How Music Heals

The healing power of music.

This is a phrase we hear a lot these days. Throughout history, music has been a source of inspiration, comfort, and support in many circumstances.

We are always amazed at the poise and achievement of our young performers on From the Top. The dedication, hard work, and passion that they share gives us hope for the future. Yet even these high-achieving young people deal with hard times, and many of our musicians share stories about how music has helped them (and others) heal. Sometimes we share those stories on air, and sometimes we choose not to.

In our recent taping recorded at Jordan Hall in Boston and aired the week of March 10 on NPR stations nationwide, the young ladies of Quartet Noce opened up to our host and live audience about the challenges they have faced in their lives so far, and how music has helped them through those challenges. They felt it was important to share this part of their story, and the response to their courage has been remarkable so far.

Quartet NoceWhen we interviewed them before they appeared on the show, the quartet struck us as a tight-knit group, with the girls operating as a group of best friends rather than only musical accomplices. They are very encouraging towards one another, and are comfortable discussing serious topics as well as lapsing into giggles when they remember a funny moment from rehearsal. Each of the girls has used music to help them cope with some tough situations in their young lives, which they shared with us on the radio show.

17-year-old violist Sloane Wesloh is a passionate advocate for people with Type 1 Diabetes, an autoimmune disease that she was diagnosed with at age 12 after playing classical music  for seven years. She says, when she received the diagnosis, that she wanted to quit playing. “I felt like it was pointless to be playing an instrument and focusing on passion and music when I was simply trying to stay alive,” she says, “then I came back to it about a year later when I realized that when I play music I don’t feel the needles or think about diabetes, so it’s really the only time when diabetes isn’t the main focus in my life.”

When 18-year-old cellist Drake Driscoll’s father passed away, she was only 2 years old. While she may have already had some Obsessive-Compulsive tendencies, she explains that when she was in second grade, they noticed symptoms of severe Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. She explains, “I was worried about my mom, and going to check on her at least 10 times a night – I was worried for her safety.” At that point, she entered therapy, but she credits music as one of the things that helped her. She says that music is a way for her to escape what she’s feeling and achieve some control over her OCD.

17-year-old violinist Rose Moerschel and her twin sister have both struggled with anorexia in their young lives. While Rose has been able to get her disease under control, it can be really difficult for her to watch her twin sister, who is still struggling. She says that music has helped; “It lets me escape from that whole lifestyle.”

When 18-year-old violinist Joy Kuo came to Walnut Hill School for the Arts last year, she really missed home. While many of the boarding students at Walnut Hill can contact their parents and family quite easily, Joy’s family is in Taiwan where the time difference makes it difficult to find a good time to connect. While she misses her family very much, she says she uses practice time to help her take her mind off of it. She says, “I just go to practice and I think that if I play well or do great, they are proud of me, that my family can be proud of me.”

We would like to hear from you about this. How has music helped you get through a tough time?

Get to Know Host Christopher O’Riley

ChristopherORiley_MamuyaWhat do you think audiences enjoy the most about From the Top?

The kids on From the Top are inspirational musicians who share wonderful performances and they also share their passions for all kinds of pursuits that make them outstanding human beings. That is very captivating for listeners across the country.

How did you first get involved with From the Top? 

When Co-Founders Gerald Slavet and Jennifer Hurley-Wales were first putting From the Top together as a radio show, they caught a CBS Sunday Morning interview with me in which I was talking about rap group Run-DMC. They realized that we shared a passion for the future of classical music and a connection to New England Conservatory (I am a graduate), and that I was someone who could relate to the young guests on the show.

I jumped at the opportunity to be a part of this project – I had noticed a decline in attendance in classical concerts across the spectrum of American cities and all venues, orchestral and otherwise, and I additionally noted the scattershot way that lots of arts organizations were seeking to revitalize interest in classical music, particularly with young listeners. My expectation of the show at that time was that it could be a vital and potentially transformative force in the music world, and after more than a decade on the air that expectation has been and continues to be soundly fulfilled.

Why do you continue to be part of From the Top after so many years?ChristopherORiley_Ellsworth

There’s an energy and excitement to playing with kids who are this fresh and excited about music. I find the collaborations with each of the young performers on our show to be some of my most rewarding performance opportunities.

