Conrad Tao is for real.
The 17-year-old American pianist, whose star has only grown brighter in the 15 months since he bowled over the Abravanel Hall crowd as a last-minute substitute for Horacio Gutiérrez in Rachmaninoff's Paganini Rhapsody, showed that his return invitation was well-earned. His bravura performance of another crowd-pleasing warhorse, Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1, elicited a rowdy ovation from the near-sellout house on Friday.
Not only did Tao demonstrate prodigious technique and a decisive attack in the "go big or go home" outer movements of the concerto, he showed reflective musicianship in the slow movement. The crowd wasn't about to let him go without an encore, and the personable teen obliged with a dazzling performance of Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6.