From the Top Receives Piano Pedagogy Award

As we begin our new season in Aspen, Colorado, this coming week, we’re (between planning meetings) reflecting on the great things that have happened with From the Top this last year. The 2013-2014 season was full of amazing young musicians, unforgettable performances, and unique venues. But we also had some great moments that weren’t on the radio!

This past winter, From the Top was honored with the 2014 Frances Clark Keyboard Pedagogy Award from the Music Teachers National Association (MTNA), an organization that seeks to further the study and making of music.

This award is given to those who make “a significant contribution through the creation and development of products or publications that further the field of keyboard pedagogy.”

We reflect happily on this award as we prepare for the future. It is great to know that our activities at From the Top have furthered the pedagogy. It is a proud reminder of how much music education really matters!

We thank the MTNA for this great honor, and are proud to sit among highly esteemed recipients as we further the cause of music education. Cheers to more great collaborations and contributions to come.


Co-CEO Jennifer Hurly-Wales receiving the award this past winter


Photo copyright 2014 Harry Butler, Nashville


Collaborating for a Cause – From the Top & Music for Food

It is just past 8:00 PM in New England Conservatory’s Brown Hall where a single piano is set center stage. The lights dim, the audience quiets down, and 18-year-old cellist and From the Top alum Lev Mamuya steps out from behind the curtain.


Inspired by the arts leadership orientation and outreach event he participated in as components of his October radio appearance on From the Top, Lev decided to create a From the Top alumni benefit concert. This concert was put on in partnership with Music for Food, a Boston-based organization that uses music to raise awareness and resources in the fight against hunger. The project also satisfied his senior project requirement at Roxbury Latin High School.

“100% of the proceeds of tonight’s performance will benefit the Women’s Lunch Place,” he says to end his speech, and the audience murmurs excitedly.

The languid tones of the Bach Suite No. 6 for Solo Cello, the sweet blend of flute and harp in Mozart’s Concerto, and the passion in Schumann’s Piano Sonata No. 2 in G Minor filled the hall. With several other pieces, From the Top alumni and staff are the featured performers of the evening. An enthusiastic audience response generates close to $1,200 in donations for the Women’s Lunch Place, a safe, welcoming day community for all self-identified women who are experiencing homelessness or poverty.




harp talking


“The most rewarding part was definitely seeing it all come together on the evening of the concert, and understanding the impact the raised money would have,” Lev reflects. “It was sometimes easy to get lost in the tedium of the emails, scheduling, and legwork. But reading about the number of meals funded and hearing all of the beautiful music really affirmed my goals, and made the whole project very rewarding.”

The success of this endeavor is a noteworthy event for both organizations because it is the first time they have worked together.

“The project really started to help me consider a career in the arts,” Lev says. “It was an extremely valuable learning process for me to be on the ‘organization’ side of things and learn about planning, rather than just performing.”

Do you use art to help a worthy cause?

Learn more about the Women’s Lunch Place. Learn more about Music for Food.

In Their Own Words – Rapping It up in Norfolk

Last month, From the Top returned to the Virginia Arts Festival for a performance in the historic Attucks Theatre in Norfolk. The Rhythm Project All Stars, the Virginia Arts Festival’s teen world percussion ensemble, was featured on the show.




In addition, featured soloists included 11-year-old pianist Kyle Hu, 16-year-old double bassist Lena Goodson, 17-year-old soprano Emily Pogorelc, 15-year-old violinist Alissa Mori, and brothers 19-year-old violinist Brendon Elliott and 14-year-old cellist Sterling Elliott.

In the minutes before the concert, the performers had some fun backstage.

“Before our show, the Rhythm Project All Stars were just jamming out in the back dressing room,” Lena said. “I rapped! They were having a lot of fun, so everyone joined in. We had a rap battle. It was wild. We all mixed really well, it wasn’t like the soloists were segregated from the large ensemble. We all became best friends!”

After the backstage activities, the stage was set, the lights were up, and an enthusiastic audience filled the first floor of the Attucks Theatre. It was time to perform.

cello chris

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After each performance, the crowd roared with thunderous applause and each performer took several bows with grins on their faces. Lena described a touching interaction she had with one audience member following the performance.

