Soft Rains, Big Sounds

On a cool, crisp November day last fall, as the leaves completed their yearly makeover of the New England hills, painting them in swaths of red and orange, a rainstorm was brewing INSIDE of Boston’s Symphony Hall.

Some of the area’s best musicians had gathered on stage of the historic music venue along with From the Top’s Music Director Tom Vignieri to record a very special piece of music. Tom’s hauntingly beautiful piece “There Will Come Soft Rains” was commissioned by the Columbus Children’s Choir and by Deborah Price and the Chamber Music Connection – a music program in Ohio that has had many performers featured on our NPR show.

“There Will Come Soft Rains” was written using the text of Sara Teasdale’s poem (by the same name and written during World War I) about nature reclaiming a world devastated by war. In the video below, you can see many From the Top alumni and staff members, and hear them create a rainstorm with their voices and instruments. Enjoy!

 

From the Top Staff
Michael Dahlberg, cello
Shea Mavros, soprano
Erin Nolan, viola
Wendy Perrotta, soprano
Claire Shepro, alto

From the Top Alumni
Claire Bourg, violin
Jonah Ellsworth, cello
Brian Hong, violin
Anna Lee, violin
Laura Liu, violin
Taeguk Mun, cello
Clayton Penrose-Whitmore, violin
Haruno Sato, violin
Amelia Sie, violin
Kiyoe Wellington, double bass

What Would Beethoven Do?

We would like to think that if Beethoven arrived in the 21st century, hearing magically restored, he would see the performers on From the Top as a sign of the invigorated future for classical music, full of passion, humor, and music that defies labels. He’d see the music schools and programs that we visit around the country as we do, as pockets of concentrated energy surrounding classical music. For example, on our recent trip to the Aspen Music Festival and School, where hundreds of young musicians gather to learn and perform the music that they love so dearly, we imagined Beethoven strolling along past the quaint wooden practice rooms listening to the strains of piano, flute, violin and more filling the fresh mountain air. I have a hard time imagining in that setting that anyone would be concerned for the future of classical music.

Enter Here Comes Treble Productions, a documentary film crew that believes that there are many individuals and organizations out there doing great things to propel classical music forward. Their film, What Would Beethoven Do? shares the stories of people like Benjamin Zander, who is building the next generation of classical musicians in the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra; Eric Whitacre, who is bringing classical music into the digital age with his Virtual Youth Choir; Bobby McFerrin, who is challenging audiences with performances filled with fun and humor; and many more people who are doing amazing things with classical music.

The film so closely relates to what From the Top is interested in that we had to see what these guys were all about. They followed us around on our taping in Aspen and talked with some of the performers on our show, as well as our host, Christopher O’Riley, who is at the forefront of bringing classical music to new audiences. Here’s hoping we might help make the film that much better!

Check out their trailer below and let us know what you think Beethoven would do in the 21st century!

What Would Beethoven Do? | New Documentary Teaser from What Would Beethoven Do on Vimeo.

Meet the Artist: Gregorio Lopes

quoteprofileNAME: Gregorio Lopes
AGE: 18
HOMETOWN: Bloomington, Indiana
INSTRUMENT: Violin and viola
PERFORMED ON: Show 283

“My favorite part about playing music has come to be its healing quality,” says 18-year-old violinist/violist Gregorio Lopes. When his ensemble, the Violin Virtuosi, traveled to Brazil, Gregorio remembers playing for children who lived in shanty towns and being struck by how they responded to music. “Their faces lit up when we played,” he recalls. “It was just magical.” He felt a similar sense of connection and inspiration playing for children in the Bronx and for the elderly in senior living facilities. “It’s amazing to see the power music has,” he says.

From personal experience, Gregorio knows just how strong the healing power of music can be. When his parents were going through a messy divorce, music became a welcome respite from the pain he was experiencing. “I fled to my violin during those hard days,” he recalls. “Music was one of the things that was still a constant. It was my way of finding peace.”

