Sockless pianist sings a Carnegie encore

Sockless pianist sings a Carnegie encore


norman lebrecht

November 22, 2019

Conrad Tao, 25, made his Carnegie debut last night in the Weill recital hall, playing a piano recital of modern works without socks or shoes.

When it came to the encore, he sang a song.

The audience had come out to see and support the pianist, and they were ecstatic, so he owed them an encore. He gave them something one is certain has never before been part of a classical recital, the song “True Love Will Find You In The End,” by the recently deceased outsider musician Daniel Johnston. It was clear only the younger crowd knew what to expect, but when Tao followed a gorgeous opening improvisation by singing the song as he played, everyone knew its touching, tender hope.

That counts, we guess, as a statement debut.

Next time, he’ll sock it to them…



  • The View from America says:

    + !

  • Mock Mahler says:

    I’ve seen Conrad Tao play a recital barefoot, and both recitals and concertos fully–if not conventionally, whatever that might mean today– dressed.

    As with another pianist who gets ‘covered’ a lot on this site (haha), he’s an outstanding talent.

    According to, in this Carnegie recital Tao played Lang, Bach, Carter, Rachmaninoff, Jason Eckhard, and Schumann.

    • Bruce says:

      Thanks for mentioning the repertoire, even though (as with most piano performances) it wasn’t the important part of the performance.

  • sam says:

    Conrad Tao is very much the it boy of the moment, at least in NY, revered (ok, beloved) by the NY critics and the NY Philharmonic, another young messianic figure that the classical music world likes to anoint from time to time.

    I’d better check out his youtube videos.

  • Mick the Knife says:

    In that picture, he looks like Comrade Tao.

  • Bruce says:

    Conrad Tao played all five Beethoven concerti with my orchestra 7 or 8 years ago, substituting on short notice for a duo-piano team who were going to split the pieces between them. He was still a student then — I remember him commenting about how he had to make arrangements with a couple of his professors to take his exams a week late so he could do this gig.

    He was stunning. He took the “Beethoven as continuation of the Classical era” approach rather than the “Beethoven, the first Romantic” approach, meaning that even the Emperor concerto sounded elegant and light, like very late Mozart, instead of being all sturm-und-drangisch. Textures and voices were very clear, the musical ideas very text-based (no pulling on the tempo in random places), and the physical playing seemed effortless, that is, devoid of unnecessary tension. I’d never heard of him before, but am totally unsurprised by his career trajectory.

    • Jeffrey Biegel says:

      I am so impressed with the breadth of expression shared by Conrad. I first heard him several years ago while I subbed for Professor Kaplinsky at Juilliard, and Conrad brought the 2nd and 3rd movements of Prokofiev’s 7th sonata. He has his own brand name f emotion and feeling for music which is wonderful and fresh. What I believe will be his greatest legacy will be his own compositions, as in the tradition of Rachmaninoff. Hoping there will he five glorious concertos from him for the world and future generations. For now, May he be blessed to carry the torch of tradition and carry on with his gifts of individual expression.

  • Irina says:

    Conrad is one of very unique musicians .
    Remember him from Aspen festival, when he was 12 years old .
    He played incredibly trio by Arensky , what he studied just for 10 days!
    And next concert he was violinist in orchestra.

    He is very interesting composer too.

    Not so important for me would be what he were ( or not), but how he plays.

  • Mike says:

    We reckon he is on a wonderful trajectory to become one of the best barefoot pianists in the US.

  • Doug says:

    Does he wash his own feet after treading on dirty stage floors or does he expect his fans to lick them clean?

  • Fliszt says:

    A pity that Mr. Tao feels so insecure with his talent that he has to resort to such stunts to get attention, and even more pitiful that a NY Times critic could be so easily manipulated by such a prank as to even mention it. Has music performance and criticism really come this low?

  • anon says:

    I know artists don’t have to deal with the more mundane stuff of life, but a friendly piece of podiatric advice, putting one’s bare foot on something that is touched by countless soles of street shoes (walking through Manhattan and the subway) is not exactly the best practice for one’s health, one can get all sorts of nasty diseases on/through the feet, especially if there is open skin, and the foot is harder to heal than other parts of the body, and a bandaged foot is not conducive to future piano playing (not to mention more mundane stuff like walking)….

    I guess, bring a big bottle of disinfectant and wipe the heck down those pedals (if the Carnegie Hall piano maintenance guy doesn’t mind…)

  • John Borstlap says:

    Mr Tao has created a most daring program, but daring in a different way as probably intended. Namely, a program thus combining old and new, inevitably invites thoughts about the past and the present, and about what notions of ‘old’ and ‘new’ mean in terms of a musical performance which happens entirely in the present.

    For classical music lovers, curious what all that new music on this barefoot recital actually is:

    David Lang : Cage

    Elliott Carter: Two Thoughts About the Piano

    Julia Wolfe: Earring

    David Lang : Wed (= OK)

    Jason Eckardt: Echoes’ White Veil

    Daniel Johnston: True Love Will Find You in the End

    If you get the impression that it is all regressive, primitive, unmusically neurotic or pretentiously empty, or that it is a mere bunch of pathetic, powerless attempts, you don’t quite understand the times you live in. In case you have the secret, well-hid ‘conservative’ thought that since Mr Schumann wrote his Kreisleriana, something has been lost in serious music, you are a hopeless romantic who best be incarcerated in a re-education camp.

    Serious music lovers will have got cold feet, more so than the performer, but they will have been silent about it. The critic, Mr Tomassini, at least, shows he fully understands how to understand modern times, and could not possibly be accused of being a conservative. Or, he is afraid to appear in the next edition of Slonimsky’s “Lexicon of Musical Invective”.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    Reverse snobbery. The hippies did it all before in the ’60s. Nothing new under the sun.

  • Jack says:

    Now if Yuja Wang went shoeless and sockless . . . .

  • Jerome Hoberman says:

    Can’t think of any works – classical or modern – that *do* have socks and shoes.

  • Maria says:

    Very American!

  • PeterSD says:

    To date, I’ve only heard Mr. Tao live once, performing the first piano part in the Mozart 3-piano concerto, which he did with exemplary sensitivity and style. I’ve also heard some of his original music, which I find interesting enough to keep paying attention to his evolution as a composer.

    I haven’t the slightest interest in his attire, as long as it doesn’t interfere with his performance. (Hobnailed boots would presumably limit the sensitivity of his pedaling.)