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The Vulnerable Age

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That was not the Tao family way. “I couldn’t see why we would want to put his music above everything else in the family,” Ting says. “If we had had to give up so much, I would have said no.” At 13, Tao had evidently embraced the family ethos of discipline, accomplishment, and education, but I didn’t detect toxic levels of competitiveness. Ting had a “soft” strategy for getting him to practice, suggesting when his efforts waned that he might be losing interest in the piano. “So I put in extra hours of work, just to prove that I did want to do this,” Tao recalls now. Solomon sees that pressure as judicious. “My impression was that Conrad’s mother wants him to be a great success because she thinks he would enjoy it, not because her self-image depends on it.”

Living on campus—even if it’s a 30-­second walk from home—has given him access to the one source of inspiration that his childhood lacked: a varied social life. “Being around people has had an impact,” he says. All those messy passions that swirl around a college dorm can be artistically useful. “A few years ago, I would have resented anyone who said that aspects of my playing didn’t seem mature,” Tao says. “That’s a lazy way of dismissing somebody because of their age. But it doesn’t hurt to have some firsthand experience with certain emotions.”


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