In addition, over the last several years, From the Top has evolved to become more than a radio show. At each tour location, the performers on our show take part in an Arts Leadership Orientation Workshop where they explore their leadership pathways. They then put those new skills to the test in outreach events for audiences as varied as elementary school children and senior citizens, in venues from Boys & Girls Clubs to assisted living facilities. It is invigorating to be part of an organization that is always working to bring music to more people.

How do these talented young musicians inspire you?

It’s inspiring to be around the next generation of great musicians. From the young violinist living on a ranch in South Dakota, to the teenage soprano from upstate New York, there’s an extraordinary level of musicianship and musical training in every corner of this country. It’s exciting to see what the cohort of performers on each new show has to offer.

I’m also impressed by the performers’ dedication to promote classical music in their own communities. After they appear on the show and take part in the workshop, many of them are inspired to create their own way of using music to help others. Performers have created summer music programs, fundraised for tsunami victims, and played for retirement communities and senior centers.

What is the most surprising moment you have experienced while taping a From the Top performance?

That would have to be in preparing for a performance of a very difficult work by Paul Schoenfield with 13-year-old violinist, Bella Hristova, and noting that not only had she mastered and memorized the piece, but she could start at any measure number I could name. That’s scary (powerful) stuff.

How would you compare your own experience of being a young musician with the performers featured on From the Top?

I look back on my childhood and think, man, I wish From the Top was around when I was growing up! I didn’t have these kinds of performance opportunities, or the contact with my peer musicians. I was playing classical piano, and although music was something that I wanted to do all the time, I had to shift a little bit, so in sixth grade I started a rock band – I thought maybe the girls would like me better. It didn’t help.

Music can be a solitary pursuit – you toil away in practice rooms and go to lessons and rehearsals. Many kids feel that they can’t talk to their friends about what they are doing. From the Top creates a needed community for these kids. They get to share their thoughts about putting this music together, why they think it’s great, why they think that other kids should enjoy this kind of music, and why it’s made such a difference in their lives.

How do you spend your time when you are not on the road with From the Top?

ORiley_TermineI spend a great deal of time on the road. Earlier this year, I performed at Yoshi’s in San Francisco in support of my latest release on Oxingale Records, O’Riley’s Liszt. The concert promoter brought in several From the Top alumni who surprised me with a performance. It was very touching!

I really enjoy the collaborative process and spend much of my time working with musicians around the country whom I respect. Cellist Matt Haimovitz and I collaborated to record Shuffle. Play. Listen. and toured extensively in support of that album. I’m looking forward to working with him again when we will return to the National Music Museum in Vermillion (where we taped From the Top in September) to record the Beethoven Cello Sonatas on some of their period instruments.

When I do have some downtime at home, I love spending time with my fiancé and our many cats. Each of my cats has a very distinct personality, and I find my time with them both relaxing and energizing.

If you could describe your experience with From the Top’s young artists in three words, what would they be?

Thanks for everything.

Alumni in Action: From Competition Wins to CD Releases

Our alumni are making waves all over the world! Here’s our latest round of alumni updates, keep them coming! You can submit your update to: alumni@fromthetop.org.

Alexi Kenney

Alexi Kenney (Show 200) was named a 2013 Concert Artist Guild winner in New York last week. The Concert Artists Guild provides management support “to a roster of talented artists during a critical and formative time: between completion of formal studies and the achievement of an established career.” Past From the Top alumni winners include Sebastian Baverstam and Steven Lin.

Soprano Nadine Sierra (Show 95, Show 213) won the XIII International Montserrat Caballé Singing Competition in Zaragoza, Spain, and the Neue Stimmen 2013 International Singing Competition in Gütersloh, Germany. Among other appearances, she will be singing Rigoletto in March with Boston Lyric Opera.

Violinist Anna Lee (Show 152, Show 204, TV Season 2) won the Bernhard and Mania Hahnloser Violin Prize this summer at the Verbier Festival in Switzerland. She attended the Verbier Festival Academy, which is comprised of a select group of young artists (piano, violin, viola, cello, ensemble, voice). “The Verbier Festival Academy enables the best young soloists in the world to work under the watchful eye of great artists, following a rigorous selection process.  For three weeks, the stars of tomorrow benefit from a number of masterclasses, which are open to all, and have many occasions to demonstrate their talents.”

