the Pacific Symphony. He also played Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 with Virginia Symphony Orchestra.
  • 2015
    In the Mozart Piano Concerto No. 21 in 2015, according to Matt Palm of the Orlando Sentinel, "Tao's energetic work blended seamlessly with his fellow musicians to create both elegance and exuberance."
    More Details Hide Details Scott Cantrell of The Dallas Morning News called Tao's Aaron Copland piano sonata "gripping... finely timed and layered, but the rhythmic quirks of the scherzo would have been set in higher relief at a marginally slower pace", and thought of his Rachmaninoff Études-Tableaux, Op. 39 that "the F-sharp minor felt a bit pressed, and the D minor was pushed and pulled about too much. The A minor... was ravishing, though, and the D major was genuinely exciting". Steven Kruger of New York Arts wrote that Tao's "was the best performance of the Rachmaninoff Paganini Variations I have ever heard, on or off disc. Tao was so vivid, he might as well have been Gershwin at the keyboard. Every note was electric. And the last movement of the Prokofiev Seventh Sonata, offered as an encore, simply made everyone's jaw drop." Peter Dobrin of Philly.com wrote that, in Saint-Saëns' Piano Concerto No. 2, Tao "kept his monstrous technique on a leash and 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".
    Later in 2015, Tao premiered his piece An Adjustment for piano, chamber orchestra, and iGadgets, at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia, where he was also the soloist in the Saint-Saëns Piano Concerto No. 2.
    More Details Hide Details An Adjustment combines "the current style of spiritual post-Romanticism and '90s techno club music." WTRI's extensive description of An Adjustment notes: "The interplay of different rhythms is at the core of this piece, and Tao explores cross-rhythms extensively." After performances in Europe, Atlanta, Georgia and Buffalo, New York, Tao's "Pangu" was performed in October by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, and then Tao joined the orchestra to give a "not only thrillingly rhythmical, but extraordinarily sensitive" account of Gershwin's Concerto in F. Tao then made stops in Brazil and returned to the US to play a recital based on his newest album, Pictures. Tao rejoined Pacific Symphony to play Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3.
    Tao was the 2015/16 Dallas Symphony Orchestra (DSO) Artist-in-residence, with whom he performed Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody, Aaron Copland's piano sonata, four of Rachmaninoff's Études-Tableaux, Op. 39, the violin-and-piano version of Rachmaninoff's Vocalise, Bartók's "Contrasts", Prokofiev's "Piano Sonata No. 7" and Miklós Rózsa's Spellbound Concerto, among other pieces.
    More Details Hide Details He also composed for the orchestra, curated concert programs, participated in radio broadcasts and gave recitals and master classes. In mid-2015, Tao played Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue with the Hawaii Youth Symphony and gave several performances with San Diego Symphony, playing Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No. 1, among other pieces. With Alabama Symphony Orchestra in Birmingham, he played Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3. He played Beethoven's Emperor Concerto and other works at the Music In The Mountains festival in northern California, Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini with San Francisco Symphony, and Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue with Sun Valley Summer Symphony. He returned to the Aspen Music Festival in August, where he played several programs that included such pieces as Schumann's Carnaval, Poulenc's sextet for piano and wind, and Beethoven's Fantasia in C minor.
  • 2014
    NPR selected Tao's performance of Bach's Toccata in F-sharp minor as one of public radio's best in-studio performances of 2014.
    More Details Hide Details Tao played Beethoven's Emperor Concerto and other pieces with the Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra, which also played his piece, "Pangu". He also played Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21 with the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra and, again at short notice, returned to the Utah Symphony to play Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5. He joined the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra to play Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 25, with "exuberant enchantment" and "seemingly innate storytelling ability".
  • 2013
    Tao's debut full-length solo album, on EMI Classics, Voyages, featuring Tao's compositions together with pieces by Meredith Monk, Rachmaninoff and Ravel, was released on June 11, 2013.
