V-POW! Music Producer Video Pick of the Week

As you might imagine, the music production team at From the Top is constantly reviewing recordings and music videos submitted by outstanding young musicians from across the country. We’re frequently blown away by the performances we see, and thought it might be fun to share some of these videos with you! These V-POW posts will feature videos of incredible young performers we know or just amazing clips we think you might enjoy. Feel free to submit your own ideas for consideration via the comments section!

This submission is from our Music Producer, Tom Vignieri

This amazing YouTube video features guitarist and From the Top alumnus Roberto Granados, who appeared on Show 186 in Lubbock, TX as a 9-year-old. He knocked us all out, not only by putting his classical chops on display, but also by showing us his considerable skills as a rock and flamenco guitarist.

Roberto has since served as a From the Top emissary performing at the 36th Annual Emmy Awards and at an Organizing for America event in Los Angeles where he met President Obama. In May, he’ll be performing Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez” with the California Symphony.

In this video you’ll see why Roberto is so special as he plays an incredible piece with his flamenco guitar teacher, Jason McGuire, at the Verdi Club in San Francisco. They’re performing the duet arrangement of Jason’s Eb Bulerias “Paisaje Jerezano.”

Recent Alum Samantha Hankey Wins Silver Award at YoungArts

Mezzo-soprano Samantha Hankey, who recently appeared on Show #226 in Boston, MA, was a participant in the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts in Miami and was selected to receive their YoungArts Silver Award!

Back in January, Samantha participated in YoungArts Week in Miami. She was one of 150 artists selected from 5,000 applicants of 17 and 18-year-olds in various artistic disciplines. The week included master classes, performances, and arts exhibits.

From the participants, YoungArts chose the top ranked kids to receive Gold and Silver Awards, receiving $10,000 and $5,000 respectively. This year Samantha snagged one of the Silver Awards, and From the Top alums Conrad Tao and Tim Callobre were awarded Gold and Silver, respectively! Conrad will be appearing on an upcoming From the Top show, airing early this summer.

These finalists receive an all-expense paid trip to New York City April 9-16, where they have new opportunities to showcase their talents by performing, taking master classes, and doing outreach in NYC schools. This experience puts them “one step closer to becoming a Presidential Scholar in the Arts, the highest recognition that can be given to an artistically talented graduating high school senior in the United States.”

Samantha will be writing about this experience while in New York City, so check out her blog for more info!

Congratulations, Samantha, Conrad, and Tim!

Show 226: Listening Guide

This week’s From the Top’s broadcast was taped at New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall in Boston, MA on Saturday January 29, 2011. We asked our performers to tell us about the music they performed on the show:

Samuel Katz, 17, violin
Spring Breeze
By: Edward Kalendar

Perhaps the highlight of this piece for me was that I had the opportunity to premiere the sonata 40 years after it was composed. Being the first person to have performed the “Spring Breeze” sonata by Edward Kalendar was a great honor and certainly a memorable experience. Mr. Kalendar received much of his inspiration for this sonata after studying with Aram Khachaturian over forty years ago. The first images or feelings I associated with this sonata were mountainous regions during the spring; in summary, a very warm yet cool and refreshing spring breeze. This was in fact the composer’s intention; it was well portrayed in the music. Another feature I found fascinating about this sonata is that the original themes and motifs are from eastern/oriental descent; however, the structure of the sonata clearly has its roots firmly planted in the western style of writing.

In comparison to other works that I’ve played by Brahms, Bach Mozart, Tchaikovsky, etc., with this piece, I have had the opportunity to collaborate with the composer of the work I am playing. Collaborating with Kalendar has been overall a wonderful experience, both educationally and inspirationally. Mr. Kalendar expresses a very warm and radiant passion for music; he is entirely devoted to music, consumed by it every minute. In addition to being a wonderful classical composer, he is also superb jazz musician. This man has inspired me tremendously with his overwhelming love for music.