Gregorio’s musical life began at the age of 5 when he met the most famous resident of his hometown, the great violinist Joshua Bell. The circumstances were rather unusual; Gregorio and his sister were waiting for their mother to finish a therapy appointment, and into the waiting room strolled the psychologist’s son, who was none other than Joshua Bell. Gregorio recognized the hometown superstar immediately. “He talked with me and was so nice, and I was just taken with him,” he remembers. “From that very moment I decided I wanted to play violin just like him.”

See Gregorio playing with the Violin Virtuosi

See Gregorio playing with the Violin Virtuosi

These days, Gregorio spends much of his time playing music with the Violin Virtuosi, a small group of dedicated string players from the Pre-College String Academy at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music. With them, he has performed all around the United States as well as in Argentina, Brazil, Denmark, and Sweden.

As important as music is, academics hold an equally important place in Gregorio’s life. He enjoys challenging himself in school and is drawn to math, psychology, and aeronautics. Next year, he will head to Stanford University where he plans to study engineering. “It was a very difficult choice to decide not to devote myself entirely music,” he explains, “but I have so many other interests I also want to explore.”

Still, music will remain an important part of Gregorio’s life. Thanks to From the Top’s $10,000 Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Award, Gregorio will soon be the proud owner of a new viola ­– the first instrument he has ever had the opportunity to own.


Gregorio performed on Show 283 at New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall in Boston, Massachusetts. He played Melodie, Op.42, No.3 by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Listen now.

Arts Leadership Plans from the Performers from Show 280, Wingate, North Carolina

Each of the performers on Show 280 attended an Arts Leadership Orientation Workshop, where they explored their own personal leadership pathways. Learn how they are taking their music beyond the concert hall in their own communities:

Hannah Wang is reigniting an idea that she tabled in the fall. She plans to bring together local musicians for a jam session and instrument petting zoo at a local park or school in the spring or summer.

Clara Gerdes wrote us an email about her plans to visit a local assisted living facility:

“For an arts outreach activity, I would like to organize some friends and acquaintances with whom I often sing and play instruments to do a few informal concerts at a nursing home early next month.  We would present a variety of different styles of music, from classical to folk, and include some familiar songs the residents could sing along to–this is something I’ve noticed elderly people often really respond to and enjoy.  Also, I would like to go in the weeks after Christmas and New Year’s; many places seem to get a lot of attention before but not right after the holidays. “

Qing Yu Chen will be organizing a visit to a retirement home in New York City in the springand she hopes to involve other From the Top Alumni. Currently in the initialn planning stages, she is thinking over the goals and gameplan for her project as well as brainstorming the resources she would need to make it happen.

Olivia Staton has jumped into her own arts leadership projects since the taping. Through the music honor society at her school, she began assisting with an after-school music program in a local elementary school. The program, called Bridges, provides group music lessons and ensemble rehearsals. Recently, she demonstrated flute and assisted with one of their band rehearsals, and she envisions extending the program to other area elementary schools.

She said of the experience: “Until From the Top I had not really realized the significance of promoting classical music, and I had not really thought about what I could do to help, but now I am so excited to be doing more arts leadership activities.  Especially since there are opportunities for me to do so in my neighborhood!”

Olivia also performed in a student recital at a retirement home and took the lead in initiating an engaging conversation after the performance when everyone was afraid to speak. Following the performance, she said, “the audience seemed very engaged and happy to speak with all of the musicians and then they asked if we would be able to come back to give another recital!”

From the Top Takes Aspen by Storm

As the thunder subsided and the rainclouds parted high above the Aspen Music Festival grounds on August 4, a phenomenal double rainbow appeared over Harris Concert Hall, just as the last ticket-buyers were hurrying in to the hall to see From the Top’s live taping.

Thanks to generous support from the Sidney E. Frank Foundation, From the Top took up residency at the Aspen Music Festival and School earlier this month with a whirlwind of activities, including auditions, an alumni picnic, a live radio taping, an arts leadership orientation workshop and outreach event, and special events for our donors and board members. Every summer, hundreds of serious young musicians from across the United States, including approximately 60 From the Top alumni, come to Aspen to immerse themselves in their musical studies, making a natural setting for our continued collaborations with Aspen Music Festival.

