Conrad Tao, 17, shows fully mature virtuosity in Rachmaninoff

conrad-tao-0e57286d3adeb1f5-390x588Conrad Tao performed Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Symphony of the Americas Tuesday night at the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale. An outstanding 17-year-old pianist gave a performance of a Rachmaninoff concerto Tuesday night in Fort Lauderdale that would have done credit to a veteran virtuoso.

Conrad Tao, a student at Juilliard, performed the Russian composer’s Second Piano Concerto with Symphony of the Americas at the Broward Center, fresh off a performance of a Saint-Saëns concerto with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. He is an amazing dual talent who had previously performed the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto with Symphony of the Americas, and his deep musicality was apparent from the first notes.


Lots of pianists can bang their way through this difficult work. But Tao, from the dramatic flair with which he played the first pensive broken chords, showed a natural feel for the concerto’s yearning melodies and restless energy. Although he is clearly a master of the keyboard, his playing was so smooth and fluent that the difficulty of the work was never at the forefront; nor was there ever a hint of the look-how-hard-this-is virtuosity that marks the playing of some young keyboard phenoms. He could be grand, as in the sweeping swirls of notes that open the last movement, and his technical ability was apparent throughout, as he easily handled the rapid chords, runs and other challenges of a concerto composed by one of history’s great virtuosos.

But it was his playing of Rachmaninoff’s melodic passages that really distinguished this performance, as Tao’s natural musicality brought out the concerto’s smoky, Romantic quality. The orchestra, to which Rachmaninoff assigns much of the thematic material, was an admirable partner under the assured, attentive conducting of artistic director James Brooks-Bruzzese. Standing ovations are so common these days that they don’t mean that much, but in this case the audience rose immediately after the final chord in a spontaneous and virtually unanimous signal of acclaim. As an encore, Tao performed Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6, a difficult but lightweight work, played by Tao with immaculate technical command.

annaAnna Maria LitvinenkoAnother 17-year-old soloist appeared first, Anna María Litvinenko, a student at Miami’s New World School of the Arts, in the Saint-Saëns Cello Concerto No. 1. She also revealed herself to be a gifted performer. Although a Romantic virtuoso work like this calls for a more edgy, extroverted performance, she showed a silvery facility with rapid passages, easily handled the broken chords and other technical hazards and displayed a golden tone and sensitive phrasing in the concerto’s languorous melodies. As an encore, she performed the Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki’s new work Violoncello Totale, a difficult piece for unaccompanied cello that attempts to show the variety of sounds that can be drawn from the instrument, including tapping on it with one hand.

The concert opened with Rossini’s William Tell Overture, in a performance notable for oddly subdued trombones in the passages in which they normally bark from the orchestra and spirited playing from the strings in the famous final section.

Symphony of the Americas seems intent this season on presenting soloists who are too young to vote. Next month the orchestra will present the Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1, with the 11-year-old Austrian prodigy Elisso Gogibedaschwilli as soloist.

Hungarian chamber orchestra brings polish and energy to Summerfest concert

James-Brooks-BruzzeseJames Brooks-Bruzzese conducted the Reményi Ede Chamber Orchestra Wednesday night at the Broward Center.

An excellent Hungarian chamber orchestra performed Wednesday in Fort Lauderdale as part of Symphony of the America’s Summerfest series, playing a concert of short works that ranged from the powdered-wig era of 18th century Austria to the smoky nightclubs of Buenos Aires.

The Reményi Ede Chamber Orchestra of Hungary played at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, as part of a series of performances that take the orchestra to Hungary, Panama and Ecuador.

The orchestra, led by Symphony of the America’s artistic director James Brooks-Bruzzese, performed a light, summer-style program, with some works that would be familiar to most concertgoers and others that could be appreciated easily on first hearing. A few members of Symphony of the Americas joined the ensemble for the performance. The concerts repeat July 22 through July 28 at various locations throughout South Florida.