Samantha Hankey,18,mezzo soprano
Que fais-tu, blanche tourterelle” from Romeo et Juliette
By: Charles Gounod

When I first heard “Que fasi-tu”, I was so entertained by the humorous, lively music and how hard it was vocally. I enjoy singing this Aria because the character, Stefano, is so naïve and over-the-top that I can really play with many kinds of expression. This piece has definitely pushed me to a new level of character development, and has helped me explore the top of my range because of the flashy ending.

The interesting fact about this piece from Romeo et Juliette is that the character Stefano is not in Shakespeare’s play, but was added into the opera by the librettist! “Que fais-tu” is my first piece that dramatically challenged me in a way different than in all of my other repertoire; acting immature and mocking. These two elements are really important for me to express. When I think that I’m going too far, it’s probably just right for this Aria! One aspect that I both love and hate is the melisma at the end, it’s so hard! The highest note in the piece is a high C, and when I get it right, it’s so rewarding!

Mackenzie Melemed, 15, piano
Sonata No.3 in A minor, Op.28
By: Sergei Prokofiev

Prokofiev’s music connects with me very much. I can understand him through his music and know his feelings and way of life. I love the slow snake-like section after the exposition. Prokofiev brings me much success, good luck composer, love playing his surprisingly “not-as-difficult-as-it seems” sonatas and concerti.

This piece has won me many competitions and helped the furthering of my career. Prokofiev’s music gets me excited to think that other people will understand my/its story, and imagine a plot during my performance. The motifs, themes, and intricacies are fabulous, and I wish to inspire and mesmerize all who listen.

Walnut Hill Sextet
Sextet for Piano and Wind Instruments
By: Francis Poulenc
Michal Zeleny, 18, flute

This piece has a very nice mix of melodic/technical passages. One of my favorite parts of this piece is when the flute/oboe have duets. This happens throughout the piece and at times gets very intense. If I were to imagine a story about this part it would be about a person’s dangerous and arduous journey at some point in his life.

This piece has many challenging technical passages and very strong climaxes, which make ensemble and intonation a key aspect of the piece, which the group has to work on. Personally I love the piece very much. Other pieces seem boring compared to it.

Walnut Hill Sextet
Sam Waring, 17, Oboe

I think the piece has a metropolitan energy to it and I think about that when I play it. I really enjoy the climax of these slow sections; it always sends tingles down my spine

I have performed a lot of woodwind quintets before, but never a woodwind quintet plus piano. The addition of the piano adds a lot of complexity to the piece. I also feel that each part is equal, which is different from many pieces I have played in the past.

Walnut Hill Sextet
Nicholas Davies. 17, clarinet

I find this piece, the Poulenc sextet, to be a truly memorable masterpiece – a work of excitement expressed through chromaticism and dissonance, and yet beautiful and powerful at the same time. While the piece seems more abstract  than having a real “story” or “image”, the piece draws on the basic emotions – amusement and comedy – and transforms them into the more complex – sadness, loss and dying.

This piece, while perhaps simple on the outside, is extremely complex and extremely difficult, both ensemble and balance-wise. The intricate voice-weaving – typical of Poulenc – is very evident here, and to be able to maintain that consistent, steady flow is very hard. Otherwise, when it is perfectly together with the correct musical inflections/interpretations, it really comes to life and makes you feel the whole spectrum of emotions.

Walnut Hill Sextet
David Cornelius, 18, bassoon

My thought about this piece is it’s a unique piece because the piano adds a lot to it. It’s a woodwind quintet plus piano, where the piano has big artistic characteristics in the piece. My favorite part is the bassoon solo. My least favorite part is when it’s over. We preformed this piece at a cartoon festival.
The Poulenc is really out there, but full with excitement compared to other pieces I’ve played, like Mozart or Weber. When I play it I try to get across this French busy city theme; just a lot of busy things going on. The hardest part is probably the beginning.

