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.

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