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Photo courtesy of Vanessa Briceno-Scherzer

Conrad Tao has played piano since age four and performs across the country.

Conrad Tao, CC '15 is a pianist, composer, and violinist who has been performing since the age of four. Now, as a 17-year-old Columbia-Juilliard exchange student, he is tied with Justin Bieber as the youngest person on Forbes Magazine's top "30 Under 30" music list­—alongside Lady Gaga and Lil Wayne. It isn't hard to see why. Tao has performed as a soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Russian National Orchestra, and the first piano concerto he wrote premiered in 2007. Earlier this month, he performed with the Utah Symphony and the White House Commission named him a U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts. Tao will be on tour this entire semester, beginning this week, when he will be performing Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Saint-Saëns' Second Piano Concerto with the Symphony of the Americas, and Beethoven's Waldstein Sonata in California. Needless to say, Tao does not have an average college student's life. Often, he said, juggling his schoolwork and performing career can be "incredibly frustrating," especially since he does most of his schoolwork on the road. Having completed his high school studies entirely through independent study without tutors or teachers, Tao said that he is quite used to getting by on his own. But Tao maintains that getting a well-rounded education is incredibly important for him as a musician. "I do see myself continuing to have a career as a performer after college," he said. "However, the people I have met at Columbia and the intellectual stimulation I have found in the conversations I have had with people have made me a much better musician." Rather than take the typical route of most aspiring classical performers, who often attend a conservatory for their undergraduate education in order to focus solely on music, Tao said that he wanted to do more. "I had already been at Juilliard for nine years [when I was applying to college], so staying there without doing something else would have felt limiting to me," he said. "However, I also didn't want to leave. The Columbia-Juilliard program is basically unrivaled as joint programs go, so it seemed like the perfect fit." "Ultimately, it's been a great experience," he added. Though Tao is still hasn't chosen a major, he is leaning towards one in humanities, perhaps sociology, he said. For Tao, being a part of the Columbia community has become an important part of his life, even when he's across the country in a packed concert hall. "I don't feel so much like I'm leaving all the time, although it is sometimes difficult to be constantly away," Tao said. "I've made wonderful friends here."

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