    More Details Hide Details The album reached No. 8 on the Billboard Classical Albums chart. Allmusic rates the album four stars out of five. Davidson wrote: "The playing induces shivers. The Rachmaninoff C minor prelude (Op. 23, No. 7) gushes out in quiet cataracts, lyrical and shimmering, a tour de force of delicacy and power." Despite Tao's skepticism about a classical music establishment that is "grossly normative, capitalistic, and steeped in established, unchallenged practices", commented one reviewer, Voyages is "perfect in all the conventional ways: masterfully performed and composed... cleanly produced, and impeccably sequenced.... It's an absolute joy to hear him fly through each of these pieces, the essences of which are not overwhelmed but rather recontextualized, given new life... Tao has the creative mind to think of them in new ways." Fanfare magazine also gave the album a very warm review, and the producers of the album were nominated for a Grammy Award. A reviewer for NPR wrote:
    In between chamber music and concerto performances on the U.S. east coast and at Aspen, using his cash grants, Tao produced and hosted a three-night music festival, the UNPLAY Festival, in New York City in June 2013, which explored the place of classical music in modern culture.
    More Details Hide Details Challenging the role of music as passive entertainment, Tao asked the audience: "Why is there currently a narrow conception of what classical music is for, among not only audiences, but also musicians and presenters?" Time Out New York praised the festival's scope and structure. Tao next guest hosted WQXR's Hammered! with a series of episodes in which he played works by modern composers that evoke memory and remembrance. He then returned to the Festspiele Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, to play in chamber music programs. Tao gave more than 50 performances in the autumn of 2013, including stops in Sweden and Chile. He played a recital and concertos by Shostakovich and Mozart with the Santa Fe Pro Musica and opened Pacific Symphony's 35th season with "crisp, clear-eyed and thoroughly musical" performances of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3. With Detroit Symphony Orchestra, his Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 1 was described as "crisp and accurate, lively and dynamic, and very musical, with moments of thoughtful reflection". In Brazil, he performed the Britten's Piano Concerto with Orquestra Filarmônica de Minas Gerais, conducted by Fabio Mechetti. Tao returned to Weill Recital Hall in October for his third annual concert called "A Piece for Peace", playing works by Getty, Monk and Ravel. Tao again substituted on short notice for another pianist, this time with the Stamford Symphony Orchestra. In November Tao premiered an orchestral work that he wrote for Dallas Symphony Orchestra to commemorate the 50th anniversary of JFK's assassination, The World Is Very Different Now (named for a line from in JFK's 1961 inaugural address).
    He also previewed pieces from his 2013 album Voyages in New York City.
    More Details Hide Details A reviewer from The New York Times commented: "While there was much to admire in Tao's confident and sensitive playing, it was above all the program... that conveyed the scope of his probing intellect and openhearted vision."
    Dallas Symphony Orchestra commissioned and premiered, in 2013, an orchestral work by Tao, to observe the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
    More Details Hide Details Among other honors, Tao is a U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts, a Davidson Fellow Laureate and a Gilmore Foundation Young Artist. He was the only classical artist named by Forbes magazine in 2011 as one of the "30 Under 30" in the music industry. In 2012, Tao released a solo piano EP, The Juilliard Sessions: Conrad Tao Plays Debussy and Stravinsky, and a synthpop album, Eyelids. That year, he was an Avery Fisher Career Grant awardee. He produced and hosted a three-night music festival, the UNPLAY Festival, in New York City from June 11–13, 2013. In 2013, he also released two albums, Gordon Getty: Piano Pieces and Voyages. Tao travels around the U.S. and abroad performing concerts and, at the same time, he attends the Columbia University–Juilliard School joint degree program. He is the 2015/16 Dallas Symphony Orchestra Artist-in-residence.
  • 2012
    At the 2012 Aspen Music Festival, Tao "delivered the most arresting performance, attacking Gershwin's Second Rhapsody with a lethal combination of power, rhythmic thrust, technical perfection and sheer joy."
