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.

Show 273 122

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

Show 270: Listening Guide

DSC_0018From the Top’s broadcast for Show 270 was taped at the University of Georgia’s Hugh Hodgson School of Music in Athens, GA on Sunday March 3, 2013. We asked our performers to tell us more about their experience on the show…

Maria IoudenitchMaria Ioudenitch, 17, violin
Scherzo-Tarantelle, Op.16
By: Henryk Wieniawski

The Scherzo-Tarantella merges precision, tenderness, and passio to create a masterpiece of virtuosity. I have neither a favorite nor least favorite part, as all aspects contribute to an incredible entity, which has no boundaries of emotion. This piece begins with grandeur, and technique, flows into a graceful middle section, and continues to bring the brief “Cantabile” of lighthearted yet passionate excitement. Finally, the Scherzo-Tarantella ends back at “Tempo I”, reiterating the brightness of the beginning.

This piece is special in it integration of various points of the emotional spectrum. Unlike some other pieces in my repertoire, the Scherzo-Tarantella brings out my still (thankfully) youthful energy to the maximum, with no need to suppress it. This piece highlights the difficulty of control, in regard to technique. However, by working on this control, I gain ability to structure the masterpiece and hopefully pass on to the audience the great love that it brings out in me.

Post-Show Reflection: my favorite moments were being backstage with my fellow performers, and then walking out onto the stage and looking at the warm, accepting audience. Of course, the performance itself was the best experience. I was shaking, my hands were cold, my heart was beating irregularly…the nervous aspect coalesced with the excited. When I started to play, my mind was in technique, but after about 12 seconds my heart overcame and joined the music.

Music has the power to affect others.

Wickliffe Simmons 2Wickliffe Simmons, 19, cello
By: Maurice Ravel

Well there is a story behind this piece. In January, a good friend and I put together a memorial benefit concert at our school for the victims and families of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, Each piece was put in the program for a specific reason. We chose this piece because in Judaism, a Kaddish is the prayer for the dead. The idea we had in mind was that some things are beyond verbal description, so through music we could reflect and reach out to the Sandy Hook families, and faith or no faith, we wanted this piece to honor the students and teachers who were lost that day.

It has a very vocal or cantor-like quality. When I play it, I feel like I am solemnly pacing through a morphing, impressionistic atmosphere. This piece was written originally for voice and piano. Since the cello, in my opinion, is the closest string instrument to the human voice, it’s pretty cool that you can sing this piece without words. My teacher says that I should imagine that I am a Jewish cantor singing this prayer. I guess the hard part about playing this piece is making it have the same natural rise and fall of the human voice – just making it sound authentic and knowing the pacing you want to take before playing it.

Post-Show Reflection: It was great t meet all of these new, amazingly talented people, and realize how we all seem to know a lot of the same people. The rehearsals got rid of a lot of my anxiety before the show. When I walked onto the stage, the thought wasn’t to panic, but instead to just let go.

Music can speak as a language of its own, and draws out an emotional response.

Bokyung Byun 3Bokyung Byun, 18, guitar
“Recuerdos de la Alhambra” (Memories of the Alhambra)
By: Francisco Tárrega

The last two chords of the piece always confuse people. They often start clapping when the first chord is played because they think it is the end of the piece. In fact, the last chord often doesn’t get the chance to be heard. A friend of mine suggested that if audiences start clapping after the first chord, instead of bowing, I should wait until people stop clapping and play the last chord.

When I play this piece, I imagine a guitarist accompanying a singer singing the melody. I found it challenging to make the melody sing on the guitar, while making the accompaniment interesting at the same time. When I tried to listen to the melody, the accompaniment became too boring. When I tried to make the accompaniment interesting, the melody was not singing anymore.

Post-Show Reflection: My favorite memory was the pizza party! I loved how the staff members were so nice and supportive of us all the time. Also, it was nice to meet everyone for the first time. The performance itself was very relaxing. The audience was amazingly cheerful, and I really enjoyed performing for them.

I believe that music has the power to describe things that words cannot.

Ariela Bohrod 4Ariela Bohrod, 17, piano
Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise Brillante, Op.22
by Frédéric Chopin

Post-Show Reflection: I loved taking the quiz for my on-air interview! I learned some hilarious new things about the food preferences of famous pianists, and even though I only answered one of the three questions correctly, it still was a hoot. For the show, I thought I would be anxious to perform, but I was having too much fun to feel nervous.

