Christopher Taylor, piano
The New York Times
May 2013 "a dazzlingly virtuosic and thoughtful musician"
The New York Times December 2012 "a powerful interpretation", "dazzling",
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, December 2012 "a stunning performance"
Birmingham News, January 2012 "an insightful program coupled with
Chicago Tribune, April 2011
Capital Times, April 2011
Well Tempered Ear, April 2011
Voice North Carolina, March 2011
Observer, March 2011
Los Angeles Times, July, 2010
The New York Times,
March, 2010 with Argento Chamber Ensemble
The New York Times, February, 2010 with Orpheus Chamber Orchestra
Nuvo.net, October, 2009 Chamber Music Review with Ying Quartet
IndyStar.com, October, 2009 Chamber Music Review with
Times, September, 2008 Preview of Goldberg Variations
Classical Voice of
North Carolina, April, 2008 Review of Taylor with Ying Quartet
April, 2008, Taylor with Colorado Symphony
Classical Voice San Francisco, January, 2008 Review of Messiaen
Washington Post, October, 2007, Taylor with violinist Robert McDuffie
Los Angeles Times
July 11, 2008
…after two hours at the keyboard,
Taylor had become a wild man in the thrall of a great vision, seemingly
possessed of superhuman powers. Clearly forces beyond the normal were at
San Francisco Classical Voice
Jason Victor Serinus
Posted January 27. 2008
It is doubtful that many of us who
heard Taylor’s transcendent traversal of Messiaen’s Vingt Regards sur
l’Enfant-Jésus for Cal Performances can imagine another pianist making
an equal impact in such challenging music...
Le Temps (Geneva)
July 25, 2006
Christopher Taylor sometimes gave
proof of a snarling and impassioned rage, of an engagement rendered
possible by a faultless technique. But he also knew how to illustrate,
with ample breathing, the most enigmatic portions (as in Regard du
temps) those that bestow upon this mystical work an aura of
August 29, 2003
In the end this was an evening
devoted to the exploration of limits. Most apparent were the almost
superhuman control, coordination and concentration of the performer.
Also tested were the infinite color, dynamic, and textural possibilities
of the grand piano.
The New York Times
February 6, 2001
You have to have intelligence to be
a concert pianist. But the depth of Christopher Taylor's intelligence is
The Boston Globe
October 22, 2002
… It was wonderful to hear Taylor
play with the inwardness, simplicity, and tenderness that he brought to
the quieter movements and moments. In his still-developing combination
of intellect, adventurousness, brawn, and open feeling, he has emerged
as the leading American pianist of his generation.
By Richard Dyer, Boston Globe, 4/4/2003
Piano man: This has been a great season for pianists, and we
haven't heard Dubravka Tomsic, Murray Perahia, or Robert Levin yet. Still,
the blazing performance of Messiaen's ''Vingt regards sur l'enfant Jesus''
by Christopher Taylor in the Gardner Museum is likely to stand as a point
of reference for many seasons to come.
Taylor's latest CD has just appeared, another colossus of the repertory,
Liszt's ''Transcendental Etudes'' on a new Denver label called Liszt
Digital. Taylor devours these pieces but he also savors them; as in the
Messiaen, Taylor is as attentive to detail as he is to sweep. If he gives
''Mazeppa'' a wild ride, he is also sensitive in ''Paysage'' and ''Ricordanza.''
No pianist of past or present can claim to be uniformly effective in all
twelve of these pieces; ''Feux Follets'' (''Fireflies'') lacks lightness
and flicker. But there is genuine exaltation in Taylor's delivery of
''Harmonies du soir.'' The recorded sound is spectacular, and there is an
endearing photo in the booklet of Taylor toweling off after his superhuman
effort in the recording sessions. You can order the compact disc for $16
(plus $1.60 for postage and handling) from www.lisztdigital.com
February 20, 2004
Christopher Taylor's Enthusiastic 'Vingt Regards'
By Tim Page
Washington Post Staff Writer
[Taylor's 2004 Kennedy Center appearance on the Fortas Chamber Music
"...a fervent and almost orchestral performance...To perform "Vingt
regards" is no easy feat; it's a monumental, two-hour work in which
stellar technique and herculean stamina are but the bare minimum
requirements for its 20 pieces...Of the set, No. 9 "Regard du Temps" had
the most distinctive orchestral sounds: A reverberating bass sounded like
timpani; a clear-cut chordal middle range sounded like a full brass
section; an icy flourish of notes in the upper octaves sounded like bells
and harp. Achieving a reedy sound in No. 18 "De l'Onction Terrible,"
Taylor attained a majestic fortissimo that sounded like an orchestra in
full swell...In the second half, Taylor focused on rhythmic intricacies
and melodic permutations. It conveyed a sense of unrelenting urgency that
seemed to propel the latter 10 pieces toward the recital's conclusion.
