Pianist and composer Conrad Tao performs at Meany Hall in October

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Conrad Tao. Photo by Brantley Gutierrez.

New York magazine described pianist and composer Conrad Tao as “the kind of musician who shapes the future of classical music”. He previously performed with the Seattle Symphony, but October 13, Tao will make his Meany Hall debut at the Meany Hall Center for the Performing Arts on the Seattle campus of the University of Washington.

Tao’s program includes Beethoven, as well as a play by Felipe Lara entitled Fair tones (#BlackLivesMatter), and a new composition by Tao himself which was commissioned by Meany Center and Celebrity Series in Boston. Tao had presented the official world premiere of Lara’s piece at the Aspen Music Festival on July 8, 2017 and will now share it with audiences in Seattle.

Tao reports that he built the six-piece Meany Hall program based on a musical arc he imagined. “By Beethoven Storm Sonata has been in my hands for a few years, and I knew I wanted her to be the center of a program, and I knew I wanted to bring out the sonic experimentation that is evident throughout the piece ”, Tao said. “And I also wanted to find a way to structure a program around two alternative versions of Ruth Crawford Seeger. Piano study in mixed accents, with their opposite dynamic trajectories.

Music has been a long-standing pursuit for Tao. “As far back as my memory goes, I was already engaged in music,” he recalls. “My first memories are more social than anything else, the friend of the family who offered to give me lessons for free when no one else was ready to work with a three-year-old, the pleasures Suzuki group violin lessons with a wonderful community music teacher. “

Sounds and notes were mysteries Tao felt compelled to explore. “I started attending Chicago Symphony Orchestra concerts with my parents when I was six years old, and I remember two concerts vividly: Mitsuko Uchida playing Ravel Piano Concerto in G major with Pierre Boulez conducting in 2001, and Ute Lemper singing Brecht and Weill’s The seven deadly sins with Markus Stenz at the helm in 2000, ”said Tao. “The Ravel struck me right away. I remember coming home and trying to figure out what the chromatic piano triplets were like in the overture, I remember being fascinated by the blue notes and the notes borrowed from jazz all through. along the room.

The draw for the composition also came early. “I remember improvising on the piano with a mini-disc player recording,” Tao said. “I remember writing my first melody, titling it Congratulations, which was misspelled.

The piano was Tao’s first instrument. “We had an old brown Baldwin standing in the Urbana house where I was born,” he said. “According to my parents, when I was 18 months old, I sort of sat on the bench and started picking out the kindergarten tunes that were playing in my room at the time. They still got a VHS tape of me tripping over Mary had a little lamb around this time.

During his musical training, Tao learned several keys to good musicality. “The most important things I learned in my training as a pianist were, from Emilio del Rosario at the Chicago Institute of Music, don’t fight the piano, because the piano will always win,” Tao said. “From Yoheved Kaplinsky to Juilliard in New York, I learned to listen to a piece on a macro scale, and above all, to build an ergonomic technique, which does not fight your body.

Tao also praises his composition teachers. “From Chris Theofanidis, I learned to develop motivational guidelines and refine my songwriting instincts,” he recalls. “Perhaps Chris’ greatest contribution to my life has been introducing me to contemporary concert music in listening sessions from the age of 10. These sessions revealed just how great he is. there was to explore. “

For years, Tao played at a breakneck pace, until the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and he was forced to submit his work online. “COVID’s initial lockdown period pushed me inward,” he said. “I spent a lot of time working on my improvisation practice as a pianist.”

Tao began to step out of his main medium. “I liked thinking about the video container,” he said. “I have started to develop a composition practice with video which I look forward to continuing to explore in the future.”

He also unexpectedly picked up a pen. “I wrote an essay on house music and harmonic form,” he said. “All of these developments probably wouldn’t have happened if my usual pace of work hadn’t completely stopped.”

Throughout his career, Tao says his main challenge has been to trust his voice. “I’ve learned over the years that when I have a deep fear about a new job or program, often in the form of ‘can I do that? “Can I really get away with this?” “He explained,” it’s a sign that I’m on the right track, a difficult, scary, and generally revealing path. “

This is the kind of path that Tao is taking with his new composition which will be presented in October. “I’ve been wondering for a long time whether or not it’s possible to play the harmonic series up and down on one key,” he mused. “I am interested in the phrasing made perceptible by this targeted listening.

It is a continuation of the exploration of the mysteries that propelled Tao into his childhood. “I’m interested in the fundamental piano paradoxes that this opens up,” he said. “I’m interested in what this means for the meeting point, or the meeting plane, where the attack speed is determined, where a line is perceived, where sound and trace, sound and resonance meet. . “

Tao describes all of this as the inner world of the musical key. “My goal is for the new composition to explore this possibility and its implications,” he said.

This goal seems to be just the current one among many to come. “I hope to make music with the ability to touch the way someone listens, music that expresses my point of view and invites others to participate,” he said. “And I hope to continue to do so for the rest of my life.”

Conrad Tao performs on October 13 at the Meany Hall Center for the Performing Arts, University of Washington, Seattle.

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