Walnut Hill Sextet
Natasha Ramanujam, 18, French horn

For me, the opening of the Poulenc Sextet paints a vivid image of a busy Parisan scene where EVERYONE is in a rush to be somewhere. The first third of the piece reflects the chaotic day but once we get into the slow section, the scene dramatically changes and we enter a mysterious crime scene. We spend this section trying to find the answer to the crime and near the end of the section, it seems that we’re just an inch away from the answer but before we know it, day breaks and it’s time to resume life in the city.

Compared to the other chamber works I’ve performed, the Poulenc Sextet is extremely unique in that rarely does one instrument actually complete a full musical phrase. The entire piece is spent passing the melodic line from one to the other, which makes it a lot of fun because we really get to interact with one another while we’re playing but it also makes it quite difficult in terms of coordinating all of the pass-offs.

Walnut Hill Sextet
Hai-Yun Song, 15, piano

I think the piece is a good example of Neo-classical 20th century music and is particularly interesting for its accentuation and exaggeration. This piece is mostly fast and flies by, so I really enjoy the slow section!

The rhythm in this piece is very special and is what keeps the piece going. I have to take control of the rhythm throughout the music, and it is quite difficult. The chords are usually very abnormal and dissonant, and make intonation very difficult.

Behind the Scenes: Blount-Slawson Young Artists Competition

The Blount-Slawson Young Artists Competition is a prestigious annual competition open to students of strings, winds, brass, percussion, and piano, who are in seventh through twelfth grades. This year it took place January 29-30, and at the invitation of Helen Steineker, Executive Director of the Montgomery Symphony Orchestra, From the Top Music Producer Tom Vignieri traveled to Montgomery, Alabama to participate in the judging.

Tom sat on the piano jury with fellow judges Amanda Penick, head of the piano department at the University of Alabama and distinguished recipient of the 2008 MTNA National Teacher of the Year award, and Andrew Mays, winner of the most recent Van Cliburn International Piano Competition for Outstanding Amateurs.

This year’s competition included 75 talented young musicians, 10 of whom moved on to the final round to compete for the $10,000 first prize and a performance with the Montgomery Symphony Orchestra. The winner also receives an invitation to appear on a future From the Top radio broadcast.

Competition results:

1st place – Kelly Talim, violin, age 15 from Buffalo Grove, IL. (Kelly will appear on an upcoming From the Top radio show!)
2nd place – Angela Wee, violin, age 13 from Woodbury, NY.
3rd place – Alexandra Switala, violin, age 17 from Grapevine, TX. (Ali is a From the Top alum!)
4th place – Baron Fenwick, piano, age 16 from Todd, NC.

Attending a national competition is always fun as we invariably see many From the Top friends, family and alums as we did in Montgomery. Congratulations to everyone who competed and we look forward to featuring Kelly on an upcoming episode!

From the Top Segments on “Performance Today”

Great news – as of last week, American Public Media’s “Performance Today” will air selected From the Top segments once a week! Up this week: The Emerald Quartet from Show #218 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Please note that “Performance Today” will air From the Top performances at their discretion, so days and times of our pieces may change week to week.

Arts Leadership in Opelika, AL

From the Top taped a radio show this week in Opelika, AL at The Opelika Center for the Performing Arts. With a wide array of talent and a house filled near-capacity, the taping was a huge success! Our five performers joined us bright and early the morning after the show for our Arts Leadership Orientation, where we explored the number of ways young artists can make a difference using music .

After participating in a silent conversation activity we call “Chalk Talk” (pictured above), our group generated the following definitions for arts leadership:

  1. A healing power; helping people who need music most
  2. Giving opportunities to others to experience the arts
  3. Giving people a chance to hear real music
  4. “Not just about being the best musician; it’s about helping people with your music” (quote from arts leader Ben Werdegar, whose story was an inspiration for our performers).

After naming themselves “The Opelika Stars,” our group filmed a short, fun film to introduce themselves and share their message on arts leadership. Check it out below!

For more information on the show, check out this week’s On the Road with Joanne Robinson. Be sure to tune in the week of March 7th to hear their show when it airs! Broadcast times can be found here.