Along the way, Taylor's colors dispelled the progression of time.
Iridescent trills in the nocturne-like No. 15 "Le Baiser de l'Enfant
Jesus" created an ageless beauty...an impressive end to an incredibly
February 6, 2001
Christopher Taylor: Summa Cum Laude in Math, With a Taste for Messiaen
By Anthony Tommasini
You have to have intelligence to be a concert pianist. But the depth of
Christopher Taylor's intelligence is intimidating. Before a rapt audience
at the Miller Theater on Saturday night, Mr. Taylor, a lanky 31-year-old
pianist who graduated summa cum laude in mathematics from Harvard, gave an
astonishing performance of Messiaen's complete "Vingt Regards sur
l'Enfant-Jésus," more than two hours of some of the most complex and
difficult music ever written for the piano. And he played the 176-page
score from memory.
Though this 1944 work is a landmark of 20th-century music, for Messiaen, a
devout Catholic and profoundly spiritual thinker, it was a deeply personal
statement of faith: 20 "regards," which translates as looks or views, as
in contemplations, on the infant Jesus. The music draws from all elements
of Messiaen's language: modal harmonies, cluster chords thick with tart
dissonance, metrically complex meters based on Hindu and Greek rhythms,
chantlike melodies and skittish bird calls. The moods veer between states
of meditative stillness and ecstatic exuberance.
Messiaen did not necessarily intend for the work to be performed complete.
Peter Serkin famously did so, from memory, on a 25-stop concert tour in
1974-75 after four years of intensive study. To put Mr. Taylor's brain
power in context, less than a year ago he had learned only a few of these
20 pieces; and just weeks ago he told an interviewer he was still
memorizing the work.
But judging from his brilliant performance, he has absorbed this music in
record time. He is not the most sensual or poetic pianist, nor is he
primarily a colorist. His fingers are like search-and-destroy units
zapping the keys, working at the behest of his probing mind and keen
imagination. Still, there was fancy, beauty, tenderness and white-hot
energy in his playing.
Absorbing the music is not the same thing as living with it. He was at his
best in the exuberant pieces, like the "View of the Spirit of Joy," with
its crazed rush of lines, bouts of entangled counterpoint and volleys of
thick repeated chords. He was less at ease in the ruminative near-timeless
pieces, like the first, the "View of the Father," though he achieved a
state of blissful peace in "The Child Jesus' Kiss."
Still, his performance was a highlight of the season and already
represents an astonishing achievement. And it should only grow deeper as
Mr. Taylor lives with the music in the future. That is, unless his
restless brain has already moved on to something else.
The New York Times ran a feature article about
pianist Christopher Taylor recently, during a run of engagements he gave
in New York in February (2001). Here's what Times reporter Kathryn
Shattuck had to say about this remarkable young artist:
Christopher Taylor: Seeking Adventure for Fingers and Mind
By Kathryn Shattuck
Those who know the pianist Christopher Taylor tend to speak of him in the
hushed, reverent tones typically reserved for natural wonders if not the
otherworldly. Colleagues trip over words like "innocence," "fervor,"
"beauty" and "vision" in an attempt to capture his elusive personality.
Critics praise his virtuosity, his cerebral interpretations tempered by an
aching tenderness, his unconventional programming and his advocacy of
Mr. Taylor's bold individuality may never have been more evident than at
the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in 1993, where he took the
bronze medal, becoming the first American to place in the event since
1981. In a year when Rachmaninoff dominated the concerto round, Mr. Taylor
bucked the trend with renditions of the Brahms B flat and the Bach D
minor. He saved his Rachmaninoff, an "Étude-Tableau," for an encore. Mr.
