Thanks to its soaring lyricism, biting sense of irony and perpetual motion-like elements, Sergei Prokofiev's “Piano Concerto No. 3” has remained one of the repertoire's most dazzling showpieces since its premiere in 1921.
The composer's widow, Lina, once wrote that her husband “was not one of those composers who depend on some special inspiration. His creative gifts were so rich and abundant that he needed only the opportunity of expressing himself. His mind was a fountain, from which music was ever ready to gush. He had only to put it down on paper.”
Virtually every major concert pianist includes the Prokofiev Third in his repertoire, including Conrad Tao, a 19-year-old artist who returns to the Sooner State this week for a second appearance with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic.
A student at New York's Juilliard School and Columbia University, Tao opened the Philharmonic's 24th season in September 2012 and wowed the audience with spectacular renditions of Dohnanyi's “Variations on a Nursery Tune” and Liszt's “Totentanz.” Rarely does one hear such accomplished playing from an artist of his age. While most young musicians can only dream of having a solid concert career, Tao has made that vision a reality. A child prodigy who learned the Prokofiev Third at age 12, Tao performed the concerto a year later with the Russian National Orchestra.
“The Prokofiev Third was responsible for getting my name established in certain spaces and with certain people,” Tao said recently. “Even when I was 12, its musical language spoke to me as a pianist and was something that I found intoxicating and incredibly fun.”
Enormously demanding piece
Prokofiev was a formidable pianist whose music places enormous demands on those who dare to tackle his works. Some of this concerto's appeal comes from glittering passages that require considerable power, one instance of which remains vivid in Tao's memory.
“I remember practicing the piece, and suddenly one of the strings on the high C that the piano plays at the end of the first movement broke,” Tao recalled. “It made such a noise that I thought something had broken in the kitchen. I played the passage again and then a second string broke.
The piece embraces the percussive aspects of the piano in a savagely playful manner. It goes full throttle at times and at the very top of the keyboard, it's a sound that is both piercing and exciting. About all I can tell a technician who prepares the piano for me is to wish him God speed.”