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America stars in composer's thrilling music

10.31.15
Trib Live

The sonorous allure of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra under guest conductor Leonard Slatkin was equally applicable to American and German composers at Friday night's concert at Heinz Hall.
 
Conrad Tao was the star of the first half in his personas as composer and pianist. Born in Illinois to Chinese immigrant parents, Tao moved with them to New York City when he was 9 and began studying at the Juilliard School.
 
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.