    More Details Hide Details The following year, on less than three days' notice to replace an ailing pianist, Tao played Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3 "with insouciant ease and apparent enjoyment... flair and musicality". Of Tao's performance of all five of Beethoven's piano concerti that year, David Fleshler commented in South Florida Classical Review: "The mastery he displayed was more than the predictable brilliance of the grown-up prodigy, it was a performance that brought out the nobility, the eloquence and the dramatic power of these works." Larry Lapidus of The Spokesman-Review called the five concerti "a richly rewarding – indeed, unforgettable – musical experience" noting, that "Tao played the lengthy and difficult Concerto No. 1... without a flaw: not a missed or imperfectly struck note, not a careless or routine phrase, not a poorly voiced chord." Richard Todd of the Ottawa Citizen termed Tao's Piano Concerto No. 19 by Mozart, with National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa, Canada, "almost startling in its clarity of sound and purpose."
    Still in 2012, Tao played concerts in Mexico and at the Montreal Chamber Fest, where his Dvořák pieces "stole the show with a once-in-a-lifetime performance of the rarely-encountered American Suite... he plays music as if the composer were at his side, with color, joy and spontaneous poetry."
    More Details Hide Details At the 2012 Aspen Music Festival, Tao played Gershwin's Second Rhapsody, followed by two recitals at Avery Fisher Hall at the Mostly Mozart Festival. Later in the year, he performed with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic, and his composition "Pangu", an overture-like modern piece inspired by the Chinese creation myth, was premiered by the Hong Kong Philharmonic, under Jaap van Zweden. In Toronto, Tao played Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto and Liszt's "Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6", and with the Allentown Symphony Orchestra, he played Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 He returned to Pacific Symphony to play the Grieg piano concerto with "crisply inflected and strongly sculpted fortissimos and effervescent scherzando playing." After several more U.S. concerts, he ended the year with the Amsterdam Chamber Orchestra at the Concertgebouw before returning to New York for final exams. Tao began 2013 with the Lubbock Symphony Orchestra, playing Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody. After playing Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 1 in concerts with the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, on less than three days' notice to replace another pianist, he joined St. Louis Symphony to play Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3. Tao next played Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21 and the "Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6" with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra. That year, Face the Music's Pannonia Quartet played Tao's String Quartet No. 2, while Tao performed a recital at the Aspen Music Festival and then was in Switzerland playing Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3 with the Bern Symphony Orchestra.
    His concerts in early 2012 included Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 with the Utah Symphony, Saint-Saëns' Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Symphony of the Americas in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, showing "a natural feel for the concerto's yearning melodies and restless energy".
    More Details Hide Details He also gave his second annual recital in New York City called "A Piece for Peace" at Weill Recital Hall that included the Prokofiev Piano Sonata No. 7. Tao also played a program with Orquestra Filarmônica de Minas Gerais in Brazil and performed three recitals at the Irving S. Gilmore International Keyboard Festival in Michigan, where he gave "a stupendous performance.... The first half was elegant. Fireworks followed." This was followed by performances in Munich, Paris, Berlin and London. A March 2012 feature in New York Magazine considered Tao's transition from child prodigy to adult musician. It quoted Tao as follows: "People underestimate how emotionally exhausting it is.... There's a risk that you can only feel intensely through music. Especially for young people, it's hard to do something every day that demands complete surrender." Regarding Tao's compositions, the magazine quoted pianist Christopher O'Riley: "Conrad is the kind of musician who is shaping the future of music". Tao was one of two Avery Fisher Career Grant awardees for 2012.
    He was further named a 2012 Gilmore Foundation Young Artist.
    More Details Hide Details Tao travelled to Europe, South America and all around North America to play more than 75 concerts in 2012, taking off the spring semester from Columbia to accommodate his touring schedule.
  • 2011
    Tao was also named a 2011 U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts, and the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts YoungArts program awarded him its gold medal in music.
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  • THIRTIES
  • 2009
    Of a 2009 performance of Ravel's Piano Concerto in G Major, the San Francisco Classical Voice commented: "The first movement was full of thrills: laser-sharp articulation and accuracy, powerful glissandos... and, what's more, heartfelt expression....