Music is a universal language – something everyone can understand. It’s something that can connect people, help us to put aside our differences, and come together. I believe music has the power to change the world. 

Luther Warren of Piano Trio 2Hartman-Warren-Doyle Trio
I. Moderato Assai from Piano Trio in G minor, Op.15
By: Bedřich Smetana

Luther Warren, 17, violin

In me, this music awakes images of the vase, rolling Czech countryside. Although I’ve never visited the Czech Republic, these images are vivid and tangible. This piece was written immediately following the death of Smetana’s daughter. As a result it conveys and enormous amount of grief, suffering, and poignancy. This is the mist important aspect to communicate to the audience.

Post-Show Reflection: My favorite memory was sitting in the Green Room with the rest of my trio while the show was starting. Only when we heard the crowd begin to cheer that what we were about to do really sank in for me. Performing on the stage at the show was about what I would imagine being in a 1950s live-broadcast TV show would be like. There was a rush of inherent and exciting energy about it all.

Music has the potential to bring beauty to a person’s life on a level far deeper than most other things can reach. 

Piano Trio 2Nora Morrissey Doyle, 16, cello

This piece is one that is filled with grief. Our coach told us about how Smetana wrote this trio after his daughter died from an illness, and I think that you can hear those emotions of grief throughout the piece. It speaks to his sorrow and frustration, but there are also fond memories, like when you hear the beautiful cello melody. My favorite part of the piece is in the beginning, when the cello joins the violin as the violin repeats its descending line and the cello plays an ascending one.

There are some places with tricky rhythms, and we had to work hard to get those places together. But those rhythms also add to the tension and the emotion of the piece. As with any ensemble, the blending of the different voices for just the right combination is a challenge. In this piece the dominant instrument changes around at times, and so we must listen carefully.

Post-Show Reflection: My favorite memory was meeting all of the performers and production staff at the pizza party. For the show, I was more comfortable than I’d expected. Having done the dress rehearsal in the morning, playing on that stage wasn’t as scare anymore. In fact, the only thing different from the dress rehearsal, to the performance was having a live audience, which was totally energizing.

Music can do basically anything, I think. It can transcend time, culture, distance, and bring people together. It allows people who don’t even necessarily speak the same language to communicate fluently.

Piano Trio 5Derek Hartman, 15, piano

This piece explores many different emotions, all of which transition between each other in a matter of seconds. My favorite part is the long violin solo, where Luther hits a high B flat. My least favorite part is the section where the strings are playing triplets while I play loud, C major chords, which lasts for several measures. I fell like the storyline follows different paths of pain and sorrow, as many emotions run through us at once when we experience that.

This piece has a strange piano part. Unlike most romantic piano trios, the pianist doesn’t have too many virtuosic parts; however, the part is surprisingly difficult. The chordal and octave passages make it a tough piece.  The hardest thing to nail is the right amount of “portato”.

Post-Show Reflection: In addition to performing (obviously), I enjoyed going out for dinner with all the “talent.” It was fun to get to know everyone. I didn’t think the performance was stressful at all – it was one of the most lighthearted, fun experiences I have ever had in a performance; very inspiring and invigorating.

Music has the power to bring people together for a common cause. It is also entertaining and provides a purpose, something to work for – it inspires, and provides hope. 

Show 269: Listening Guide


From the Top’s broadcast for Show 269 was taped at the McCoy Center for the Arts in Mesa, AZ on Tuesday February 19, 2013. We asked our performers to tell us more about their experience on the show…

269 mesa 229

Austen Yueh, 16, clarinet
IV. Molto Allegro from Sonata in E-flat for Clarinet and Piano, Op.167
By: Camille Saint-Saëns

This movement is all about contrasts. One moment all you’re hearing are flashy, fast runs and scales, and the next moment it’ll be completely calm. It reminds me of a really exciting flight full of twists and turns, diving low and shooting back up in the technical passages. I think Saint-Saëns really knew how to exhibit the many personalities of the clarinet in this piece: the slightly show-off-y, attention-seeking, playing child; the shy and innocent girl; and the more mature romantic, which appears in the closing section. That’s definitely my favorite part, since it’s like a breath of fresh air when coming home after a long time away. Not to mention, the melody is essentially a beautiful love song without words.

