Conrad Tao releases “American Rage” on Warner Classics
Pianist/composer Conrad Tao released his new album American Rage, on Warner Classics, October 25, 2019. The album features works by Frederic Rzewski, Julia Wolfe, and Aaron Copland, and explores the roots of rebellion from the 1930s Harlan County labor disputes, through the trauma of 9/11, to the deep divisions of the present day.
Bookended by two expansive works by Frederic Rzewski – Which Side Are You On?, based on Florence Reece’s 1931 protest song, and Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues, an industrial folk song that sardonically reflects on unjust factory working conditions – the album centers on Julia Wolfe’s Compassion, written in the wake of 9/11, and Aaron Copland’s elegiac Piano Sonata.
Conrad will make his Carnegie Hall recital debut November 20, 2019 and will then perform the album program for his LA Phil recital debut on March 10, 2020. A performance of the American Rage program in a Harlem Crypt was among the New York Times‘ “Best Performances of 2017.”
Says Conrad of the program: “This is a program I have been performing in some form since 2015, and since then my faith has only grown that this music points towards nothing less than a vision of humanity. In Rzewski’s North American Ballads I perceive in the music the possibility that the ruthless chugging of machinery might also be heard as an underlying, unrelenting rhythm of spirit, an expression of humans’ capacity and struggle to come together. I hear Copland’s gorgeous, angular sonata as a mournful elegy for all that has been lost, an elegy that also opens up towards the future. And then there’s Julia Wolfe’s Compassion… sometimes the only way to express compassion in its overwhelming fullness is to scream, to make a ruckus, to be rageful. It is scary to take a side, to declare one’s faith in our capacity for solidarity, to commit to building a different world. Compassion is a relentless effort in the face of that fear, compassion is humility, compassion is listening as practice—listening as a deepening that enriches one’s empathy.”
“This powerful, thrilling album of American political and protest music is played with abundant angst and virtuosity by American pianist Conrad Tao. Two Frederick Rzewski pieces, Which Side Are You On? and Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues, sandwich Aaron Copland’s Piano Sonata and Julia Wolfe’s Compassion, written to commemorate 9/11. Compassion is driven rather than reflective, until the closing bars, when pain succumbs to acceptance…(Pete Seeger’s accounts of both songs are on YouTube.) Which Side Are You On? was a 1931 protest song about coal mining disputes, which Rzewski endows with a percussive, grinding despair. The Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues is brilliantly and viscerally evocative, as the relentless, pounding industrial machine overpowers the lyrical ragtime representing the workers. Commanding and exciting pianism.”
Brisbane Times ****