Nickel for Your Thoughts: Mozart’s Defiance

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In his own words, Vice President & Artistic Administrator Tony Nickle shares what he believes to be the high points of the program, but with a little edge and humor for good measure. 

Mozart and Sibelius

“…charged with blazing energy and color…”

It’s been frigid enough these past several days to make me recall how much I don’t miss winter in the Midwest, where I grew up. But we have a program this weekend that is charged with blazing energy and color. Mozart’s C minor Piano Concerto and Sibelius’ First Symphony are such a magnificent pair; both are teaming with resolute strength and a fearless spirit in the face of convention. If you’d like to hear more about these two masterpieces, tune into the Insight conversation between Music Director Courtney Lewis and me on the Symphony’s YouTube channel or Facebook. In this week’s blog, I’d like to focus on our brilliant and utterly unique soloist for this week’s Mozart concerto, Conrad Tao. 

“…writing the future of music and art before our very eyes…”

Conrad Tao

Conrad is a rare polymath in a performance world that makes it difficult to excel in more than one area; a world that is so competitive that achieving professional status typically requires pouring all of one’s time and effort into a specific silo. Conrad defies this rule of thumb, so much so that it feels nearly impossible to apply neat and tidy labels, like “classical.” I certainly wouldn’t pigeonhole him as a pianist, though that’s likely the first thing that comes to most people’s minds. Conrad is, first and foremost, a spectacularly creative artist who primarily uses the piano as his vehicle. That may sound like semantics, but the difference is quite real. On the instrument he can play anything – convincingly, I might add – and can spontaneously create and improvise at will. Each time I hear him perform a piece that is familiar to me, it’s like hearing it for the first time. He also makes his way around the violin quite capably, having performed both Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto and First Piano Concerto on the same concert 10 times. He’s also a very accomplished composer. And if that isn’t enough, he’s also DJed in various experimental music performances. He finds whatever tools necessary to achieve his artistic vision, which is what makes applying conventional terminology insufficient.  

While I was stumbling around in my diaper swinging yardsticks at 18 months old (so I’m told), Conrad was plunking out melodies by ear on the piano that he heard his older sister play. He gave his first recital at age four, performed his first public concerto at age eight, and at age 14 the music critic Harris Goldsmith called Conrad “the most exciting prodigy ever to come my way. His promise is limitless.” Now at 27 years old, Conrad is writing the future of music and art before our very eyes. Don’t miss your chance to see someone who may well be a once-in-a-generation talent. 

Learn More & Watch Live

To learn more about this program filled with artistry and excitement, be sure to read the full program notes as well as Conrad Tao’s full bio. Interested in watching live? Tickets are still available to purchase on the Mozart’s Defiance event page and there will be a live-stream video hosted right here on the Jacksonville Symphony website.


By Tony Nickle, Vice President & Artistic Administrator

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