Ultimately this movement represents life in a nutshell to me. We’re often very jumpy and eager, ready to dive into everything that comes our way. The main portion of the movement is bold and fast-paced, punctuated by moments of anxiety and breaks. 269 mesa 222However, settling into the legato, cantabile melody in the closing reminds us that at the end of the day, we need to just sit back, chill, and enjoy the simple pleasures of life before we miss them and they’re gone.

My first time hearing this piece was on a CD of Ricardo Morales at my teacher’s house. The sonata’s first movement has the same theme which appears in this movement’s closing, and I fell in love with it immediately. But what makes it more meaningful to me is that I performed this melody after the eulogy at my grandfather’s funeral in China. Seeing everyone’s faces soften despite the grief and the gravity of the situation was truly touching for me, and I think that was the moment where I realized music isn’t just about playing the right notes, having the best technique, or making a successful career. It’s about communicating and relating to people on a deeper level.

Post-Show Reflection: I really enjoyed all of the experiences with the performers outside the concert hall, especially the outreach events with the students from Archway Veritas and Rosie’s House. I was so thrilled to watch all of the other performers play onstage and interact with the students as well – the diversity and energy they brought were truly inspiring and I feel very fortunate to have been a part of that. Plus, I loved collaborating with Christopher O’Riley and getting to know the rest of the staff! And making a Harlem Shake video with everyone at the end of the arts leadership forum was a hilarious way to finish off. All in all, this has been one of my favorite musical experiences — it’s been both humbling and inspiring.

Music has the power to soften people’s hearts and to connect them in a way that is much deeper and closer to the core of what makes us human. As musicians, it’s so easy to get self-absorbed in your own actions and achievement, but music really is about humanity and communication. It is hope.

269 mesa 174Adé Williams, 15, violin
IV. Presto agitato from the Sonata No.3 in D minor for Violin and Piano, Op.108
By: Johannes Brahms

The first time I played this piece was in Ludlow, VT City Hall when I was 11. It was my first time playing an entire sonata, which was really exciting. But since this movement is the last, I was so SO tired and exhausted. It felt like I had just run a marathon! I really love this piece; it’s my favorite Brahms sonata. Each movement is so different and awesome. The movement that I play is my closest second favorite to the first movement. It’s so exhilarating and fun to play, which is definitely my kind of music!

This movement is really unique. I can’t say that I’ve heard anything like it before. There are lots of pieces that are exciting in different ways, but I think this piece portrays certain wildness and intensity that you might not find in others. It’s also really mysterious in a way, but like a roller coaster at the same time! You’re always on your toes, and wondering what’s coming next!

Post-Show Reflection: This time being on From the Top was absolutely FANTASTIC! From playing the Brahms with Chris, to talking about how amazing Mr. Friend was, to hanging out with amazing other performers backstage, and doing hilarious things (Harlem Shake?) with them was soooooooo so so much fun. The staff is always wonderful and fun. Leading the bow was also really fun J It was an AMAZING experience and I can’t wait to come back.

269 mesa 204Peter Eom, 17, cello
III. Allegro Molto Vivace from Sonata for Solo Cello, Op.8
By: Zoltán Kodály

Kodály wrote his solo cello sonata after visiting a bunch of tribal villages in Europe. He was inspired by the sheer number of cultures he was introduced to, and wrote the piece to express his culture shock. This is why you might notice some very unconventional sounds in his piece – virtuoso pizzicati, accentuated rhythms, harmonic shouts – in addition to the simplistic folk tunes. When hearing the sonata, you can almost imagine the villagers in their rustic dances and rituals – the music recreates their whoops and shouts, and their barbaric grunting and howling. This rural flavor to the piece makes it very schizophrenic because Kodály mixes it with very traditional, Hungarian composing – he frequently quotes the aristocratic (and very non-rustic) style of Hungarian concert music: nationalistic, proper music ful of pride and symmetry. By switching from this traditional Hungarian tone to lower-brow, folksy music, and then constantly back and forth, Kodály makes this piece an exciting creature indeed. I encourage audience members to listen for these different styles – it really helps in structuring the piece in your mind, and that’s always important when you want to keep yourself involved in the music. Another cool thing about the solo sonata is that it was the first thing written for solo cello since the Bach solo cello suites. Nobody knows why Kodály chose the cello, considered then as a long-forgotten instrument combo, to express how he felt about the different cultures. All I know is that: 1. Through his piece, Kodály gave the solo cello form new life, and composers from then on really started to contribute to the solo cello repertoire.  2. Every non-cellist wishes 269 mesa 195that Kodály wrote something like this for his or her instrument – this is not even an opinion. It’s a fact – that’s just how cool this piece is.