Shortly after arriving in the beautiful mountain village, our recruitment team immediately set up for a full day of auditions. We saw some of the stars of tomorrow’s From the Top episodes!

Sterling Elliot at Music Rehearsal in AspenLater that day, we met up with the performers who would be appearing on our taping on Sunday for a pizza party and music rehearsal. This show featured eight performers, including four alumni who have graced From the Top stages before – which made for a particularly rousing and fun music rehearsal and pizza party on Saturday night. Adria Ye’s mom Rui Wang even noted that this was her third pizza party with us!

Left, Sterling Elliott (Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist), 14, rehearses the third movement, Introduction: Andante – Allegro Vivace from the Cello Concerto in D minor by Édouard Lalo.

 88More than 50 From the Top alumni, parents, board members, and supporters gathered for a picnic lunch on Sunday, including soprano Lauren Criddle, now age 30, who was featured on our very first show, taped at Tanglewood in Lenox, Massachusetts in 1999, as well as 13-year-old violinist Maya Buchanan who will appear on our next taping in Vermillion, South Dakota. It was our third time hosting an alumni gathering while in Aspen.

 284Above, alumni pose for a picture at the picnic.

Then it was time to rehearse and tape our radio show in Aspen Music Festival’s Harris Hall. This was our third show in Aspen in six years and we were thrilled when the enthusiastic audience erupted in thunderous applause for each of the performances.

Left, Colton Peltier performs “Feux Follets” from Transcendental Etude No.5 in B-flat major by Franz Liszt.

Leadership pathwaysThe next day, the show performers took part in an Arts Leadership Orientation Workshop, conducted by our Education and Outreach department. The kids were led through a variety of exercises to help them discover the myriad leadership pathways open to them as artists.

Above, performer Jiacheng Xiong’s Leadership Portrait from the Arts Leadership Orientation Workshop.

1011570_10151787605183606_1197624193_n Later that day, they had a chance to put what they had learned into action when they performed a surprise pop-up performance at the playground of the Yellow Brick School for the students at the Early Learning Center.

Left, Sterling Elliott, Austin Huntington, and Haruno Sato with the kids from the Early Learning Center in Aspen.

That evening, a reception in support of From the Top was held at the Aspen home of Lynda and Doug Weiser, who hosted along with Cathy and Peter Halstead and From the Top Director Elaine LeBuhn and her husband Robert. IMG_0296More than 50 of our friends and donors enjoyed performances by alumni 12-year-old pianist Avery Gagliano, 19-year-old cellist Nathan Chan, 20-year-old violinist Nora Scheller, and host Christopher O’Riley. Guests included From the Top Overseer Kate Bermingham, Tom and Vivian Waldeck, and 19-year-old alum Colton Peltier.

Right, hosts Lynda & Doug Weiser, Elaine LeBuhn, and Peter & Cathy Halstead at the reception.

See more pictures from the weekend here.

Be sure to tune in to hear the Aspen episode the week of September 16!

Infusing New Vibrancy into the Oldies: Introducing Conrad Tao

Image

Conrad Tao
Photo by Lauren Farmer

by Jingxuan Zhang

Jack of all trades, yet master of all, 19-year-old From the Top alumnus Conrad Tao – pianist, violinist, and composer – can be pithily summed up as a thinker. “Thinker” is not the most titillating of words; however, it fits Conrad perfectly because he uses his artistry in the humblest way to do the biggest things. On the contrary, “intellectual” is too pompous for someone so plainspoken, and “visionary” too grandiose.  One can get a quick taste of what Conrad ruminates about by visiting the website for the UNPLAY Festival, a three-night event he organized using his Avery Fisher Career Grant and Gilmore Young Artist Award. In the WHY page, readers are assaulted by the question “What space does the musician occupy today?” Yeah, that is what he “thinks” about, dire problems faced by classical music.