The orchestra brought a high energy level, a rich sound and technical precision to every work on the program. The ensemble’s versatility was impressive, as it played with brisk authority in classical works of Mozart and Boccherini and throbbing, insinuating romanticism in tangos by Piazzolla. Particularly effective was a crackling performance of Boccherini’s Sinfonia No. 6 in D Minor, La casa del diavolo (The house of the devil), given a dramatic, symphonic account, especially in the sizzling final movement.

The only weak part of the program came at the end, with a performance of the 20th century Hungarian composer Leo Weiner’s Divertimento No. 1, a forgettable series of Hungarian-sounding motifs that occasionally recalled Bartók and earlier Hungarian music but lacked much originality.

The concert opened with Vivaldi’s Concerto for Four Violins, Cello and Cembalo, taken at a quick pace that gave it real rhythmic drive. With so many different soloists, this work can come off as a blur of notes, but Brooks-Bruzzese led a vigorous, strongly marked performance with transparent textures that allowed solo lines to emerge and fade into the background in a manner that never allowed the music to lose shape.

Violinist Laszlo Pap, associate concertmaster of Symphony of the Americas and a graduate of Budapest’s famed Franz Liszt Academy, performed Vitali’s Ciaccona for Violin and Orchestra, a series of increasingly difficult variations on a theme, involving chords, arpeggios and treacherous leaps up the fingerboard. In addition to crisp bowing and a flawless technique, Pap brought a dramatic flair to the performance, seeming to inhabit the role of the glamorous Central European virtuoso.

In the Elegie from Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings, the orchestra departed from the crisp, exposed baroque and classical works that made up the rest of the first half and displayed its tonal richness and sensitivity of phrasing. Particularly fine was the passage in which a melody in the cellos is set against one high in the first violins, played with warmth and transparent clarity.

Mozart’s Divertimento in D, K. 136, came off with authority and polish, with particularly good work by the second violins in the composer’s swiftly streaming inner passages.

Part of the concert was dedicated to philanthropist and arts patron Rose Miniaci, who just celebrated her 90th birthday. Pap performed the Meditation from Massenet’s opera Thaïs, played with a singing tone that brought out the work’s lyricism without milking it too shamelessly. The orchestra played Happy Birthday as pink balloons were dropped onto the audience.

Romantic Masterpieces with Symphony of the Americas

The Broward Center for the Performing Arts of Fort Lauderdale, was filled with an enthusiastic crowd of music lovers and fans of the Symphony of The Americas excellent programs. This time dedicated to the romantic composers, showcasing the music of Weber, Beethoven, Bizet and Glazunov. The varied and colorful program created by Musical Director and Conductor Maestro James Brooks-Bruzzese includes music from three different countries form the romantic era. The first peace "Invitation to the Dance" by Carl Maria von Weber known as the father of the German Romantic Opera.

Composed as a piano miniature and orchestrated by the magician of instrumental color Hector Berlioz.The score begins with a Cello solo inviting to a waltz and continues in crescendo with wind instruments and full orchestra, this peace is an antecedent to the Viennese waltz era of Strauss. The Symphony of the Americas performed with energy and precision led by Maestro James Brooks-Bruzzese. Following we enjoyed the “Piano Concerto No 4 in G Major by Beethoven” performed by renowned pianist Enrique Graf. This piano Concerto is one of the most sensitive works by the genius of Beethoven, is a peace created to showcase a virtuoso piano playing. Passionate and melodic lines appear in a series of repetitive musical themes, with brilliance and color in the Allegro moderato and Rondo Vivace and with melancholic and warm cadensas in the Andante con Moto. Soloist Enrique Graf played with brilliant technique, moving his fingers at the speed of the light, perfect intonation and clarity of his playing illuminated the beautiful score. In the more slow and passionate part, Graf performed a difficult pianissimo, Maestro Brooks was sensitive to the feelings of the soloist and had a good coordination with the Orchestra. The third peace “L’Arlesienne Suite No 1”, by French composer Georges Bizet, one of the best well known composers of the XIX century and the composer of the famous Opera “Carmen”. Bizet began composing at the early age of seventeen and had a short but vital musical life. The melodies of LArlesiene have been used for Ballet and are inspired on the story of a daring fame fatal that lived in the French Province. The spirit of Bizet is present in the beautiful romantic melodies sung by the brilliant orchestration, giving us the impression that the Orchestra and the conductor danced along the musical waves, bringing the audience to applaud in between movements. The last peace was the brilliant and most modern score, Excerpts from “Raymonda” by Russian composer Alexander Glazunov (1865-1936). A prolific composer, wrote this music for a ballet by Petipa. Rich in melodic inspiration and gleaming color the score lifts us in a dream of excitement and light. A very appropriate ending to this beautiful romantic concert by Symphony of the Americas. Bravo! By Vivian Fulop-Shlesinger
Miami Concerts Examiner
Vivian is the creator and host of "Vive Miami" a Culture, Arts and entertainment news segment for TV with the purpose to recommend the best events... Read more