The Solo Cello Sonata is considered one of the most difficult compositions ever written for cello – so in just that sense, Kodály’s piece is already very unique. However, as mentioned before, it introduces a lot of colors that are not found elsewhere in different pieces, and it is this flavor that really makes Kodály’s Solo Cello Sonata a special piece to enjoy. In no other majors piece are pizzicato, accentuated rhythms, and exotic solo cello chords so prominent. In addition, the piece requires that the cellist tunes his or her strings different from the traditional tuning of fifths (A, D, G, and C) – instead, the cellist tunes the G and C strings a half-step down, to F# and B. Through his use of scordatura to create a much less stable cello, now centered around a definite k (b minor), Kodály paints a polyphonic situation where the cello rings beyond its natural resonance and makes both the playing and the listening experience truly out of this world.

One really hard thing about this piece is that fact that it expresses something very simple – the pure emotion and feeling that is folk culture. As an artist, my job is to show this simplicity to the listeners; however, this is difficult to do due to the technical challenges of the piece, and how all over the place it is with its various special effects. I’ll try my best to emphasize the themes of the movement in the midst of everything, but will acknowledge that keeping it simple is one of the most challenging aspects of the piece.

Post-Show Reflection: From the Top was a beautiful experience for me – and all of us, I’m sure. I can’t believe that we were only together for 2 days! It’s a testament to the power of music – as we drove together, ate together, and listened to each other, something magical happened and we all found it so easy to relate to each other. It was as if we had grown up together. Ultimately, I found my time here and experiences have definitely given me new insight into the great things I can do for the future.

269 mesa 158Christopher Son Richardson, 14, piano
III. Allegro con brio, ma non leggiere from Sonata No. 4 in C minor, Op. 29
By: Sergei Prokofiev.

I think that this piece is extremely fun to play. It is quite humorous, in my opinion, but it has its lyrical moments. I imagine a circus whenever I play this movement. For example, the very first few measures seem like someone doing a trapeze act. My favorite part to play is the climax. My brother tries to copy many times while he is practicing from another room during my practice, but he can never make it as fast, no matter how many times he tries – we always laugh about it.

Compared to the other piece that I have played, this piece requires a lot of energy from the performer. The hardest thing to nail, for me, is building the excitement, especially towards the big climax. I also have to make the dynamics very contrasting. The rhythm has to be precise. Another thing that makes this piece unique is its combination of lyricism, dynamism, sarcastic humor, and classicism.

Post-Show Reflection: My favorite memory from my FTT experience was when the students from Rosie’s House came backstage while everyone was eating (for a meet & greet session with the performers). I was less nervous that I thought I would be, and I thought it was really fun. The piano was great!

Music has the power to change people.

269 mesa 127Trey Pernell, 18, composer
Performed by the Phoenix Children’s Chorus
(Ron Carpenter – artistic director)
“O Captain! My Captain!”
By: Trey Pernell

I wrote “O Captain! My Captain!” with the image of a massive funeral procession in mind. I imagined a solemn spectacle befitting the death of such a revered figure (Abraham Lincoln) and tried to sound like the collective voice of the crowd, as they watched the casket pass by. Above all, you could say that I wanted to depict the emotions around a single scene, more than tell an entire story.

“O Captain! My Captain!” was my second choral composition and I wanted to get it right. I hadn’t been in choir for more than 3 months when I tried to write my first choral composition, inspired by all of the gorgeous music that I’d been introduced to. It was composed in the fervor of having discovered something new and exciting. Writing my first choral composition was 269 mesa 78like taking a brand new car out for a ride, or painting after discovering a new color. I hadn’t really written music for the voice before so I was thinking to myself, ‘Let’s see what I can do with these new tools.’ The first piece ended up being sloppily written and hastily finished. Several months later, however, when I began writing “O Captain! My Captain!,” I was determined to keep it from collapsing. “O Captain!” is special to me because ever since I’d joined choir, I wanted ot write a substantial choral piece, and it represents my success. There’s nothing like completing your first composition, and completing “O Captain!” brought a little bit of that feeling back.