On the Road with Joanne Robinson: Show #227 Opelika, AL

Pianist Evan Ritter Sometimes when we’re taping a show, the totally unexpected happens, and it was one of those times this past Tuesday when we taped a show in Opelika, Alabama.

We were at the midpoint of our taping when 14-year-old pianist Evan Ritter took to the stage to play the Prokofiev’s fiery Suggestion Diabolique. He was about a third of the way through the piece and had the audience captivated when a strange buzzing noise began to emanate from the piano.

I think everyone expected the worst – that a piano string had broken – but Evan, consummate performer that he is, kept right on playing as the noise grew louder and louder.

Eventually Christopher O’Riley walked over and put his hand on Evan’s shoulder, and producer Tom Voegeli stepped in to stop the show.  To everyone’s relief, it turned out that the piano was totally intact, but a small cable that goes with the laptop Chris uses for his music had fallen into the piano! The offending cable was removed, and Evan began his piece again, playing it through to the end without a hitch. The audience erupted into applause and, in fact, gave all of the day’s performers a standing ovation at the close of the show.

I had my flipcam handy during dress rehearsal, so enjoy this montage of the wonderful performances you’ll hear when the show hits the airwaves the week of March 7th.

Arianna Körting Wins First Prize in Piano Competition

Arianna on From the Top, March 2008

We just heard that From The Top alum Arianna Körting (Show 175 in Boston, MA) snagged First Prize in the first ever David D. Dubois International Piano Competition! 16-year-old Arianna is currently a student of Gerardo Teissonnière in the Preparatory Division of the Cleveland Institute of Music.

The Dubois International Piano Competition was held at Bowling Green State University from February 4-6, 2011.

Nineteen semi-finalists were selected by preliminary auditions to compete for over $3,000 in prizes and awards. The musicians were selected from a pool of international applicants and were judged by five distinguished concert artists including Drs. Laura Melton, Robert Saterlee, Thomas Rosenkranz, Fang Tzu-Liu, from the Piano Faculty at BGSU and Alvin Chow, Associate Professor of Piano and Chairman of the Piano Department at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. The final round of the competition was held at 9:00am Sunday, February 6, 2011 in Kobacker Hall at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.

This year’s semi-finalists included:

Alex Berko, 15, Solon, OH
Ricardo Acosta Murguia, 17, Interlochen, MI (Mexico)
Michael Lenahan, 16, Rossford, OH
Meredith Bixel, 18, Bluffton, OH
Vivian Anderson, 15, Ann Arbor, MI
Brooke Evans, 18, Findlay, OH
Iris Jang, 16, Westerville, OH
Brook Zhang, 16, Gahanna, OH
Arianna Korting, 16, Gates Mills, OH
Amy Fan, 15, Bowling Green, OH
Scott Sherman, 17, W. Bloomfield, MI
Naomi Causby, 16, Columbia, SC
Cathy Li, 16, Sewickley, PA
Miguel Morrissey, 16, Interlochen, MI (Port Charlotte, FL)
Kangling Gu, 15, Troy, MI
Michelle Lui, 18, Interlochen, MI (Hong Kong)
Danni Feng, 17, LaSalle, Ontario, Canada
Michael Tsang, 18, Pittsburg, PA
Heather Shen, 15, Birmingham, MI

Show 225: Listening Guide

From the Top’s Show 225 was taped in the Lincoln Theater Napa Valley in Yountville, CA on Sunday January 23, 2011. We asked our performers to tell us about the music they performed on the show:

Mondo Trio
I. Allegro con brio from Piano Trio No.4 in B-flat major, Op.11
By: Ludwig van Beethoven
Matthew Chow, 14,violin

Overall this piece is energetic and almost comical. For example, the cello’s bouncing 8th note bass line reminds of a bassoonist, huffing and puffing in the Chinese Dance from The Nutcracker Suite. As a group, we always have to remind ourselves to smile more and be more energetic.

This is the first trio that my group performed. As mentioned before, we struggle most to show the energetic side of the piece. Also, we have to emphasize the sudden key changes, which give the piece its “jaggedness,” and were especially surprising back in Beethoven’s lifetime.