“My goal for my performance was that I wanted the audience to feel something. After the show, an older lady came up to me – she was blind, so she was holding my hand – she told me that when she was younger, she had played the double bass and that it had brought back memories hearing me play.”

Alissa described a similar interaction with an audience member, her favorite moment of the weekend. “A young boy told me he wants to play the violin to become someone like me.”

Alissa quickly learned that From the Top was more than she had imagined it would be. “I thought I would just meet other performers my age, but it was more than that. I learned it was about the experience with them,” she told us.

Were you in the audience in Virginia? Comment and tell us about your experience!

In the next “In Their Own Words” series blog post, read more about how the performers took music beyond the concert hall in their arts leadership orientation and visiting an elementary school in Norfolk, Virginia.

Playing It Forward in Tennessee

Thomas West had quite the experience when he appeared on our live taping of From the Top in 2012.

Thomas West on From the Top 2012

While singing to a sold-out audience for a live radio taping was a highlight for him, one of the most remarkable moments was a smaller, more intimate performance at Dalewood Middle School. From the Top’s education staff organized an outreach event at the Chattanooga middle school for the performers to put their arts leadership training into practice. There, Thomas and his fellow performers witnessed first-hand how arts programs struggle to stay alive in many schools.

Thomas remembers the experience vividly: “It was there that I saw a room full of girls and boys eager to learn about and play music, but hardly anything to accomplish this desire. It tore at my heartstrings to see so many kids only a few years younger than me never getting the same opportunities I had to play music on a day-to-day basis. I realized then that something needed to be done, and I had just been handed a chance to champion that need.”

That realization sent Thomas on a journey to make a real difference in his own community. He quickly recruited three friends – Ralston Hartness, Megan Daniel, and McKenna Quatro – to become part of his project called “Let Beauty Awaken.” Their idea: give other teen artists in the Chattanooga area a chance to help by sharing their talents on a CD that would be sold to raise funds for local schools’ music programs.  The team even planned and sold tickets to a CD release party at the Chattanooga Theatre Center as an additional fundraiser.

Let Beauty Awaken

Fast forward to 2014. We featured Ralston Hartness in a guitar quartet on our recent taping in Chattanooga, and he and Thomas brought us up to speed on their amazing work in the area.

Thomas and Ralston

After raising over $14,000 for local schools with “Let Beauty Awaken,” the teens created the non-profit organization ReGenerate, an arts leadership program for and by students in Chattanooga. The organization is training other young arts leaders to find their own pathways to make a difference in their community. They are continuing to fundraise for arts programs and making the decisions about how best to fund local arts programs.

Ralston and the other From the Top performers visited East Lake Elementary School and Calvin Donaldson Elementary School the day after their performance at the Tivoli Theatre. Ralston found the experience as impactful as Thomas had found his outreach visit back in 2012. Ralston tells us he is inspired to redouble his efforts with ReGenerate: “My hope is to pour into ReGenerate and Chattanooga schools so that when I leave, the efforts can continue with students here for years to come. I’ve been excited about giving our money out to schools, but never more than now. Now that I have seen the programs at East Lake and Calvin Donaldson Elementary Schools I really want to give out the money!”

You can hear Ralston’s guitar quartet’s performance on From the Top’s broadcast during the week of February 24. Visit to listen online or check your local NPR listings.

For more on Thomas West and the ReGenerate project, visit Thomas’ website, or check out the ReGenerate facebook page.

Application Deadline for Blount-Slawson Competition this Friday, December 6th!

The Blount-Slawson Young Artists Competition, offering a total of nearly $17,000 in prizes, will be held in Montgomery, Alabama, January 25 and 26, 2014.

Instrumentalists (except organ) in grades 7 – 12 who live and attend school in the United States are eligible to compete.

First Prize:  $10,000, an appearance with the Montgomery Symphony and an appearance on From The Top
Second Prize:      $4,000
Third Prize:          $1,000
Fourth Prize:           $500
Five Merit Prizes:    $250

Competitors may also use their performance in the preliminary round as their audition for the 2014 BUTI.  See the website for specifics.

New this year! Apply online:

All of the details regarding the competition and the application process and forms can be found on at Questions may be sent to

Coast to Coast with Donors and Friends


Wilfred Mamuya, Hilary Kassler, and Hope Baker celebrate together after the show. Photo by Caitlin Cunningham.

