Classically Trained: Young pianist coaxes out pride in his listeners

The aspect I remember best about Conrad Tao was the atypical way that his fellow musicians admired his onstage playing.

I saw several of them — who are usually quite the stoic bunch — giving looks reminiscent of proud grandparents as Tao, then the 16-year-old prodigy pianist, performed Liszt's "Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6" as an encore. It was great.

And, of course, so was Tao.

The Chinese American musician, now 18, returns to Costa Mesa next week to perform with the Pacific Symphony once again. Carl St.Clair leads the 8 p.m. concerts Oct. 18 to 20 in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. A preview talk with Russell Steinberg is at 7 p.m.

This time, Tao will take on Grieg's Piano Concerto in A minor, the Norwegian composer's only completed piano concerto. To fill out the program, the symphony will play Sibelius' "Swan of Tuonela" and Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4.

The Pacific Symphony's Lelie Resnick is the English horn soloist for the Sibelius.

In June 2011, the first time Tao played with the symphony, he was a last-minute substitute for Yuja Wang. He performed Rachmaninoff's "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini."

"It was exhilarating," Tao said of the experience in a news release. "There was no time to process what was going on in those rehearsals — everyone had to bring their A game. It was such a thrill to be making music with such a great ensemble and seemingly off the cuff."

St.Clair added: "Conrad Tao is really a unique individual. He's not only a virtuoso pianist, he's a wonderful violinist and a composer, and all of this is wrapped up into this young musical spirit. It's just phenomenal."

When not performing with the Pacific Symphony and others, Tao keeps busy studying for a joint degree program from Columbia University and Juilliard.

Tickets to hear Tao and the symphony start at $25.


'Halloween Spooktacular'

The symphony hosts two Halloween-themed concerts at 10 and 11:30 a.m. Oct. 20. As part of the symphony's Family Musical Mornings series, the "Halloween Spooktacular" performances will be 45 minutes long and designed for music lovers ages 5 to 11.

Led by Maxim Eshkenazy, the symphony's outgoing assistant conductor, the concerts will feature excerpts by John Williams from the "Harry Potter" film series, Mussorgsky's "Night on Bald Mountain" — which Disney used in 1940's "Fantasia" — and other selections. A soloist from the Pacific Symphony Youth Orchestra will also take center stage.

"Everybody likes scary music, and I love all of the pieces on this concert," Eshkenazy said in a news release.

Bree Burgess Rosen, founder of "Lagunatics" and the No Square Theatre in Laguna Beach, has also written and directed a story for the "Spooktacular." It features two children who use the sounds of the orchestra to stop a mad scientist, according to a news release.

There will also be a Musical Carnival at 9 a.m. for the 10 a.m. concertgoers and at 12:15 p.m. for those attending the 11:30 a.m. concert. Its activities include a meet-and-greet with musicians, "Ask the Orchestra" and an "Instrument Test Drive."

Tickets start at $19.

For more information about all the Pacific Symphony concerts or to buy tickets, visit or call (714) 755-5799.

BRADLEY ZINT is a classically trained musician. Email him story ideas at

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