Post Show Reflection: This was such an amazing experienced I really encourage any young artists to apply. It’s a once in a lifetime experience. The staff and crew are so amazing and friendly, and you get to see Joanne and Christopher O’Riley in person!

Mondo Trio
I. Allegro con brio from Piano Trio No.4 in B-flat major, Op.11
By: Ludwig van Beethoven
Ila Shon, 13, cello

I love how this piece is so playful and is packed with surprise. My favorite parts are when the melody is “passed” around the trio, from the cello to the violin to the piano. I love the part when the piano and violin are exchanging melodies while the cello has “bouncy eighth notes. It is a lot of fun to play and requires energy.

Beethoven opus II is challenging for many reasons. For example, the piece has several abrupt mood and key changes. These sudden shifts in mood can occur over just a bar and it’s critical to be able to switch characters quickly. The trio has been working on how we can surprise the audience by creating tension before a dramatic shift or by simply exaggerating every mark in the music.

Post Show Reflection: I had a fantastic time performing on From the Top. It was an amazing experience to meet the other kids on the show and to meet everyone who works on From the Top. It was eye-opening to see all that goes into making a show. It was a fabulous experience!

Mondo Trio
I. Allegro con brio from Piano Trio No.4 in B-flat major, Op.11
By: Ludwig van Beethoven
Hanson Tam, 13, piano

This piece is playful and humorous. The music makes me imagine a playground where children are playing, joking, and running around. My favorite part of the music is at the end where Beethoven fakes an ending and keeps on writing another two lines of music. The coda is amusing and captures the audience’s attention.

The sudden mood changes and surprises are the most important to go for and get across in this piece. There are many instances where there is a quick switch from lyrical to playful, intense to calm, or loud to soft. I think the hardest things to nail in this piece are the key changes. One such spot is where F major immediately switches to Db Major at the development. These completely unexpected key changes are shocking to the audience and important to bring out.

Post Show Reflection:  It was an amazing experience performing on From the Top. I enjoyed every moment and loved working with Christopher O’Riley and the rest of the crew.

Marie Kelly, 12, piano,
No. 2, 4, and 6 from Six Dances in Bulgarian Rhythm
By: Bela Bartok

These Dances, to me, evoke the color green. Not grass-green; a thin, cold sea-green. Perhaps it is because of a little game I played once when I went with my family to an elegant restaurant. I decided to match each course to the composer I thought it “tasted” like. When the cucumber sorbet arrived (which was green and cold), I thought it went best with Bartok.

The Bartok Dances are unlike any piece I’ve ever played. It is very rhythmic and detailed. It’s not like Chopin, where you can pour an entire world of emotion into a single nocturne; or world of virtuosity into a ballade. The Bartok has dynamics and feeling, too; but they must be expressed in a meticulous, refined way. Sometimes, the little subtleties make all the difference.

Post Show Reflection: Working with Christopher O’Riley was an amazing experience. He’s so funny and genuine. Working with Johana and both Toms (Tom Voegli and Tom Vigneri) was also really fun. The FTT staff is so friendly and relaxed.  Performing on From the Top was very gratifying, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to have appeared on the show.

Perry Choi, 17, clarinet
Adagio from Concerto in A major, K. 622
By: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

No piece conveys a balance among pain, beauty, and playfulness better  than Mozart’s Adagio for clarinet. When performing this masterpiece, I look  back on memorable experiences, feel how past emotions have impacted me,  appreciate these changes, and after playing the final notes, return to the  present. It’s as if the sun rises in the beginning of the piece to begin my  reminiscence and sets to signal my exit from this reconfigured setting. My  favorite section of this piece is undoubtedly the climax  of the second motif, during which the orchestra reiterates what the clarinet has  just stated. This section never fails to send shivers down my spine with its  unparalleled beauty. My least favorite parts are definitely both the  beginning and end of the piece: the scariest thing about this piece is  starting it, but once I get into it I never want it to end.