From the Top was on the road last month, hosting several special events for board members, donors, and friends.

On October 6, more than 100 guests joined From the Top performers and Christopher O’Riley for a private reception following a live taping in Boston at New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall.


Elizabeth Lodal, Sharon Percy Rockefeller, and Gail West enjoy an evening of music. Photo by The Documentist

On October 22, 65 guests gathered with Christopher O’Riley and From the Top alumni at the home of Jan and Elizabeth Lodal in McLean, Virginia. The event was co-hosted by From the Top corporate sponsor Glenmede, an investment, fiduciary, and wealth advisory firm. This was the seventh in a series of events that From the Top has hosted with Glenmede offices throughout the nation.


Hosts Jan and Elizabeth Lodal with From the Top performers Sterling Elliott, Avery Gagliano, and Ren Martin-Doike. Photo by The Documentist

Guests enjoyed performances by From the Top alumni 12-year-old Avery Gagliano, 14-year-old Sterling Elliott, 22-year-old Ren Martin-Doike, and host Christopher O’Riley. Christopher spoke with Avery about how the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens by Sean Covey has helped her manage an incredibly busy schedule. Sterling shared that, as the last child to be born in the Elliott family, the only instrument left in the family quartet was cello, hence, he is a cellist (and a pretty fantastic one). Ren talked about how her affiliation with From the Top for many years has helped her take music beyond the concert hall and develop mentorship programs for other young musicians, both in her hometown in Hawaii and at the Curtis Institute of Music.


Pianist Brenda Kee and Wayne Brown, Music and Opera Director at the National Endowment for the Arts. Photo by The Documentist

That evening, guests included Stuart Haney of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation and his wife Paula; Wayne Brown from the National Endowment for the Arts and his wife Brenda Kee; Sharon Percy Rockefeller of classical music and television station WETA, along with several members of the WETA Board of Trustees; and Arnold Polinger from the Howard and Geraldine Polinger Family Foundation and his wife Diane.

A week later, From the Top was off to New York City for an event at the home of Bethany and Robert Millard. More than 45 donors and friends enjoyed performances by From the Top alums Elli Choi, Patrick McGuire, and Brian Ge on October 30.

12-year-old violinist and jetsetter Elli Choi had just returned from Switzerland, where she had been attending a music festival supported by From the Top’s Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Award. Patrick McGuire, a 23-year-old cellist, shared how his passion for music, mentorship, and international relations has led to musical projects in Tanzania and Tunisia. 16-year-old Brian Ge talked about the important role music plays in his life, even though he plans to pursue other interests in college.

The evening’s guests included From the Top Artistic Advisor and President of The Juilliard School Joseph Polisi and his wife Elizabeth; From the Top Overseer and MSNBC President Phil Griffin and his wife Kory Apton; Jean Fitzgerald of U.S. Trust, Bank of America Private Wealth Management; Randy Harris from the Edward T. Cone Foundation; and Dr. Mark Siddall of the American Museum of Natural History.

From the Top’s most recent event followed a sold out live taping at Bing Concert Hall on the campus of Stanford University in California. On November 10, nearly 60 guests joined From the Top performers and Christopher O’Riley for a private reception  – generously hosted by Helen and Peter Bing – following the show.

To view photos from our event in Boston, Massachusetts, click here.

To view photos from our event in McLean, Virginia, click here.

Upcoming private events for donors and friends are planned in Boston, Massachusetts, and Southern Florida. With questions or for more information, please contact

Show 277, Bowling Green, Ohio, Listening Guide

 229Chason Goldfinger, 17, composer
String Quartet No. 1, Elemental, Op. 15
IV. Salamandrae (Fire)

Fire is very much about the element itself of fire. When I was thinking fire, and like fire, it has some semblance of order – it consumes, but not radially.  It expands and moves in different directions with the fuel  and so it also feels a little chaotic. To get that feeling, I created this little tiny motive that starts in the beginning and if the piece is played really well, the audience should feel the intensity of rushing really fast somewhere to get away from the burning sensation especially when contrasted with the movement before it.  That original motif goes a way and this sort of Gypsy like tone comes in for the middle section. That section first comes in with a high and graceful violin and it’s strange and it’s pulse is quickening. And with the fire, while you’re not touching it, you feel the fire stinging your face and you feel the heat and the light.  The light is as important as the heat in the movement.  If you’re approaching the movement coming out of the rest of the quartet, it has this nice element of surprise—with this jarring classical structure.  And then it should feel over before it’s happened.
Fire in particular, it is certainly fun to play.  I’ve played it.