Symphony of the Americas James Brooks-Bruzzese Thomas Tirino / Dona Balson Ravel / Falla / Saint-Saens / Lecuona / Grieg

The indefatigable James Brooks-Bruzzese mounted the podium of the Symphony of the Americas to open the ensemble's 23rd season with a program honoring Hispanic Heritage Month on October 19, 2010 at the Broward Center's acoustically excellent Amaturo Theater in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, USA. From the languid strains of Ravel's Pavane for a Dead Princess to the incendiary Latin rhythms of Manuel De Falla's Ritual Fire Dance from El Amor Brujo (here presented in the composer's original chamber version with bracing xylophone exclamations instead of heavy brass), the conductor exhibited his sure touch with idiomatic, lively playing and deft musicality. The smoky voiced Australian soprano Dona Balson offered two emotion tinged arias from De Falla's one act opera La Vida Breve, sung with impassioned fervor. Balson's lustrous version of Mon coeur s'ouvre a ta voix from Saint-Saens' Samson and Deliah was a wonderful bonus. Opulent of voice and intensely expressive, Balson was appropriately seductive.

The evening's piece de resistance was a reconstruction of Ernesto Lecuona's 1931 cantata Del Manglar. A fascinating synthesis of Gallic impressionism and Afro-Cuban rhythms, Del Manglar was originally orchestrated by famed Cuban composer and arranger Gonzalo Roig (who wrote the zarzuela Cecilia Valdez). Pianist Thomas Tirino, an inveterate Lecuona specialist and researcher, has spent over a decade working to revive this ambitious score. While some orchestral and piano parts exist, the full score has been lost. A 1970's performance (from apparently then existing parts) was broadcast and recorded by Havana Radio and Tirino was able to get a copy of the archived tape. Working with New York based orchestrator Michael Bartos, Tirino was able to reconstruct the score in close to its original form.

This is a striking work, harmonically adventurous and rhythmically exciting. The soprano solos are sensuous while the third movement La Conga de media noche is a piano solo both elegant and virtuosic. Lecuona pulled out all the stops for a finale of true vocal and instrumental abandon, music of great color and excitement. Balson soared in the heroine's voluptuous arias. Tirino brought stylish evocation to the important piano part and Brooks-Bruzzese drew high octane playing from the orchestra, generating real excitement. This worthy score deserves additional performances. Lecuona is known for a few short pieces. His large scale instrumental works and zarzuelas reveal a composer of dazzling originality who was very much in touch with the musical crosscurrents of his time.

Tirino concluded the program with an often stunning traversal of Grieg's Piano Concerto in A minor, Op.16. Tirino is a pianist of the old school who plays with wide rubato and color. He is not afraid to bend a phrase in a highly personal manner. Never a literalist, Tirino combined superb technical acumen with a rich vein of deeply introspective lyricism. The Adagio glowed with melodic beauty while the fire and speed of the finale were given bravura treatment, ably accompanied by the Symphony of the Americas players.