Musically, the key idea is phrasing; more specifically, the performer  needs to make long, overarching phrases that smoothly transition to  subsequent musical ideas. Technically, this is achieved through extreme control  of breath and air velocity and quick yet gentle finger transitions, two  skills that make this piece difficult to nail. The scariest moment for me is the very first couple of measures, but more specifically, the attack of the opening note. To nail this single note, which may not seem very important to most, is of utmost importance and ultimately satisfying if done correctly. All in all, this piece demands absolute concentration from the performer, and if this effort is given, the performance is truly magical.

Post Show Reflection: Performing this awe-inspiring piece on From the Top was an experience like no other. With such an inviting environment, it was impossible to not have an amazing time: the audience, staff, and performers all made the event truly unforgettable. Additionally, performing with Mr. O’Riley was such as honor, for his help really brought the piece to life. Nothing would satisfy me more than playing with him again in the future.

Alisa Jordheim, 24, soprano
“It Ceased to Hurt Me”, I Shall Not Murmur”, and “I Like to See It Lap the Miles” from The White Election, Part Three: Almost Peace
By: Gordon Getty

I have not had too much time to live with these three selected songs from Getty’s The White Election, but I was immediately drawn to them after listening. They sound and appear to be simple, but once studied and sung, they are quite complex with motive relationships, rich harmonies, and great attention given to the text. The first one, “It Ceased to Hurt Me,” is in recitative style with luminous, almost ambiguous, rolled chords that reflect the pensive, thoughtful, and troubled tone of Dickinson’s poem (so many of her poems evoke such a tone). The second, “I Shall Not Murmur,” is lyrical and contains the motive (an intervallic leap of a 6th) presented in “It Ceased to Hurt Me,” which reveals a relationship between the two songs. The last song, “I Like to See It Lap the Miles,” is quick and cheerful, beautifully depicting the youthful and joyful nature of Dickinson’s text. This trio of songs is poignant, lovely, and great fun- I’m so glad to have been introduced to them and to be singing them!

Emily Dickinson’s poems have been set to music countless times, but Getty clearly and deeply understands the texts he chose to set. The recitative style of “It Ceased to Hurt Me,” and the detailed tempo/dynamic descriptions he includes are informed and appropriate, and the same is true with the other songs. These songs are challenging in that they are vocally exposed, more difficult that they seem upon first hearing (akin to Dickinson’s poems upon first reading!), and Dickinson’s texts are always filled with nuance, deeper meaning than what appears on the surface, and inner struggle. Getty’s music is clearly married to Dickinson’s texts, which makes the singer’s life easier; however, both the musical language and the written language are sophisticated and detailed… which make the preparation process longer and more difficult. But, I believe that a good piece of music requires such a process and makes the performers and audience think, feel, and be moved

Nikita Haduang, 15, violin
III. Presto in moto perpetuo from Concerto Op. 14
By: Samuel Barber

This piece reminds me of a tempestuous river/brook. Since it is a moto perpetuo, all of the running notes are the different ways water dances and flows. The different colors, originating from the harmonies and intervals, and played darkly, excitedly, teasingly, etc., are all parts of the same river that change, making the river tempestuous and almost unpredictable.

This piece is the first modern piece I’ve ever formally worked on, so it was a new experience to work with “modern” harmonies. These harmonies are quite different from what I’m used to. It is also one of the most difficult pieces that I have ever tried to put together, ensemble-wise. The coordination between soloist and accompanist is tremendously difficult, so I had to work together a lot just to organize everything and make sure everything is perfectly coordinated.

Post Show Reflection: Working with Christopher O’Riley was an interesting experience. It was an introduction into the “adult” world, and I learned a lot about the differences between the two worlds: adult-public, and amateur-student.

Summer Internships at From the Top

It’s never too early to start thinking about summer, right? From the Top has just posted three summer 2011 internship positions for our Boston office!

We’re looking for a Marketing & Communications Intern, a Production Assistant, and a Database Assistant. These internships are unpaid. More information and how to apply is available on our Careers page.

Please help us spread the word, especially to any young musicians you know in the Boston area!

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