A favorite memory or highlight:
There were so many but probably the SHOW! But something like the jam session was awesome!

What do you believe music has the power to do?
Music has the power to CHANGE LIVES!!

Sein An, 15, violin 120
Havanaise in E Major, Op. 83
By: Camille Saint-Saëns (1835–1921)

On the Saint-Saëns Havanaise
This is the piece I’ve always wanted to play from my childhood. It’s not as well-known as the other Saint-Saëns works, but it’s something I’ve always listened to before I was learning it because I loved the Spanish style. I’m so happy that I get to play this piece. I’m trying to communicate the rhythm of it –  it’s kind of dance-like, the style of it. I want to get the audience to listen to the style of it. The hardest part is getting the right mood and style. It’s technically challenging, so you want the technical part and the musical part to blend together.

A favorite memory or highlight:
This is very EASY for me to answer. Phone call from Janine Jansen. <3 Thank you!

What do you believe music has the power to do?
Music has the power to make you realize the beauty of everything, not only in music, but also in the life of Beethoven! Or just anything.

 75Patrick Pan, 15, piano
II. Scherzo: Allegretto vivace
from Sonata No. 18 in E-flat Major, Op. 31, No. 3 “The Hunt”
By: Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827)

On the Beethoven piece he will perform on the show:
I picked up the piece a couple months ago and it’s really exciting. It’s the second movement of a Beethoven sonata and the entire sonata works with the title called The Hunt. It has a jovial character but also in some places has that signature of the Beethoven forte and it’s very representative of this cheeky and playful character. Of course that’s Beethoven’s signature style– intermixing of that genius with classical style.

A favorite memory or highlight:
Jam session just minutes before the show started.

What do you believe music has the power to do?
Music is truly a universal language that can make friends from enemies and really bond anybody.

Quartet Lumiére 221
String Quartet No. 1 in G minor, Op. 26
I. Un poco andante – Allegro molto ed agitato
By: Edvard Grieg (1843–1907)
String Quartet No. 1, Elemental, Op. 15
IV. Salamandrae (Fire)
Chason Goldfinger (b. 1996)

On the Grieg String Quartet:
Rebecca Benjamin: I think definitely the piece that we most got into was the Grieg. It was so powerful. In rehearsal it was so big and grand, so it was really exciting to get to share that with everybody. It was a piece that we all really connected to and felt so strongly about.
Mira Williams: I think definitely the Grieg was kind of our showpiece. Exciting and powerful. There’s a bit at the end where Josiah has the solo, and me, Gallia and Rebecca have harmonics, or tremolos, and it sounds really cool and he comes in with the solo. The whole piece before that moment is very intense and dramatic, and then that part is dramatic too but in a very different way.
Josiah Yoo: I think since Grieg is kind of nationalistic folk music, the whole piece almost sounds like a superhero, action kind of story. At the beginning, and when the beginning comes back, I can picture a superhero over a town or something, and then when it gets to the second melody, it’s pleading and in pain and almost desperate. At that point, it’s kind of like the people are in distress, and they have no help and they’re kind of doomed. But the hero seems to come back in different parts of the piece.

On the Goldfinger Quartet:
Gallia Kastner: The fourth movement is really cool. It kind of reminds me of that modern, Shostakovich feel. It’s something really out there – it’s very cool. I’ve never played anything like it. It’s very interesting. Sometimes it gets a little wacky, a little weird in some places, but I think that’s what makes the piece stand out. This young composer, whoever he is, I think he’s amazing. He composed something this complex and this hard. Learning these notes is difficult, at least for the first violin part. I think it’s definitely really cool and I enjoyed learning it.
Rebecca Benjamin: I think it’s a very unique piece in really remarkable kind of style. It seems very quirky to me but at the same time it’s genius. The 4th movement which we performed is the fire element and I think Chason captured that very well in the piece. It’s kind of chaotic, very loud and harsh. It was really fun to play, and wonderful being able to work with the composer himself.