The U.S. representatives in each instrumental category were almost exclusively From the Top alumni. Piano: Alice Burla (Show 174, Show 224, TV Season 2); Violin: Chad Hoopes (Show 171, Show 189, TV Season 2), Sirena Huang (Show 188), Anna Lee (Show 152, Show 204, TV Season 2); Viola: Vicki Powell, Arianna Smith (Show 197, Show 228); Cello: Sarina Zhang (Show 112, Show 163, Show 236); Ensemble: The Calidore String Quartet, 2011 Fischoff Grand Prize winners and recently signed Opus 3 artists, featuring From the Top alumni Jeffrey Meyers and Ryan Meehan (Show 164)

Ibanda Ruhumbika is a member of Jon Batiste and Stay Human

Tubist Ibanda Ruhumbika (Show 155, Show 169, TV Season 2) released his first CD as a member of “Jon Batiste and Stay Human,” a modern jazz ensemble noted for their world-class music, high energy, and uplifting spirit. They performed at the From the Top Gala in May 2013 and are touring now in support of their “Social Music” album release.

Teddy Abrams (Show 69) has been named the new music director of the Louisville Orchestra.

Alum and Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Umi Garrett (Show 211, Show 217) just performed eight community concerts in 17 days throughout North Carolina, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Virginia. She also performed Chopin’s Fantasy Impromptu for the soundtrack of the Steve Jobs biopic “Jobs.” Read about Umi in the Huffington Post.

Michael Thurber (Show 125), one of the creative forces behind the popular YouTube channel CDZA and an accomplished composer in his own right, was in London this fall working on music for “Antony and Cleopatra,” a new production of the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Public Theater. The show debuts in Stratford-upon-Avon, England in November, before coming to Miami in January and New York City in February and March.  Michael is also part of the creative team behind “Goddess,” a new musical that was workshopped at the Eugene O’Neill Musical Theater Conference. Wearing his other hat, Michael will join his CDZA colleagues to perform at the first-ever YouTube Music Awards on November 3.

Charles Yang (Show 74, Show 160, Show 230, TV Season 1), a frequent collaborator of Michael Thurber’s and CDZA will also perform at the upcoming YouTube Music Awards. But don’t think he’s left the classical music world behind! Charles just performed Tchaikovsky and a premiere with the Peoria Symphony and will accompany American Ballet Theatre’s performance of Twyla Tharp’s “Bach Partita”  in New York (as featured in The Wall Street Journal).

“I am not a rock star” follows eight years of alum Marika Bournaki’s life.

A film following eight years of the life of alum Marika Bournaki (Show 181) entitled “I am not a rock star” is making the rounds at various film festivals. Her From the Top appearance in 2008 was filmed during the documentary project.

Violist Daniel Orsen (Show 246), from Pittsburgh and currently a sophomore at Oberlin Conservatory of Music, was one of only three finalists in the junior division for viola at the 2013 American String Teachers Association (ASTA) National Solo Competition in April at the Kaufman Center’s Merkin Hall in New York City. This past August, Daniel completed his fourth summer with the Perlman Music Program Summer Music School in East Hampton, New York on Shelter Island.

Chase Dobson

Composer Chase Dobson (Show 265) was named Composer in Residence at the Avante Chamber Ballet in his hometown of Dallas and was commissioned to write his first short ballet, “Faces of the Sun” for horn, violin, and piano. Chase spent his summer at Boston University Tanglewood Instiute and is currently a senior at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas. To learn more about Chase Dobson, visit his website:  www.chasedobsonmusic.com.

Four From the Top alumni – Aaron Bigeleisen (Show 254), Peter Eom (Show 269), Hilda Huang (Show 180, TV Season 2), and Annika Jenkins (Show 234) – were among 20 high school seniors to receive the U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts in Washington, D.C. in June.

Aaron Bigeleisen also won first place in Classical Singer Magazine’s High School Vocal Competition and participated in Ottimavoce, a program in New York City run by Dr. Karen Parks of the Tisch School at New York University this summer. Aaron is a freshman at Eastman School of Music and the University of Rochester in their double degree program for Vocal Performance and German.

After graduating from Vanderbilt University in 2007 with a double degree in Classical Guitar and English Literature, Jennifer McNeil (Show 50) became a managing editor at Thomas Nelson Publishing Company in Nashville, Tennessee. She decided she missed music and completed her Master’s in Music at New England Conservatory with teacher Eliot Fisk this past May.  Jenni is currently studying classical guitar performance under Antigoni Goni at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels.

