Conrad Tao
Conrad Tao | Credit: Brantley Gutierrez

The Laguna Beach Music Festival hasn’t had to skip a year. 2020’s concerts were in February — the tail end of live performances before the pandemic. The 2021 festival picks up this week — part of the “back to normal” classical music is experiencing this month.

A bit is different this year: instead of venues around Laguna Beach, the 19th annual festival — presented by the Philharmonic Society of Orange County and Laguna Beach Live! — will stick to one space, the Irvine Barclay Theatre. And for audiences not quite ready to go in person, the Philharmonic Society is offering a livestream option — how the organization has presented its season up until now.

But a lot is reassuringly the same. The Laguna Beach Music Festival signature, a different artistic director each year, passes to pianist Conrad Tao in 2021. And Tao is bringing a musical vision both ambitious and adapted to the moment, which makes these performances worth going to.

Tao curates and plays three concerts, May 13, 15, and 16. Opening night is “Counterpoint,” which pairs solo piano works with tap dance performed by choreographer Caleb Teicher. Saturday brings in more collaborators — brass quartet The Westerlies, the JACK Quartet, and violinist Stefan Jackiw — for a program of “Americans” from Charles Ives to Woody Guthrie. And the final concert, “Chromatic Fantasias,” takes Bach as a starting and ending point, with detours to Brahms, Elliott Carter, and Tao’s own music on the way.

Tao previews the programs with a “Festival Prelude” event on May 12. Orange County audiences might already have a sense of the pianist’s style; Tao played a virtual recital for the Philharmonic Society in February, and he was in person a couple years earlier, a featured artist at the 2019 Laguna Beach Music Festival, with Joyce Yang as artistic director.

Find in-person tickets for the 2021 Laguna Beach Music Festival on the Irvine Barclay Theatre’s website, along with the venue’s Covid protocols. Livestream tickets are available from the Philharmonic Society of Orange County here.