ASO guest pianist Conrad Tao steals the show with his adventurous encore

Conrad Tao
Arts ATL

On Thursday evening at Symphony Hall, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra performed a concert of music by Janácek, Shostakovich and Dvorák, led by guest conductor Christian Arming, with pianist Conrad Tao as featured soloist along with ASO principal trumpet Stuart Stephenson. The program will be repeated Saturday at Symphony Hall.


The remarkable, energetic 23-year-old pianist, violinist and composer Conrad Tao performed the solo piano part, sharing the downstage spotlight with ASO principal trumpet Stuart Stephenson, rather than the prominent trumpet part played from the back of the orchestra, as is sometimes done, though the trumpet and piano do not share equal prominence.

The character of trumpet part, ably played by Stephenson, does provide a counterbalance to the often rambunctious piano part and is given good share of musical spotlight, even if only rising to the role of a fully equal partner late in the final movement, just after the solo piano’s cadenza. For the pianist, the first and fourth movements pose more difficulties than the two inner movements, mostly in the form of awkward runs and quick leaps, but that final cadenza in the last movement is especially challenging. Tao’s assertive handling of the whole was brilliantly virtuosic.

Tao returned to the stage, sans jacket in favor of his black t-shirt, to play what was perhaps the most adventurous encore to be heard on the ASO stage in a long, long time: Elliott Carter’s “Caténaires” — the title being the French word for the mathematical and architectural term “catenary,” derived from the Latin word for “chain.” The word stands for an idealized curve that a hanging chain or cable assumes under its own weight when supported only at its ends.
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