Gallia Kastner, 16, violin

A favorite memory or highlight:
Coming back to the show with my quartet and playing Chason’s piece

What do you believe music has the power to do?
It has the power to save lives. Changes someone’s perspective about classical music and their own life.

Rebecca Benjamin, 18, violin

A favorite memory or highlight:
The opportunity to be together with my quartet again and play together on the show was an experience I’ll never forget. It had always been a dream of mine to be on From the Top and I can’t imagine a better experience than I had with my quartet.

Jamming backstage before the show was so fun!

Playing Chason’s piece on the live show was amazing.  There was so much energy and enthusiasm that night. I had never played a modern piece when the composer was present – LOVED the experience!!! It made me want to do more of that in the future.

What do you believe music has the power to do?
Music has the power to change lives. It can bring so much encouragement and joy to others.

Mira Williams, 15, viola

A favorite memory or highlight:
-our performance of Chason’s piece
-the mini jam session backstage

What do you believe music has the power to do?
-connect anyone and everyone
-evoke intense emotions…

Josiah Yoo, 15, cello

A favorite memory or highlight:
Improv just before the show ☺

What do you believe music has the power to do?
Change a life.
Change every life.

What Summer Means to From the Top Alumni

Our alumni didn’t spend their summer vacations catching rays on beaches, they were far too busy making waves of their own. From major awards to music videos, here is what our alumni did on summer break:

Pianist Llewellyn Sanchez-Werner, who appeared on Show 240 in Boston, Massachusetts, joins a number of other distinguished From the Top alums such as Conrad Tao, George Li, and Charlie Albright to receive a Gilmore Young Artist Award.

“The Gilmore Young Artist Award is presented every two years to single out the most promising of the new generation of U.S. pianists, age 22 and younger. Nominations are made by music professionals from around the world, and an anonymous selection committee evaluates the nominees over a period of time. Candidates for the Award are unaware that they are under consideration. Each Gilmore Young Artist receives a $15,000 stipend to further their musical career and educational development, as well as $10,000 to commission a new piano composition for which the artist will have exclusive performance rights for one year. ” Read more about the award here.

From the Top alumni made an impressive showing in the concerto competitions at Aspen Music Festival and School this summer. William Hagen (Show 194, Buffalo, New York) won the Dorothy DeLay Fellowship; Hannah Cho (Show 209, Waimea, Hawaii) won the Violin Concerto Competition; Qi Kong (Show 218, Ames, Iowa) took top prize in the Piano Concerto Competition; Austin Huntington (Show 239, Ocean City, New Jersey) won the Low Strings Concerto Competition; and Fabiola Kim (Show 158, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) received top prize in the AACA Violin Concerto Competition, while Tengku Irfan (Show 267, Boston, Massachusetts) won the AACA Piano Concerto Competition.

nyopic.jpgEleven From the Top alumni joined Carnegie Hall’s National Youth Orchestra  in its inaugural year and performed in Washington, D.C., Moscow, St. Petersburg, and London. They are: Erika Gray (Show 262, Greensburg, Pennsylvania), Nora Doyle (Show 270, Athens, Georgia), Amy Semes (Show 239, Ocean City, New Jersey; Show 246, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), Annie Wu (Show 263, Davis, California), Eric Goldberg (Show 206, Dallas, TexasShow 244, Kalamazoo, Michigan; Show 271, New Albany, Ohio), Annika Jenkins (Show 234, Virginia Beach, Virginia), Demi Fang (Show 239, Ocean City, New Jersey), Sean Byrne (Show 252, Chattanooga, Tennessee), Elizabeth Sperry (Show 240, Boston, Massachusetts), Jacob Mezera (Show 214, Iowa City, Iowa; Show 238, Chicago, Illinois), and Tanner Jackson (Show 214, Iowa City, Iowa). Demi Fang even blogged about her experience, check out her post here.

Annie Wu (who provided the photo to the right) said of the experience: “NYO was completely incredible down to the last details,. They took such great care of us, giving us the best training from principal members of major orchestras, planning our whole trip, and giving us the time of our lives. Playing under Maestro Valery Gergiev was unbelievable.  To be under such mastery, musical originality, and energy really gave our new orchestra the vitality it needed. Also, playing principal flute on the Shostakovich Symphony No. 10 was something I’ll never forget. All of my fellow musicians were so talented and supportive and each concert kept getting better and better until our final one at the BBC Proms in Royal Albert Hall, which seated around 7,000!”

