Pianist Adrian Liao performs for seniors

Liao was intensely focused as she played, though she acknowledged memory slips do happen. Photos by James Kinneen

By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporter

On Wednesday afternoon, the New England Conservatory and Needham Council on Aging presented the piano stylings of junior student Adrian Liao to the seniors of the Tolles Parsons Center. Playing three pieces from Joseph Haydn, Franz Liszt and Robert Schumann, Liao wowed the audience before fielding question about her education, future plans, and why she chose the pieces she did.

Liao and her teacher worked together to choose her repertoire, with Liao declaring that she felt the choices really suited her. She led with Haydn’s “Piano Sonata No 33 in C Minor Hob. XVI:20,” moved to Liszts’ “Paganini Etude No. 2 in E Flat major” and finished with “Fantasiestucke Op. 12.”

So, while Liao’s talent was undeniable, there weren’t many people in the audience humming along to the tune.

Liao fields a question about her summer plans. Photos by James Kinneen

Liao fields a question about her summer plans. Photos by James Kinneen

To make the works more accessible, Liao would often give the crowd insight into what she imagines when she thinks of the pieces. For example, for one of Schumann’s works, she noted that the piece made her think of a man sitting at a fire during a storm and writing a letter, while a different piece reminded her of a frightened cat.

Grace Allendorf, who runs the program for the Conservatory, explained that about one third of the students at the school participate in the program that allows them to perform for crowds throughout the Boston area.

“We usually do anywhere from three to five events here every academic year,” explained Allendorf. “All the people that are coming are involved in our community performance and partnership program, so about a third of our school comes through the department every year. They apply to be a part of our fellowship programs that we offer, so they go out and are doing this usually about two to four times a year at a variety of settings in the greater Boston area.”

Liao, who has been playing since age six, felt the program was a good opportunity to branch out and play for people that maybe wouldn’t get a chance to hear this type of music otherwise. “I think as musicians, especially as a pianist, we’re very soloistic and we get holed up by ourselves in our practicing,” she said. “But with this program, we get to branch out a little and see more of the community that’s outside of the small musical niche. I think it’s … the most rewarding thing of all, more so than playing in a big concert hall or something like that - I just love playing for them and meeting them.”

When it was time for Liao to answer questions, she noted that the Tolles Parsons Center may have been an unorthodox locale for her to play, but it provided a unique atmosphere that she enjoyed. “Playing in smaller, intimate settings gives me a lot of joy. I could feel the energy coming from you guys.”

The last audience question of the day was how often she practiced.

“Not enough” she quickly responded, which gained a good chuckle from the crowd. “I try to do three or four hours a day, but it doesn’t always happen.”

The audience at the Tolles Parsons Center had only one response to this honest admission: “Could’ve fooled us.”

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