Post-Show Reflection: A favorite memory for me was the the dinner we had all of the producers and musicians; the initial eat-meet-greet. I really enjoyed listening to my piece as it was performed by the Phoenix Children’s Chorus, and watching the emotion they put into it – they sang beautifully.

Music has the power to promote change within even the most immobile groups of people. It is a force to be reckoned with. 

Show 268: Listening Guide

DSC_0053From the Top’s broadcast for Show 268 featuring was taped with UApresents at Centennial Hall in Tucson, AZ on Sunday February 17, 2013. We asked our performers to tell us more about their experience on the show…

DSC_4203Elli Choi, 11, violin
I. Allegro vivo from Sonata in G minor for Violin and Piano 
By: Claude Debussy

I think this piece is beautiful and hard in a way that is not technical but rather musically challenging – this is why I love the piece. Something I don’t like so much about the piece is that I can’t show off as much technique. When I play this piece, I think about French art, like Monet’s paintings.

Something I think that is unique about this piece is that it’s really based on how colorful you can make it, not so mechanical but really to make it dream. Also, I think its’ cool how Debussy broke some rules about not having parallel 5ths – he had a lot in his music.

Post-Show Reflection: One of my favorite moments was when were all talking about time-traveling, invisibility, and other sci-fi things backstage. The show itself was so nice – it was just natural, very relaxing and exciting.

Music can change people’s lives – it can move, inspire, unify, bring hope and bring peace.

_JESTH~SElmer Churampi, 16, trumpet
“Rhapsody in Blue”  
By: George Gershwin (arr. Timofei Dokschizer)

I chose rhapsody in blue because it is a popular piece for the piano, but not typical for the trumpet. I wanted to show the audience that I can play a piece that was not originally composed for trumpet, and that it sounds better on the instrument as well.

Post-Show Reflection: The concert was awesome – the people liked my playing, and I was very happy. The interview was fun too, and the hall’s acoustic was awesome for my trumpet.

Music has the power to fix problems, and make people happy.

DSC_4193Cameron Quentin-Williams, 14, piano
Suggestion Diabolique, Op.4, No.4
By: Sergei Prokofiev

Post-Show Reflection: My favorite moments were walking in on Gus’s pre-show routine (getting in the zone) and having the chance to do a “nerd” interview with Christopher O’Riley.  It was really exciting to be on a radio show!

Music can communicate better than any other medium.  

_G2XL8~AAugustus Woodrow-Tomizuka, 18, guitar
Grande Ouverture, Op.61
By: Mauro Giuliani

To me, this piece is one of the most epic guitar compositions ever written. From the first booming chord, it tells a vivid story of love and conflict, creating a myriad of atmospheres and colorful characters. I swear I get goosebumps every time I perform the Ouverture, especially in the breathtaking finale.

It’s very rare to find a solo guitar piece that so brilliantly evokes the power and range of expression of a full orchestra. In my playing, I always try to bring out the voices of symphonic instruments so as to fully convey the work’s operatic nature. It’s incredibly challenging, but ridiculously fun.

Post-Show Reflection: A favorite memory for me was sharing a dressing room with Elmer. His green-room routine was totally different from mine. As I was going through my usual warm up exercises, he watched hilarious Youtube videos and skyped with friends. We ended up laughing like maniacs, and I don’t think I’ve ever been as relaxed going on stage in my life!

Music has the ability to bring people together, and enlighten our society.

_JEVYY~WDaniel Kaler, 15, cello
“Chant du Ménestrel” (Minstrel’s Song), Op. 71
By: Alexander Glazunov

This piece speaks to me on a very deep emotional level. I love performing Romantic repertoire, for I can express emotions through my cello that would be impossible to put into words. This piece evokes a very special silence from my audience, which tells me that I am understood.

While this isn’t a showpiece designed to show off one’s technique, it leaves one’s ability to communicate through music completely exposed. I was looking for a color palette while working on this piece that no other has demonstrated to me before. I feel a special connection with its origin, Russia, since my family came from there.

Post-Show Reflection: It was great being able to share my love and gift for music with a supportive audience and group of friends. I loved getting to know each of them in greater depth after the show. I was very nervous at first, but could tell the audience loved it despite my nervousness. I enjoyed playing with Christopher O’Riley to communicate through the universal language of music.

Music has the power to unify, bring peace, and hope to the less fortunate. 


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 55 other followers

%d bloggers like this: