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EMI, risen from near-dead, signs a Sino-prodigy – sort of

Not sure what to make of this.

EMI, paralysed for a year while Universal sorted out its sale to Warner, has shown a small sig of life.

It has signed Conrad Tao, a 19 year-old American pianist whose parents came from China. He also plays the violin well enough to give public performances of the Mendelssohn concerto. And he composes.

EMI may have found a major talent but, still shellshocked, are not giving him a proper release. Conrad’s ‘album’  is a virtual conceit, accessible only on iTunes. This does not look real in any way. And it does not augur well for EMI’s future under arner onership. See press release below.

UPDATE: EMI have contacted us to say that, contrary to the press release, they will after all give Voyages a release on CD.

conrad tao

EMI is delighted to announce the signing of the exciting young American pianist and composer Conrad Tao. Voyages, his debut full-length album for the label will be released in June.


In 2008, when Conrad Tao was 15 years old, the distinguished American music critic Harris Goldsmith wrote in Musical America, “Conrad Tao is the most exciting prodigy to ever come my way. His promise is limitless.” His first release on EMI, an iTunes exclusive EP in February 2012, was part of the “Juilliard Sessions” series and comprised works by Debussy, Stravinsky, and Conrad himself. In June of this year, Conrad brings to life a three-day festival in New York City that he conceived and curated, and in which he will perform.


“I’m thrilled to be releasing Voyages as my full-length debut with EMI Classics,” says Conrad, “These are all works I feel deeply passionate about, and I am excited to share them with listeners this June.” Voyages features works by Ravel, Rachmaninov and Meredith Monk, as well as two of Conrad Tao’s own compositions: vestiges, for solo piano, and iridescence, for piano and iPad. The iTunes exclusive bonus tracks are Conrad’s improvisations on the Beach Boys songs I Know There’s an Answer and Surf’s Up. As both performer and composer, Conrad Tao’s work crosses boundaries.

Voyages evolves around the concept of images shifting and changing. Conrad begins the album with the first recording of the minimalist workRailroad (Travel Song) from 1981 by Meredith Monk, whose music has had a strong influence on Conrad. Railroad sets the stage for the sound worlds to follow. Next come five Rachmaninov Preludes, two of them popular, the other three less so. Conrad says these five short works “operate as little snapshots into brief musical worlds and fit beautifully with the idea of vestigial images.” He deliberately performs them out of order to encourage listeners to hear them differently.


Conrad’s composition vestiges was inspired by dreams, “surreal images that were undergoing metamorphosis, literally and musically”. The four sections are titled ‘upon waking alongside green glass bottles; upon ripping perforated pages; upon being; and upon viewing two porcelain figures.Vestiges is followed by Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit, which conveys surreal and dream-like images drawn by the composer from the prose poetry and illustrations of Aloysius Bertrand’s book by the same name. The final work is Conrad’s iridescence, which he composed while listening to the music of Brian Eno and Olivier Messiaen. Other of Conrad Tao’s musical influences and enthusiasms include such disparate musicians as Björk, Steve Reich, Maurice Ravel, David Lang, Phil Kline and Michael Gordon.


Conrad Tao’s parents came to the United States from China to study at Princeton University in the 1980s. When their son, born in 1994, exhibited unusual talent at the piano from an early age, they moved the family from Urbana-Champaign Illinois to Chicago and then to New York City, where Conrad enrolled at the Juilliard School’s pre-college division, studying the piano with Yoheved Kaplinsky. He is also a concert-level violinist who, in 2009, gave nine performances of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor in the first half of a programme with the Symphony of the Americas in Florida, and the composer’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in the second half.


Conrad Tao currently attends the Columbia University/Juilliard School joint degree programme in New York. He studies the piano with Yoheved Kaplinsky and Choong Mo Kang and composition with Christopher Theofanidis of Yale University. At the same time, Conrad maintains a full international concert schedule, performing with the world’s great orchestras and in concert halls from New York to Moscow to Hong Kong to Sao Paolo. He gave his London recital debut at the Elgar Room of the Royal Albert Hall in May last year. Conrad has been named a Presidential Scholar in the Arts and a Gilmore Young Artist, was the only classical musician on Forbes’s 2011 30 Under 30 list and last year received an Avery Fisher Career Grant.  His compositions have won him eight consecutive ASCAP Morton Gould Composer Awards between 2004 and 2011, as well as a commission from the Dallas Symphony Orchestra to commemorate the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

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  1. Steve de Mena says:

    The new album Voyages is not iTunes only. It’s listed on Amazon US for pre-order and the press release above mentions that there are two iTunes exclusive bonus tracks (based on Beach Boys songs) not on the CD.

    There was an iTunes only EP in 2012 mentioned above which he was a part of.

  2. Rick Lohmann says:

    fyi, there is also this private release– a real CD– of Mozart concertos with Santa Fe Pro Musica.

  3. In February 2013 PentaTone has released an album with solo piano music composed by living composer Gordon Getty performed by Conrad Tao (Catalogue number PTC 5186 505

  4. Whether or not he is being carefully marketed, the young man has already achieved a lot, and looking back, he was already a highly skilled and sensitive player as a child. There is a marvelous clip of him playing the violin at age 12, which may be accessed at: )

  5. neil van der linden says:

    Warner most probably is mainly interested in Coldplay and Kathy Perry. They had already mostly dumped their own classical labels, except for Nonesuch, which however is now partly a home for fading pop artists who hope that a classical label aura can save them from perishing further for a while, and only some parts of the back catalogue, with numerous gems from Teldec and Erato, are still available on indeed cheap but also cheap-looking reissues.
    They however have Josh Grobham and signed Katherine Jenkins, who indeed do well in the Billboard ‘classical’ top ten.

  6. Martin Bookspan says:

    Is he the one to realize a pet project of mine—a concert of the Beethoven Violin Concerto in both of Beethoven’s versions: the Violin Concerto of course, and Beethoven’s own arrangement of it as a Piano Concerto—both played by the same soloist?

    Heifetz could have done it, Szeryng could have done it. Tao??

  7. I’m just happy we’ve had Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, Tchaikovsky, Mahler and Stravinsky.

  8. At 17 he was twice featured in Jackie Evancho’s first PBS special.



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