On November 23 Brooks-Bruzzese offered a Mozart-Haydn program. After a no-nonsense reading of the Overture to Don Giovanni, Italian violinist Roberto Cani took center stage for an aristocratically shaped, vibrant performance of Mozart's Violin Concerto No.5 in A Major, K.219. Grand Prize winner of Genoa's Paganini International Violin Competition, Cani is a formidable player. With a tone spun of silken sounds and flawless technique, he caressed Mozart's musical lines with affection and beauty. After a vigorous reading of the first movement, Cani brought soaring lyricism to the other worldly beauty of the Adagio. This is music of almost spiritual eloquence and Cani's offered angelic hues while phrasing with grace and soulfulness. The minuet of the finale was appropriately ornate but Cani really cut loose in the Turkish episode of this rondo, playing with wild abandon and brilliance. Brooks-Bruzzese conducted incisively, drawing full bodied playing from the ensemble.

For an encore, Cani showed his expertise in the musical world of Paganini. Offering a rarely heard caprice, Cani attacked the showpiece with a ferocious combination of speed, fleet bowing and sheer fire that spelled virtuosso and brought the audience to its feet cheering. Cani is a violinist of exceptional gifts, combining musical insight and breathtaking instrumental technique. This is an artist to watch.

Brooks-Bruzzese happily programmed Haydn's all too rarely heard Symphony No.99 E-flat Major. Of Haydn's monumental final twelve symphonies, the most frequently played bear a nickname - Surprise, Drumroll, Miracle, London. Those without subtitles are not played as frequently. That is unfortunate because the triptych of symphonies 97, 98 and 99 are some of the most innovative and imaginative of Haydn's 104 symphonic essays. Haydn's sense of wit and the musically unexpected is found everywhere in the Symphony No.99. From the main theme of the first movement Allegro that goes in unexpected directions to the mere thematic fragments that open the Adagio to the false ending of the Vivace finale, Haydn's unique ability to astound gets full rein. Haydn's melodic powers were at their height in these final orchestral works. The Symphony No.99 is a joyous font of inspired thematic invention, instrumental magic and high spirited fun. Brooks-Bruzzese understands that Haydn's music should never wear a powdered wig. He brought high spirited élan and drive to every bar of this infectious masterwork. Crisp string articulation and fine flute solos by Marilyn Maingart highlighted a wonderful performance. The conductor added one final bon-bon - a lithe, vibrant string version of the Hoedown from Aaron Copland's ballet score Rodeo.

On January 25, 2011 James Brooks-Bruzzese directs the Symphony of the Americas in Von Suppe's Light Cavalry Overture, Beethoven's Symphony No.4 and Paganini's Violin Concerto No.2 in B minor (with violinist Laszlo Pap) at the Amaturo Theater in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, USA. Cirque de La Symphonie on February 13 and 14 features music by Dvorak, Saint-Saens, Rossini, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Chabrier, Grieg, Vivaldi, Smetana, Rimsky-Korsakov, Bach and Bizet.

Brooks-Bruzzese conducts Weber's Invitation to the Dance, Bizet's L'Arlesienne Suite No.1, Excerpts from Glazunov's Raymonda and Beethoven's Piano Concerto No.4 in G Major (with soloist Enrique Graf) on March 22. The season concludes on April 12 with a program of excerpts from opera and the Broadway theater with tenors Frank D'Ambrosio and Eduardo Aladren, sopranos Courtney Budd and Kam Cheng and the Dance Alive National Ballet, Kim Tuttle, director. For information, see www.symphonyoftheamericas.org.

James Brooks-Bruzzese / Enrique Graf / Ciro Symphony of the Americas Fodore Mozart / Poulenc / Walton / Gutierrez / Magallanes Ctystalline Lightness

Uruguayan born pianist Enrique Graf is an artist with the unique ability to make the keyboard (nominally a percussive instrument) really sing. A former student of Leon Fleisher at Baltimore's Peabody Conservatory and winner of numerous international competitions, Graf does not lack pianistic firepower. Yet his patrician artistry and refined technique manage to enchant the listener. Graf was in top form at the season opening concert of the Symphony of the Americas on October 20, 2009 at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts' Amaturo Theater in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, USA.

