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Review: Utah Symphony, Conrad Tao give a concert to please emperors and commoners alike

First Published      Last Updated Mar 06 2015 11:42 pm

Review » Utah Symphony favorite Tao gives a turbo-charged performance.

It was an egalitarian evening at Abravanel Hall on Friday, when an emperor sat comfortably between two common men.

Pianist Conrad Tao continued his string of impressive guest appearances with the Utah Symphony, filling in on two days' notice for an ailing André Watts to play Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 ("Emperor"). (His five-season streak, which now includes three late substitutions, is all the more impressive considering he is 20 years old.)

Tao played the "Emperor" with confidence and verve. Undoubtedly Watts, who at 68 is old enough to be Tao's grandfather, would have given a more reflective reading, but the younger man's turbo-charged performance thrilled the near-capacity crowd. Guest conductor Hugh Wolff's bracing tempos added to the sense of immediacy.

Tao responded to the enthusiastic ovation in kind, unleashing a dazzlingly virtuosic rendition of Elliott Carter's "Catenaires" that made the formidable Beethoven seem like a warmup exercise.

Aaron Copland's iconic "Fanfare for the Common Man" theme bookended the Beethoven, first in its more familiar setting for brass and percussion and then as part of the final movement of the composer's Third Symphony. Every section of the Utah Symphony shone under Wolff's purposeful direction. Crisp mallet work by the percussionists, clean and forceful lines from the strings, sure-footed navigation of complex passages by the woodwinds and tastefully stentorian brass all came together to create a sound we've come to think of as prototypically American.



Utah Symphony

Music of Beethoven and Copland.

With » Conductor Hugh Wolff and pianist Conrad Tao

Where » Abravanel Hall, 123 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City

When » Reviewed Friday, March 6; repeats Saturday, March 7, at 8 p.m.

Tickets » $23-$74; www.utahsymphony.org

Running time » About 2 hours, including intermission