Conrad Tao Rages at Crypt

Copland and Rzewski Featured

By: - Apr 06, 2017

The Crypt Sessions
Conrad Tao, Pianist
Frederic Rzewski: Which Side Are You On?
Aaron Copland: Piano Sonata
Frederic Rzewski: Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues
Presented by Unisom Media
Church of the Intercession
NewYork, New York
April 5, 2017
Photos courtesy Unison Media

Conrad Tao is a master of performance with the piano. His program was titled American Rage, and no one could mistake the passion, confusion and ugliness of our time. Yet it was music that was drawing the picture. And it was the music of this young artist that lofted rage.

From the moment Tao bends his ear in to listen to the song Which Side Are You On, the opening of Frederic Rzewski’s composition of the same title, you feel interaction. The piece responds to the song, and you can hear the beats of the phrase, with the first, second and fifth notes somewhat extended as the piano part of the piece begins.

The piano is poorly understood by many its foremost practitioners. Tao points out that you can’t sit down and play the piano. There is a built in relationship between the artist and instrument. The piano keyboard speaks back, first in the note and then in its overtones. How the artist responds to the talk back is what makes his interpretation and defines his dialogue with the instrument.

Tao is fearless. He is open to reactions that can be very harsh and cruel, and also very beautiful. The Aaron Copland Piano Sonata that sat in the center of the program is a very calm, contemplative and yearning piece.  It is during this almost withheld performance that you can clearly feel Tao’s art. He allows notes to resonate before he continues. Some say that piano artistry depends on listening to the overtones of a note and its colors, which is certainly one form on dialogue.  

Tao also describes the terms of sound, whose time lengths are indeterminate. Often during the concert we were reminded of Debussy’s Sunken Cathedral. It’s majesty, and the moving fifths cropped up throughout the program. When Tao returned for one encore, which he signaled with one raised finger (only one),  he played Sunken Cathedral, perhaps returning to the tone that prompted the evening. The effect is to lift us out of time. The mood that surrounds us seems perfect for the crypt of a church. As usual, curator Andrew Ousley has chosen an artist and music that suits his novel setting, both welcoming and mildly disturbing. It is the uncomfortable feeling that intrigues.

These Crypt Sessions start with a wine and food tasting hour. Like everything about Crypt Sessions, both drink and menu match the program. This evening was American. Fay Leshner of Ward 8 Events creates fashion in every field. She designed “Grandma’s Meatloaf", a meatloaf with bourbon-laced salsa, an updated American classic, and also the even more American peanut-butter and jelly sandwich with bacon from Peter Luger’s and homemade bread. Two American wines chosen by Magnvm Opvs Tasting Concerts topped the menu. Like the Crypt Sessions, we have appealing classics, which are infinitely appetizing.

The Crypt Sessions have announced their next program with cellist Joshua Roman tantalizingly performing "Riding Light."