Taylor " Kit to his friends " has always had a mind of his own.
"I have described Kit as a kind of Parsifal with a computer mind, with a
tremendous innocence in what he projects in music and a fervent belief and
devotion that shows in certain works with tremendous conviction," said the
pianist Russell Sherman, with whom Mr. Taylor studied on and off for a
decade. "He is one of those strange genius types but very well balanced.
The basic package is powerful."
The cellist Fred Sherry, who hired Mr. Taylor for the current festival "A
Great Day in New York," said: "When you talk to him, you feel that things
are percolating inside his head, but when he plays, that all goes away and
his attention is totally focused. Whatever he brings to bear goes into the
On a recent afternoon, Mr. Taylor sat before a Steinway in the Rose Studio
at Lincoln Center, where he would later rehearse for his "Great Day"
performances, which end on Tuesday evening at Alice Tully Hall with Tobias
Picker's "Invisible Lilacs," featuring the violinist Robert McDuffie. But
with time to spare, Mr. Taylor was trying to make peace with Messiaen's "Vingt
Regards sur l'Enfant-Jésus" ("Twenty Gazes on the Child Jesus"), which he
will perform in its two-hour entirety in the Miller Theater at Columbia
University on Saturday evening.
"I like to describe the work as a kind of great odyssey," said Mr. Taylor,
more than 6 feet tall and elegant, with a maturity and a formal diction
that belie his 31 years "It is a sort of intellectual exercise, and it can
be hard to pull off."
"The stereotype is that 20th-century music is hard music, like a `Wozzeck'
or a `Lulu,' something like horror-movie music. But the Messiaen is
wholesome and joyful and outgoing and optimistic and celebratory music.
Sometimes Messiaen acts a little icy and mathematical, to use the term in
its pejorative sense, but there are various motifs: the theme of God, the
theme of joy, the theme of love. It requires an audience ready for a big
Composed in occupied France for the composer's pupil (and later his wife),
Yvonne Loriod, who recorded it, "Vingt Regards" is thorny and expansive,
with impenetrable rhythms, crashing dissonances and "rainbow" sonorities
countered by strong, simple melodies. Requiring a furious technique, it
rests at the apex of 20th-century piano music and poses great difficulties
even for highly accomplished pianists.
"All that is required from the performer is everything," Paul Griffiths
wrote in The New York Times last month, when a Norwegian pianist, Hakon
Austbo, took up the challenge, "including, in particular, enormous
resources of range (in texture, color, touch, force), of concentration and
Mr. Sherman suggests that "Vingt Regards" was designed for a pianist like
Mr. Taylor: "It has tremendous devotional tenderness, and the work is
really meant for him in a way because of that emotional center. Some of
the pieces are technically complex, very busy, powerful. Kit negotiates
the keyboard " I wouldn't say with remarkable grace; he is not a leggiero
pianist " so accurately, so precisely and so targeted and so directed to
his goal that it is frightening and wonderful."
Indeed, for Mr. Taylor, some of the work's allure seems to lie in its
difficulty. He begins playing a segment " singing, moaning, his expression
rapidly shifting between pain and euphoria " then stops to interpret, to
explain: the refrain based on primary numbers; the rhythms that unfold,
like wings, then wrap back onto themselves; the notation, with its
virtually indecipherable clusters, which only a mathematician could fully
Mr. Taylor was born in Boulder, Colo., to a physicist and a high school
English teacher, who enthusiastically encouraged their 7- year-old son's
dream to learn the Beethoven piano sonatas.
"I was very eager to get started," Mr. Taylor said, recalling how he would
compare his father's scores of Beethoven symphonies with recordings "to
see how notes and music lined up."
A year later, he entered the studio of Julie Bees, then a doctoral student
at the University of Colorado, armed with the first movement of the
"He had an intense passion for the music at the very beginning," said Ms.
Bees, now an associate professor at Wichita State University. "And he had
a penetrating intellect for an 8-year-old, asking questions like `What
does this "l'istesso tempo" refer to,' questions that you hope you'll
never meet on your doctoral exam. It was scary."
She diverted his Beethoven ambitions for a time, but Mr. Taylor never
forgot them, arriving at each lesson with his volume of sonatas on top of
the pile, "just to remind me what his goal was," Ms. Bees said.
