Conrad Tao
  • Conrad Tao
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Taoism, with its principles of effortless action, naturalness, humility, simplicity, spontaneity, compassion, and frugality, was a perfect fit for the evening. Which evening? The opening evening of The 2017 Mainly Mozart Festival on Saturday, June 10.

The concert began with Stravinsky’s Pulcinella Suite. Stra-what-sky? Why was Igor on the program? According to the program notes, Stravinsky said of his Pulcinella ballet and the ensuing orchestral suite, “It was a backward look, of course—the first of many love affairs in that direction—but it was a look in the mirror, too.”

The implication is that Pulcinella is the start of Stravinsky's neo-classicism which fits nicely into the context of Mainly Mozart. That being said, I am often impressed with Stravinsky but I’ve yet to become close friends with his music. I’m more of a Stravinsky acquaintance. I understand how important he is as a composer but I don’t move freely in the emotional grammar of his music.

I’m just being honest here folks. The performance was brilliant but since I’m still waiting to become a Stravinsky acolyte I found my mind wandering a bit. Thank God there was no test at the end of the concert.

How dare I admit that, and this from a guy who said that the people who left Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 last month, “sucked at culture.” Sometimes I too suck at culture.

I myself, and I understand this isn’t about me but rather it's about the music, entered the evening with a lingering residue of familial strife. When Stravinsky’s “look in the mirror” concluded and Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 8 began, I almost burst into tears at the familiar sound of a close friend.

Heavens, man, pull yourself together. Ok, ok. I’m good.

That very first entrance contained all of the qualities mentioned above. It appeared effortless, simple yet spontaneous, and, of course, compassionate.

I cringe when I think of how many times pianist Conrad Tao must have had his name associated with Taoism but I’m doing it nonetheless. Is there a more excellent way to understand his pianistic abilities than to equate them to an ancient understanding of the nature of the cosmos?

We often look to concert pianists for a show of brilliance. We want to be nonplused by their technique and marvel to our friends, “Did you see how fast he was playing?” Well, Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 8 is not Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No. 1 with which Tao upstaged Carmina Burana at the San Diego Symphony in 2015.


The encore piece Tao performed

What did we get from Tao? We got effortless action, frugality, simplicity, spontaneity, and Tao took compassion upon us by giving us an encore by Elliott Carter which showcased a terrifying technique. Did you see how fast he was playing?

As a sidenote, I think the world will be just a tiny bit better if we all find something better to say than “did you see how fast he was playing.”

The concert concluded with Mozart’s Symphony No 30 which was delightful and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1. There is something metaphysical about hearing this group of musicians, led by the elegant and excitable Michael Francis, “take it up a notch.”

In both the Mozart and Beethoven symphonies there were moments when the orchestra hit the ludicrous button, or the afterburners, or the nitris, or the turbo, or the whatever-you-want-to-call-it-but-boy-that-was-thrilling button.

Hey San Diego, there were a few open seats. What the hell is wrong with you? Finish drinking yet another craft IPA, put your lousy flip-flops on, and get to the Balboa Theater for Mozart, Beethoven, and Prokoviev on Saturday, June 17. Can't make that? Hit the Thursday, June 22, concert of Mozart, Ravel, and Mendelsohn; or the festival’s closing night concert, Saturday, June 24th, featuring Mozart, Debussy, and Haydn.

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