The Concert No.21 in C Major, K.467 may be the Salzburg master's most frequently performed keyboard work but Graf imbued the thrice familiar gem with fresh insight and mature artistic wisdom. Crystalline lightness and graceful shaping of the melodic and contrapuntal lines made the opening Allegro maestoso a brightly enlivening prelude to an enduring masterpiece. Eschewing overt sentimentality and heavy-handedness, Graf essayed the central Andante at a faster clip than the norm, weaving the unforgettable melodic line with the finely chiseled delicacy of a Mozartean operatic aria. The pianist's vivacious approach to the Allegro molto finale sparkled in the bubbly fashion of the best musical champagne. Graf's stellar technique always stood at the service of the music, revealing transparent lines and subtle underpinnings often obscured in more workmanlike performances.

Symphony of the Americas' artistic director James Brooks-Bruzzese conducted with brio and élan, supporting Graf with a light, finely calibrated orchestral framework. The orchestra responded with luminous, effervescent playing. In Francis Poulenc's Concerto for Two pianos in D minor, the conductor effectively suggested the jazzy, Gallic scented aura of this iconic score from the heyday of Les Six.

Dismayed with many French composers' fascination with Wagnerian romanticism and dubious about the impressionistic route of Debussy and Ravel, Les Six (Georges Auric, Luis Durrey, Darius Milhaud, Germaine Taillferre, Arthur Honegger and Poulenc) sought a new Gallic sensibility that combined classicism with indigenous, popular culture - the meeting of the concert hall, jazz club and dance hall. Poulenc was ambivalent in embracing the ideals of his fellow composers. He shared their discomfort with late 19th and early twentieth century French musical trends but longed to be taken seriously as a creative artist. Within the decade of the 1930's Poulenc would compose the Baroque inspired Organ Concerto and solemn choral Stabat Mater and the irreverent, scintillating Concerto for Two Pianos. That remarkable work was one of the true monuments of the artistic ferment that Les Six embodied. In this one of a kind score, Poulenc manages to capture populist sensibilities of the Gallic cinema and dance of the era while paying tribute to the two composers he truly revered - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Igor Stravinsky.

Enrique Graf was joined by Ciro Fodere, piano professor at Miami's New World School of Arts and former member of the New World Symphony, the South Florida based orchestral academy. (During his four year fellowship with that ensemble, Fodere gave a performance of Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini under Alasdair Neale. This critic commented that Fodere's "high voltage reading made many note perfect competition winners' performances seem tame by comparison.") Graf and Fodere were a stimulating combination: Graf ever nimble and robust at the keyboard, Fodere fleet fingered and intense. They vividly captured the wit, modernity and jazzy combustion of the opening movement. In the sensuous Larghetto (with its echoes of both Mozart and Ravel) the duo spun an elegant, austere, beautifully embroidered line. The high speed finale was dashed off with power to spare. Poulenc's delightful score was richly served by two splendid soloists with fine instrumental support.

After the interval, Brooks-Bruzzese led a rousing rendition of Sir William Walton's 1937 coronation march Crown Imperial. Walton was Elgar's equal in combining ceremonial majesty with joyous high spirits - a unique genre exemplified by the Pomp and Circumstance marches and Walton's two coronation pieces. The charming waltz Alma Llanera by Venezuelan composer Pedro Elias Gutierrez was a delightful bon-bon, played with verve.

Eduardo Magallanes' Mae Mia (dedicated to the composer's wife on their 50th wedding anniversary) received its premiere performance. (Magallanes is the Symphony of the Americas' composer/ arranger in residence.) At once sensuous and folkloric, this score vividly conveys the composer's love of European and Mexican culture and dazzling mastery of orchestration. The beautiful string writing of the score's first section is contrasted with the brass and percussive fiesta of the conclusion. Brooks-Bruzzese offered an authoritative reading with the orchestra's glowing strings and flaming brass and percussion having a field day. Although Magallanes' colorful score was the last work on the printed program, orchestra and conductor were joined by a mariachi band and vocalist for two festive Mexican songs. A rousing opener for this fine Ft. Lauderdale based symphonic ensemble!

On December 8, 2009 the Florida Singing Sons Boychoir (Craig Dennison, director) joins James Brooks-Bruzzese and the Symphony of the Americas at the Amaturo Theater in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, USA for a holiday concert featuring selections by Leroy Anderson, Victor Herbert, Meredith Wilson, Vaughan Williams, Rutter and Tchaikovsky.