Austen Yueh (Show 269, Mesa, Arizona) spent the summer at Google’s Computer Science Summer Institute at Mountain View, California. Her team worked on a small web application which allows you to record music or lecture notes or other audio directly in the browser, then play back, download, or share. This fall, she’ll begin her freshman year at MIT, where she plans to continue studying and performing clarinet.

Wickliffe Simmons (Show 270, Athens, Georgia) spent the summer making this amazing music video with a group of contemporary dancers. He recorded every sound in the video with his cello, including percussion and bass lines. He says, “A lot of the inspiration to do this definitely stemmed from the Arts Leadership Orientation Workshop I did with From the Top – I started working on this almost immediately after being on From the Top.”

Show 273: Listening Guide

From the Top Show 273 was taped at the historic Plaza Theater in El Paso, Texas in June 2013. Learn what the performers have to say about their musical performances and the experience of being on From the Top.

Show 273 244Lucy Sotak, 11, harp

Impromptu, Op.35, No.9 by Reinhold Glière

This piece was written by the Russian composer Reinhold Gliere. The Russian style of the piece brings images to my mind that relate to Russia. For example, the opening chords, which repeat later, sound like the entrance of the Czar and Czarina. I think one section sounds like Cossack dancers and another part sounds like pirouetting ballet dancers. One tranquil section reminds me of a gliding swan and soaring hawk. Before the recap, the piece builds in excitement, and I imagine a scene where the hawk is pursuing a pigeon and he finally overtakes his prey. This is my favorite part.

This is the most challenging piece I have learned so far. It is a required piece for the American Harp Society National Competition. There is a lot to think about while I am performing this piece; keeping it clean, getting the numerous pedal changes (in one place there are 13 pedal changes within two measures) and the dynamics. I hope the audience enjoys this piece as much as I enjoy playing it.

Post-Show Reflection: It was so fun to be a part of a From the Top show! I really enjoyed meeting the other musicians, all of the encouraging and helpful staff, and Christopher O’Riley. Seeing how the show was put together behind the scenes and on stage was a new and exciting experience for me. I was very nervous backstage before I performed, but once my interview began, I felt more relaxed.

Music has the power to change lives and bring people together.

Show 273 204David M. von Behren, 19, organ

Toccata from Suite Gothique, Op.25 by Léon Boëllmann

I love French organ music. The Toccata from Suite Gothique by Léon Boëllmann is special because of the imagery it invokes while I play this piece. I imagine Lake Michigan on a stormy day. Something is brewing in the horizon, a sea monster arises. Near the end of the piece, Chuck Norris comes out of NOWHERE and slays the savage sea monster and all peace is returned. The whole scene turns “triumphant” as the sun comes out on the last chord of the piece.

I absolutely love this piece because of what it offers to the listener. It is a piece that keeps you at the edge of your seat. One of the things I enjoy most about the piece are the dynamic contrasts, and the ending chord progressions are just so much fun. It is a very fun piece for the performer.

Andrew Moses, 13, clarinetShow 273 178

Concertino, Op.26 by Carl Maria von Weber

Of the entire clarinet repertoire, Weber’s Concertino has a special place in my heart. From the age of eight years old, I would listen to recordings of Stanley Drucker and the New York Philharmonic (under Zublin Mehta) performing this piece. This simple YouTube recording was something that helped fuel my passion for the clarinet at the time. It was only several years later when I began learning the piece.

Weber is a composer known for his outstanding operatic compositions. I feel that the slow introduction of the Concertino so greatly resembles the human voice. Its written in what many would agree is the most singing register of the clarinet.  The piece begins in a minor key that cries out the emotions of longing despair. Only in the end of the introduction is this pain quietly set aside. The harmonic structure of this introduction, though, isn’t the only musical content that translates into emotions. The rhythmic layout is remarkable in its syllabic and almost linguistically comprehensive quality that it is quite sing-able. Often times, I put words to phrases in this beautiful and remarkable opening.

