Excitement at the San Diego Symphony: Conrad Tao’s Electrifying Account of the Tchaikovsky First Piano Concerto and a Premiere by Javier Álvarez

Conrad Tao
San Diego Story

To say that his account of the concerto was electrifying borders on understatement. He unleashed the concerto’s bravura opening majestically without any sense of bombast, an approach he pursued through the final cadence; his cadenzas exuded a sparkling but stylish improvisatory zeal, and he could dispatch a tornado of parallel octaves in both hands that still maintained the same buoyant touch he employed in Tchaikovsky’s many quiet asides. With the unswerving support of guest conductor David Danzmayr’s expansive yet magnificently detailed direction of the orchestra, Tao made every new idea sound remarkable and fresh, even though we recognized every one.

I could list many more virtues, but the most important observation is that in spite of the immense technical prowess required to make this warhorse splendid again, Tao never called attention to his playing. (Yes, I am contrasting him to a very popular young international pianist who is most familiar to San Diego Symphony audiences.) He completely merged into the piece—including the orchestral portions where he bobbed with the mighty cadences coming from his colleagues on stage—and only emerged from that state when the music stopped and he stood up from the bench.

For once, the Copley Symphony Hall gave the soloist a real standing ovation, one where the whole audience stood up immediately when the music stopped—not that usual lazy San Diego “standing ovation,” where a few people slowly stand and then others sporadically follow in various sections of the hall. For his sole encore, Tao played a dreamy transcription of the Largo from J. S. Bach’s Third Sonata for Unaccompanied Violin. 
Read the full review here