Conrad Tao spins gold with the Spokane Symphony

10.22.17
Conrad Tao
The Spokesman-Review

An event took place this weekend at the Fox that will live long in the memories of everyone there, although a plain description suggests nothing out of the ordinary: As part of the third Classics concert this season by the Spokane Symphony, pianist Conrad Tao performed the Second Piano Concerto of Charles Camille Saint-Saëns.

So, what’s the big deal? People who are acquainted with the classical piano repertoire know the Saint-Saëns G minor Concerto (1868) as an entertaining showpiece that once very popular, and now is a relic of a bygone age of touring virtuosos who traveled in their own rail cars and carried on shipboard affairs with operatic divas. It is a piece comprising swatches of various styles: a bit of Bachian improvisation, a hint of East Indian orientalia, some Provençal folk dancing, stitched together with beguiling orchestration and pianistic filigree.

It didn’t matter. Under the molten heat of the 23-year-old Tao’s genius, what seems in some hands to be little more than empty note-spinning was transformed into gold. No matter how rapid the passagework or how routine the phrase, Tao’s attentive mind found nuggets of passion, humor and beauty. The experience of hearing him play was one of astonishment.

Of his technique we need say little. It is perfect. Whatever can be done at the piano, he can do, whether it requires speed, delicacy, color or power, and always with an impeccable sense of style..

Having neglected to breathe for the 30 minutes of the performance, the audience leapt to their feet to convey their thanks to the soloist, who rewarded them with an interpretation of Domenico Scarlatti’s Sonata in A major K. 208, in which sunshine glinted in every trill and each modulation opened onto new vistas of beauty.

Throughout the Saint-Saëns concerto, the Spokane Symphony played superbly, but was eclipsed by the soloist. The remainder of the program allowed them to shine on their own, which they did with great brilliance. The exceptional power and flexibility which the orchestra showed in its last concerts under Morihiko Nakahara were undiminished, and were enhanced by the special gifts of music director and principal conductor, Eckart Preu.
 
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