The piece continues with a theme, of which I imagine as a delightfully simple children’s song. The tune is so simple in its melodic phrasing that the proceeding variations fall so naturally in place. These variations really show off a lot of what the clarinet can do. Weber uses over three octaves of the instrument (the modern clarinet can almost hit four) in which he also marks in exhilarating staccato and trills. The piece, though, hits a turning point after the third variation. As you may remember, the somber mood of the introduction was never completely resolved. It was as if Weber swept it under the carpet only to be rediscovered in a section marked “Largo”. The largo section is written in the lowest register of the clarinet in which the music yet again moans with emotion, reiterating the pain (not literal!) of the introduction, though with even heavier content. All of this pain is finally resolved with a major chord in the ending of the Largo. Weber follows this success with a joyful and celebratory Allegro. This Allegro marks the final section of the piece, which finishes in an acrobatic, joyful, and declarative manner. Everything finally comes to a close through raging arpeggios and flying scales. I hope, as the performer, that the piece ends satisfyingly and the listener has been taken through an exciting and exhilarating journey.

When I perform this piece, I try to bring the listener through a journey (as I mentioned before). I hope to communicate the utmost emotional content of the introduction while, later, being able to play the variations with grace and joy. Most of all, I want to touch the listener. I hope that my performance of the piece will bring them inspiration, excitement, and passion. The difficult parts of this piece for me are the intonation in the introduction as the clarinet always tends to go flat in its bottom/lowest notes, and maintaining and even staccato in the variations. This piece hasn’t yet failed on bringing me, the performer, through a remarkable journey. This piece is especially unique in that it has both a beautiful introduction and acrobatic allegros and is still able to manage to come together as a whole. For this performance, we’ve cut the Largo and several variations due to time constraints.

Post-Show Reflection: I’ve watched and listened to From the Top my entire life, and listening to the show has always been such an amazing source of inspiration for me.  It was almost unreal actually performing on From the Top alongside Mr. O’Riley.  A total dream come true… and it was a blast!

I believe music has the power to immensely inspire our minds and bring joy to our hearts.  Music brings people together regardless of their backgrounds and encourages passionate creativity.  It’s a language we can all speak and create, and is something that can even break down barriers.

Show 273 270Wesley Yu, 16, violin

Polonaise Brillante No.1 in D major, Op.4 by Henryk Wieniawski

 The thought that goes through my mind when I’m playing this piece is a sort of wild dance that gets crazier and crazier. I love this part towards the end that’s like a pumped up version of the original theme, and I get chills every single time I play it. I can’t really find any part in this piece that I don’t like, including the middle section with a slow theme, despite my strong desire for faster passages; perhaps the piano at this point keeps my adrenaline rush going. Speaking of dance, I once played this piece for a school play in fourth grade, where the scene was a medieval party. They were all dancing in circles with everything going according to the script and suddenly my violin went completely out of tune. Even now, when I see their reactions on the video of the play, I still think it’s hilarious.

This is a fast and energetic dance and definitely one of the most entertaining pieces in my repertoire as I am able to express myself freely by playing together with piano in such a varying tempo range. Compared to other pieces that I have played, this song allows for a lot more freedom to express my individuality. The most difficult thing is playing everything precisely while still maintaining the festive mood especially in the later parts of the piece. It is really easy to get carried away technically and then end up tearing through the whole thing. Making sure that this piece sounds and feels like a dance is the most important thing to remember, and in the end, all I do is just enjoy it!

Post-Show Reflection: My favorite experience during the weekend was the Arts Leadership Orientation. I still remember clearly how we all sat in a squared “U” at the conference table listening and interacting with each other about just what an Arts Leader is. At that moment I realized I was sitting in a room with some of the most amazing young musicians I had ever met. It was a surreal experience to be able to talk with all the other performers and discover that we are all similar at heart though we express ourselves in contrasting ways. The time we got to spend with each other was very inspirational, and I wish to meet many others like them in the future.

Getting to perform on From the Top with Christopher O’Riley was one of the greatest experiences ever, knowing that I had performed on that stage before, and now doing it again for a completely different event. Through the piece I went into my own little world of the Polonaise Brilliante, a joyful dance that I could not help but smile to. It took a while for my mind to catch up to reality, and by the time I was bowing I suddenly realized I was performing for the world. Knowing that this performance was going to be heard by over 700,000 people had greatly motivated me to do my best. I wanted it to be a performance of a lifetime, and it turned out to be much more as I had a giant grin on my face when I walked off stage.