Tenors Eduardo Aladren and Franc D'Ambrosio and sopranos Maria Aleida and Elizabeth Roberts are featured in a program of music from opera and Broadway on January 12, 2010.

On March 23, 2010 Brooks-Bruzzese conducts Tchaikovsky's Coronation March, waltzes from Swan Lake and Eugene Onegin, March Slave and Piano Concerto No. 2 (with soloist Ricardo Roel).

The season concludes on April 20, 2010 with pianist Joaquin Achucarro as soloist in Franck's Symphonic Variations and Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini and Brooks-Bruzzese leading Beethoven's Symphony No.7.

symphony of the Americas James Brooks-Bruzzese / Jorge luis Prats Grenet / Chabrier / Gershwin / Moncayo / Shostakovich

A pianistic volcanic eruption rocked the Broward Center’s Amaturo Theater on October 23 when Jorge Luis Prats was soloist with the Symphony of the Americas at the opening concert of its 20th anniversary season. Playing Dimitri Shostakovich’s unjustly neglected Piano Concerto No.2 in F Major, Prats was an incendiary force at the keyboard. This Cuban born pianist was absolutely fabulous!

Best known for the agonizing Mahlerian angst of his late symphonies and string quartets, Shostakovich also composed works in a lighter vein. His F Major Concerto suggests the quirky humor of his contemporary Serge Prokofiev. The piece is a bravura pianistic vehicle that only artists with fleet fingers and powerhouse technique dare attempt.

Prats displayed awesome technique wedded to dare devil command that ventures where other keyboard artists dare not tread. In the opening Allegro, Prats’ dazzling octaves and relentless rhythmic energy fired up the stage. The piece seemed to flow as if improvised at the moment of performance. Prats brought spontaneity and explosive force to every bar. Yet he turned poetic in the soulful Andante. In this moody, rhapsodic reverie (in the vein of Rachmaninoff), the pianist gave a dazzling display of crystalline tone, vibrant coloration, sensitivity of line, and quicksilver lightness. Prats attacked the Allegro finale full force, producing speed and volume that astounded the senses, offering finesse as well as velocity in a stellar reading of Shostakovich’s appealing 1957 score.

Symphony of the Americas artistic director James Brooks-Bruzzese proved an agile partner and collaborator, obtaining vivacious, richly hued playing from the ensemble. Indeed the orchestra shone impressively throughout the evening, particularly the red hot brass and elegant winds.

In three pieces (Lamento Esclavo, Las Perlas de tu Boca, and Bariolage) by Eliseo Grenet (1893-1950), Brooks-Bruzzese and the orchestra evoked the sound of the Cuban big bands of the 1940’s and 50’s. Grenet’s Afro-Cuban tinged melodies recalled the work of his contemporary Gonzalo Roig, particularly in the sumptuous arrangements of Alfredo Munar (who doubled on piano).

In Gershwin’s Cuban Overture, Brooks-Bruzzese astutely pinpointed instrumental felicities amid the orchestral bustle. Marilyn Maingart’s silvery, pure toned flute solo was a stand out. The conductor elicited lightness of touch from the strings and rousing brass outbursts in Chabrier’s grandly aristocratic Fete Polonaise (from the opera Le Roi Malgre Lui). In the rollicking Huapango by Mexican composer Jose Pablo Moncayo, Brooks-Bruzzese maintained the score’s driving rhythm while displaying a rainbow of orchestral colors. The ensemble’s terrific percussion section had a field day in these Latin inspired pieces.

Prats turned to the music of Ernesto Lecuona (the Cuban Gershwin) for encores, playing four works – including You Are Always in My Heart and La Comparsa. His incredible technical facility, idiomatic musicality, and wit enlivened every note of these charming vignettes. The adoring audience (which awarded Prats repeated standing ovations) only dispersed after the orchestra left the stage. Prats’ exciting artistry and strong orchestral performance combined to make the Symphony of the Americas’ season opener a real winner!

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