Jon Corin: My From the Top Experience

By Jon Corin, 18-year-old saxophone player from Sarasota, Florida

Jon Corin performs on From the Top

Jon Corin performs on From the Top

When I first heard From the Top on the radio, I was in awe of the musicians who were just around my age. My favorite part of the show is how real it makes its performers, bringing them down to earth for the listener and giving an insight into the lives of these young musicians beyond the practice room. When I learned that I would have the opportunity to perform on the show, I was excited that I would be able to share both my music and who I am with the From the Top community.

It’s hard to pick just one moment that I’ll remember most when I think back to my From the Top experience. Many of my memories come from moments that were not even part of taping the show. I will always remember discovering the Gamelan with such an amazing group of musicians (who were equally confused by the instrument at first as I was). I’ll also never forget the dynamic of the green room before the show. Although we all experienced some normal pre-performance jitters, I was struck by the poise and comfort of the group.

From the start of the weekend, the From the Top staff amazed me; making the organizational machine run so incredibly smoothly, constantly maintaining a smile, and meeting every one of the performers’ needs. For me, one of the most profound aspects of the show is the sense of community and love for the arts that is so clear amongst the group. I know that I will take that feeling with me for the rest of my life, and I will try to bring it to all of the environments, musical and otherwise, of which I am a part.

Listen to Jon on this week’s episode of From the Top, taped at the National Music Museum in Vermillion, South Dakota .

Listening Guide: Show 276, Vermillion, South Dakota

 135Maya Buchanan, 13 , violin
Violin Sonata No. 5 in F Major
Op. 24, “Spring”
By Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

The 1st and 4th movements are my favorites. I worked on this piece this summer while at Aspen Music Festival and playing it there reminds me a lot of Aspen’s natural setting. When I play this piece, I think of the flowing water and the shimmering Aspen trees. Beethoven is really big on dynamics, so there’s lots of subito pianos so that makes it challenging.  In the opening, it is very lyrical, calm and simple and other times becomes dramatic.  The dynamics are probably the hardest part – it crescendos up to a really big forte and then suddenly you have to be really soft.  I love Beethoven’s music!

 A favorite memory or highlight:
Having a tour of the National Music Museum in my home state with the FTT crew and fellow musicians.  There were really amazing, cool, unexpected instruments inside.  The Nickelodeon was my favorite. I also enjoyed spending time in he warm-up room getting acquainted with all the other musicians.

What do you believe music has the power to do?

People of all cultures and ages express themselves through music. This form of communication can be understood all over the world and inspires and positively changes the way we feel about each other.  And it happens like “POW!”  I don’t know of any other other “language” that affects people this way.   That’s the power of music.

Evan Lee, 15, piano 157
Trancendental Etude No. 4, “Mazeppa”
By Franz Liszt (1811-1886)

Any time my teacher gives me Liszt, I’m happy.  I like this piece.  She said, “why don’t you play this?”  And I’m like, “this is cool!”  There is a story behind it- I believe it’s about this prince that gets strapped to a horse and the horse is left to run free- it was because he did something, I’m not sure what it was, but the prince was being punished.  He almost dies but then returns victorious and becomes king.  Liszt tries to make the sound of a horse galloping throughout the piece.  First, I try to focus on hitting the right stuff.  Liszt is a programmatic composer, he puts titles to things and his own story.  There’s no alternative story that I have in mind.  This piece is always in motion so it’s hard to put together and not make it sound like a bunch of noise.  It’s easy to do that considering the technique is pretty hard.  The final variations are pretty large jumps, and it’s hard to get them light.

A favorite memory or highlight:
Trying all the harpsichords/old keyboard instruments at the Music Museum.

What do you believe music has the power to do?
I think music has the power to bring people together, start conversations, and make people happy.

 221Jon Corin, 18, saxophone
Fantasia for Saxophone
I. Animé
By Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959)

I’ll be playing the first movement of Fantasia by Heitor Villa-Lobos. It’s a piece that I’ve been playing for a long time; something that I’ve come back to numerous times.  I love the melody and the evocative contrast that occurs over the short span of this movement. When I first put this piece together with piano, it gained a whole new meaning for me. It came to life right before my eyes, like an old friend who just revealed something brand new about himself (thankfully it was something good). Since then, every time I play the piece I try to take something new from it, hopefully giving something new to the listener.

A favorite memory or highlight:
Playing the gamelan with the whole group of kids. Finally hearing everyone play.

What do you believe music has the power to do?
I believe it can bring people together, forming amazing relationships. Music can empower people to help others.