It takes some real guts to ask that question, since it is such a sore spot in the classical music community. Attendance to classical concerts is becoming increasingly scarce, while Justin Bieber fills up sports stadiums to the brim with prepubescent youngsters without breaking a sweat. Conrad is fighting against the decline of classical music through his unique and thought-provoking concert programming. He said, “A concert is something more than just having a good time. I want to engage the audience and challenge them to change their thinking.” That statement underlies Conrad’s vision of a more passionately involved audience who reacts to the social commentary music can provide.

His goals were brilliantly articulated on the final night of his festival, themed Hi/r/stories. In his own words, Hi/r/stories “questions how history allows classical music to exert its power. Why is there currently a narrow conception of what classical music is for, among not only audiences, but also musicians and presenters?” His question is right on point. Classical music thrived in the 18th century, with giants like Bach, Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven all patronized by emperors and dukes. These powerful men had nothing to do other than wage war, walk in elegant gardens, and be dedicatees for historic compositions. But look at the modern industrialized society: On any Friday evening, in addition to that concert at Lincoln Center, one can go clubbing, see a Yankees game, watch Game of Thrones, or do homework (God forbid). Maybe the poor guy is too tired after eight hours of work to care!

Conrad is rethinking music’s role as a passive form of entertainment. Music has to evolve with society by being attuned to the fickle tastes of the modern audience, and he’s had those ideas since he was 10, on his appearance on From the Top’s 107th show in Tuscaloosa, Alabama: “I remember saying, ‘It’s 2004. We have cellphones and computers already, so we need some new music to go with that.’ I played my own composition on that show, and the support I got from the audience, in addition to From the Top doing such effective outreach, really inspired me to forge my own path and reach a wider audience.” He has come a long way since then. For UNPLAY, he compiled a very compelling narrative which heavily features the works of living composers, with guest artists who specialize in electronic and experimental music. In the program one can easily see the socially relevant compositions just by titles such as “Private Time,” “Violence,” “Endurance Test,” and “… like kites with no strings.

The first day of UNPLAY also ushered in Conrad’s debut album Voyages with EMI, which features works by Monk, Rachmaninoff, Ravel, and Tao himself. This album is a microcosm of his journey as a musician, and he hopes listeners can derive their own journeys by listening. The inspiration for this album conforms to his unique perspective as an artist: “The process of travel is oftentimes seen as linear, from A to B. For me, it is not about the beginning and the end, but the space in between; the process itself is meaningful.” At only 19, Conrad has only started his “voyage,” but it has already been riddled with milestones. With a bar so high, it is time for him to “think” about what he can possibly accomplish next.

To check out selections from his festival and debut CD, visit http://www.youtube.com/conradtao. For more information on Voyages, visit http://www.smarturl.it/ConradTaoVoyages.

From the Top Receives NEA Grants to Support Radio and Outreach

National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Acting Chairman Joan Shigekawa announced that From the Top is one of 817 nonprofit organizations nationwide to receive an NEA Art Works grant. From the Top is recommended for two grants totaling $105,000 to support production of From the Top’s weekly radio show and From the Top’s education and outreach programs.

Acting Chairman Shigekawa said, “The National Endowment for the Arts is proud to support these exciting and diverse arts projects that will take place throughout the United States. Whether it is through a focus on education, engagement, or innovation, these projects all contribute to vibrant communities and memorable opportunities for the public to engage with the arts.”

In August 2012, the NEA received 1,547 eligible applications for Art Works grants requesting more than $80 million in funding. Art Works grants support the creation of art that meets the highest standards of excellence, public engagement with diverse and excellent art, lifelong learning in the arts, and the strengthening of communities through the arts. The 817 recommended NEA grants total $26.3 million and span 13 artistic disciplines and fields. Applications were reviewed by panels of outside experts convened by NEA staff, and each project was judged on its artistic excellence and artistic merit.

For a complete listing of projects recommended for Art Works grant support, please visit the NEA website at arts.gov.

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