Orchestral musicians tend to be a serious bunch when on stage.
A sea of applause may splash down upon them after an inspiring performance from an enthralled audience, but oftentimes they'll receive it without cracking much of a smile. And that's OK, given the solemn greatness of their playing subject matter, the restrictive black-and-white nature of their concert attire and the standard decorum of the high-class hall.
But when Conrad Tao played his evening encore Thursday night, I couldn't help but notice more smiles than usual within the Pacific Symphony. There was quiet elation, perhaps fascination, with the 16-year-old Chinese American piano prodigy — who was a last-minute but welcome substitute for Yuja Wang, who cancelled her appearances the week before due to illness — as he performed Liszt's "Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6."
The pros looked center stage at Tao at the Steinway with faces reminiscent of proud grandparents at their grandson's recital or an ecstatic uncle at his niece's play. I suppose that made sense, considering the gifted pianist's relative youth and succinct "Hello, everybody. I'm not Yuja Wang" pre-encore introduction.