AT 10, he gave his first formal recital and performed one of his own
works, "Thunderstorm," for a convention of music teachers. He also
developed a taste for the rags of Scott Joplin and began composing his
own. He sent his works to the composer William Bolcom, himself a rag
lover, who sent back a letter of encouragement.
"Kit's pieces I remember as being very fresh and fun, and then I found out
he was just a kid," Mr. Bolcom said. Later, Mr. Taylor took to playing
Joplin rags as encores. And last summer, he recorded Mr. Bolcom's Pulitzer
Prize-winning "12 New Études" for future release, in an interpretation the
composer has called "wonderful."
By 13, Mr. Taylor had won his division in a national competition for young
pianists. But his aspirations were not limited to music, and as his senior
year of high school approached, he and his father embarked on a search for
a college at which his predilection for mathematics could be honed as
He settled on Harvard, he said, largely because he wanted to study on the
side with Mr. Sherman, himself an iconoclastic interpreter.
"Kit was exceptional in my mind," Mr. Sherman said of their first meeting.
"He showed up with an English twang to him" " Mr. Taylor's father is
English " "an Eton collar and with a slight reserve, and he played one of
those Messiaen works. He was very convincing, very powerful, very
"I teach a small class, and generally there is a lot of pondering as to
whom to enroll. With Kit, it was unmistakable, and I told his father, `If
you want to come to Boston and have him study with me, I will accept him
on the spot.' That's how convincing an impression he made."
If there was a moment when Mr. Taylor felt he had arrived " and he
hesitates to pinpoint one " it may have been the summer of 1990, when he
was among the first four recipients of the Gilmore Young Artist Award, a
scholarship for promising American pianists. Soon thereafter, he took
first prize in the William Kapell International Piano Competition at the
University of Maryland, where he met the woman who was to become his wife,
Denise Pilmer, who holds a doctorate in musicology. They have a
10-month-old daughter, Ellie.
After the Kapell victory, Mr. Taylor set about getting his feet wet,
touring in cities as disparate as Knoxville, Tenn., and New York, and
learning to adjust to a variety of pianos and audiences.
In 1992, after graduating from Harvard summa cum laude in mathematics, he
studied in London for a year with Maria Curcio Diamond. By now, it was
apparent that he would be competing in the Cliburn, and he turned his
attention to repertory. In June 1993, he flew to Forth Worth bearing the
sort of idiosyncratic fare that was soon to become his trademark: the 10th
segment of the Messiaen, Bach's "Goldberg" Variations, Beethoven's Opus
111 Sonata and Boulez's Second Sonata, a work that he describes as "very
uncompromising, fiercely complex" and that took him a year to learn.
"I went in with zero expectations, and I was pleased with the outcome," he
said of the competition and of winning the bronze medal.
Unlike some Cliburn finalists, who immediately dropped off the map, Mr.
Taylor has made headway with his career. In 1996, he earned an Avery
Fisher Career Grant, and last year he won an award from the American
Pianists Association. He performs more than 25 concerts a season, he said,
just enough to keep him established on the concert circuit while teaching
at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, in a position to which he was
appointed last year.
"You make choices in your career, and teaching is something I believe
every well- rounded person in the arts should do," he said. "Performing
more than 100 concerts a year is not my idea of success."
In his spare time, he reads mathematics textbooks ("a sort of Mount
Everest achievement would be to understand the proof of Fermat's last
theorem," he said) and programs computers. And with the philosopher Daniel
Dennett, he has written a paper on free will, to be published by Oxford
University Press this year.
Still, Mr. Sherman likes to recall the time he emphatically asked Mr.
Taylor why, after graduating from Harvard, placing at the Cliburn and
earning a master's from the New England Conservatory, he would spend the
next year and a half at the conservatory, pursuing a doctorate in piano
performance (a pursuit he put on hold, just a semester shy of his degree,
to take up the position in Wisconsin).
The reply, Mr. Sherman reports, was delivered in dead earnest: "Because I
don't want to spend the rest of my life being introduced with my wife as
Dr. and Mr. Taylor."
Kathryn Shattuck, a news assistant at The New York Times, writes about
Christopher Taylor homepage