    More Details Hide Details Expressiveness came even more to the fore in the second movement. Never have I heard a left hand with such hypnotic affect, with right-hand legato melodies as smooth as a trip down the Seine." Tao has long studied piano with Yoheved Kaplinsky and Choong Mo Kang at Juilliard and composition with Christopher Theofanidis of Yale University, and for five years he studied violin with Catherine Cho at Juilliard's Pre-College Division. He also studied for six summers at the Aspen Music Festival and School from 2004 to 2009, mostly playing violin, and although "he has moved his focus away from violin, Tao considers his summers as a member of the Aspen violin section critical to his success as a piano soloist.... 'I've gained an understanding of the dynamic between orchestra and soloist'." Tao was composer-in-residence for the 2009–10 season with Chicago's Music in the Loft concert series. As part of this program, the Brooklyn Friends of Chamber Music commissioned his "String Quartet No. 2" for the Jasper Quartet, which they performed throughout the U.S. After hearing Tao play the premiere of his Three Songs for Piano (2010), the reviewer of The Washington Post called them "well-constructed miniatures exploiting different moods and textures on the piano. The juxtaposition was admirable; Tao made no bones about concealing his influences, with Debussy first and foremost.... But influences aside, his compositional voice is not "derivative" at all; you can discern a clear, fresh imagination".
  • 2008
    The Wall Street Journal wrote of a 2008 concert: "In Mozart's dark-hued Concerto No. 20 in D Minor, Mr. Tao showed appealing freshness in his use of telling, expressive details that distinguish one interpretation from the next – a slight decrescendo here, a change of tonal color there, a heartfelt response to the piece.
    More Details Hide Details The crossed-hand passages and rapid scale runs were performed with consummate ease." In 2009, Tao's venues included the Ravinia Festival and Moscow's Bolshoi Theatre.
    In 2008, Tao performed both Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E minor and Piano Concerto No. 1 in one concert with the Miami Piano Festival Orchestra.
    More Details Hide Details He repeated that feat nine times the next year with the Symphony of the Americas in Boca Raton. The same year, critic Harris Goldsmith, in Musical America, called Tao "the most exciting prodigy ever to come my way. His promise is limitless."
    In reviewing a 2008 piano recital in Berkeley, where Tao gave the U.S. premiere of his "Fantasy-Sonata", the San Francisco Chronicle wrote: "The four movements of the piece tumble forth in a way that supports its hybrid title, suggesting both a free flow of ideas and an overarching structural framework.
    More Details Hide Details There are melodies for the ear to grab onto – especially in the slow movement, set against rippling left-hand accompaniment – and Tao varies and subverts them with glee; the intermezzo, with its spidery octave figures, is a little gem of sardonic wit." Other early compositions include many pieces for solo piano and chamber music such as Tao's 2009 Piano Trio. He won both the Juilliard Pre-College Gina Bachauer Piano Competition and the Prokofiev Concerto Competition in 2006. At the 2007 Festival del Sole, the 13-year-old Tao substituted for the ailing Italian pianist Fabio Bidini to play Serge Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3 with the Russian National Orchestra. One critic wrote, "nothing could prepare us for the talent that leapt from the stage. Tao's command of one of the classical repertoire's most difficult works was simply amazing." By the age of 16, Tao had appeared as a piano soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra, Russian National Orchestra, Baltimore Symphony, Dallas Symphony, Detroit Symphony, Utah Symphony and San Francisco Symphony, among many others.
    In 2008, Tao was named a Davidson Fellow Laureate for his project, "Bridging Classical Music from the Past to the Future as Pianist and Composer".
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  • 2007
    His first piano concerto, The Four Elements, was premiered in 2007 by the ProMusica Chamber Orchestra of Columbus, Ohio.
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  • 2003
    He won the 2003 Walgreens National Concerto Competition as a violinist.
    More Details Hide Details In 2004, 2007 (live at Carnegie Hall) and 2011, Tao was featured on the PBS and NPR series From the Top as violinist, pianist and composer. Tao won eight consecutive ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Awards from 2004 to 2011. At age 10, his piano composition Silhouettes and Shadows won the BMI Carlos Surinach Prize.
  • TWENTIES
  • 1994
    Born in 1994.
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