In the past years, my exposure to music has taught me that music has the power to heal, to convey ideas, to connect with others and bring people together. Everyone has differing ideas and opinions about music, but usually we can find consolation in our favorite songs or a great performance that we see. Recently, I have discovered that it can also heal groups of people, it can unite beings from vastly different places and lifestyles. Music is the universal language that people can either listen to, or make, or both! Through the activities at From the Top, I realize that as musicians our job is to share what we know with others for the well-being of humanity itself. Many From the Top alumni have used their musical talents to go beyond the concert hall, to go the extra mile in music, and I hope everyone can do so as well.

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Vuthithorn Chinthammit, 17, piano

Variations on a Theme by Paganini for Two Pianos by Witold Lutoslawski

When listening to this piece, I suggest listening to the Theme and see how it gets developed. It’s a Theme and Variations piece. There are many different characters in this piece. For example, the first variation has a character of violin-like. It reminds me of my friend who played this piece for me so many times.

The unique thing of this transcription is the way the composer uses the harmony. It’s very dissonant, interesting, and unique. This creates lots of new sound for performers like me to explore.

Julian Jenson, 17, piano

Variations on a Theme by Paganini for Two Pianos by Witold Lutoslawski

It’s a very tumultuous, chaotic onslaught of harmonic tension that is delineated by a profound lyrical break. I think of the artillery shells and Luftwaffe bomb strikes that the Germans used in their invasion of Poland in 1939, two years before this piece was written, whenever I play it. I think my favorite part is the Poco Lento middle section that breaks us away from the “battlezone” and allows the dust to clear with its contrary triads.

The most unique aspect of this music is I think the relationship between the accompanying lines and the melodic ideas. Lutoslawski retains the basic melodies of Paganini’s original capriccio, but spices them up with rhythmic and harmonic ideas that alone aren’t too revolutionary, but together are quite extraordinary. Not many pieces accomplish this as well as Lutoslawski’s arrangement.

Post show reflection: Certainly the flight to El Paso was a favorite memory of mine. It was my first flight ever, and it was an exhilarating experience. I recall looking out the window, like the dork I am, during that initial acceleration. It was one of the most mind-blowing things I’d ever seen. The funny thing to me is how others on the same flight—even my “twin,” In, —took for granted something I thought was incredible.

As I was introducing the piece In and I were about to play, I thought to myself, “this is an immense blessing.” When we walked to our pianos, I wasted no time in ensuring my seat was in order, and my hands had assumed the position. I patiently awaited In to look me in the eye, and once he did, we both knew that it was time to get the show on the road. Both of us had enough experience performing separately and together that it was a breeze. I know I certainly had fun; I imagine In did too. We had our rough spots, but we muscled through it and acted like nothing went wrong at all. Even as we had to fight our pianos in some places, we just let the adrenaline take its hold on us and the audience alike, seeing where we would go. As I pounded that last chord, I thought, “we done good.” It was the most fun I’d ever had onstage.

Music has the power to ignite passions in others. We saw this during the counter-culture of the 60s, where rock was an important medium through which ideas were spread, especially those of cultural and social change. I know that in me it ignites the passion to do something good for others, for the community, for the world. I want to use music in some way to make this a better place for all of us, if I can. I believe music also has the power to heal. I can speak again from my own personal experience that its influence in my life has helped me muscle through difficult financial, emotional, or spiritual times over the course of my days on Earth.

Christopher O’Riley’s Liszt

O'Riley's LisztFrom the Top host Christopher O’Riley has released a new recording, O’Riley’s Liszt which delves into the transcriptions of the master interpreter. The  2-CD set and HD audio/video Blu-ray features Christopher’s own touches on the works of Mozart, Wagner, Berlioz, Schubert, and Schumann. Christopher is also making live appearances in conjunction with the May 7 release, performing at clubs and other alternative venues in New York, Boston, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. Check out the schedule below.

Christopher O’Riley on tour with O’Riley’s Liszt

May 12 – Highline Ballroom New York, NY
May 13 – Merit School of Music Chicago, IL
May 15 – Regattabar Cambridge, MA
May 27 – Iota Club and Cafe Arlington, VA
May 29 – Yoshi’s San Francisco, CA


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