Henry Johnston, 16, guitar 187
Sonata No. 3
III. Allegro non troppo
By Manuel Ponce (1882-1948)

I’m playing the Ponce piece on the show. I’ve been playing it for a pretty long time. I learned the second movement first about three years ago, my dad suggested the piece for me and I took to it immediately. I learned the third movement about two years ago. I’m working on the first movement now. I really like the movement I’m playing. In the context of the piece, it seems like a pretty triumphant movement. It’s got a recurring theme, a real big strummed chord. Sometimes you expect it and sometimes you don’t, so it manages to keep an audience guessing. It’s got a beautiful middle section full of moving chords, which is fun as a guitar player to get to play because it really forces you to make decisions about the voicing of the chords, which notes you want at the forefront and which ones you want to lay back a little bit more. Pianists spend all sorts of time thinking about that, emphasis within a chord, but with a lot of guitar players it goes unnoticed.

A favorite memory or highlight:
Visiting the National Music Museum, the setting of the show really enriched the whole experience for me and created some great new connections within the music world.

What do you believe music has the power to do?
It’s got the power to bring people together and expose you to new things.

 121The Luna String Quartet

Anna Humphrey, 17, violin I

A favorite memory or highlight:
The actual performance was a lot of fun. Where the dress rehearsal seemed stressful and serious, the performance was light hearted and exciting.

What do you believe music has the power to do?
I believe music has the power to promote peace around the world. It brings people together as a universal language.

Emma Richman, 15, violin II

A favorite memory or highlight:
Spending time with the other musicians and getting to know them better was one of my favorite parts. We got along extremely well and I feel like I’ve known them for much longer than three days. It was also amazing to meet more talented musicians from all over the country.

What do you believe music has the power to do?
Music has the power to bring people together. People from all different backgrounds can get along simply because they all speak the same language of music.

Alexandra Sophocleus, 18, viola

A favorite memory or highlight:
Getting to know the other musicians on our episode was a huge highlight. It is always so awesome to meet other people our age with our interests from other parts of the country.

What do you believe music has the power to do?
Music has the power to help people express what words cannot. It gives people something to relate to and helps people make connections to others. My strongest friendships are the ones based around musical experiences.

Nora Doyle, 17, cello

A favorite memory or highlight:
Playing the gamelan! Seeing the museum and the experimental instruments. Also the pizza party and meeting everyone.

What do you believe music has the power to do?
Music can give people confidence and a sense of self-worth, connect people from different cultures.

From the Top Takes Aspen by Storm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See more pictures from the weekend here.

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

Show 271: Listening Guide

From the Top Show 271 was taped at the Jeanne B. McCoy Community Center for the Arts in New Albany, Ohio in March 2013. Learn what the performers have to say about their musical performances.

Audrey Watkins, 16, flute
III. Presto giocoso from Sonata for Flute and Piano
By: Francis Poulenc

Audrey Watkins on From the TopThis piece is extremely hormonal, with all sorts of jumps form lyrical to technical and back again. It never quite decides whether it wants to be serious or not, although it mostly leans towards the not serious. The way I think of it is it’s like someone in a class with their best friend, trying to pretend to be serious but bursting out laughing in all the teacher’s awkward pauses.

It’s really hard to maintain the internal calm necessary for the technique of this piece while still having the giggly attitude. If you aren’t careful, you wind up with about half the notes and a lot of really sharp high notes. It’s gun to juggle all of the piece’s moods, you just have to be careful to not get lost!

Post-Show Reflection: I really enjoyed going out for ice cream with Eric, Eva and Michaella after the show was over. It was the best to just relax and hang out with other awesome musicians and talk about the show, auditions, college, etc. Everyone on the show was so cool! The show was nerve-wracking in that when you’re playing with a great pianist, you REALLY don’t want to make mistakes. The experience of going on stage with all of the fun and madness of the show going on around you, however, was one of the most relaxed and sort of “fly by the seat of your pants” performances I’ve ever had.

Music can control your mood, which can control your actions, which can control your future, which can control your happiness, which can affect the entire human race. Ergo, music makes you happy, which makes everybody happy.

Sung Moon Park, 15, cello
“Capriccio”
By Lukas Foss

Post-Show Reflection: It’s hard to choose a favorite memory! The interview was a fun and new experience. I really liked the Arts Leadership Program orientation. It really made me look at music in a totally different way. Music is not just a mere entertainment, but also something that can make the world a better place.

The show was awesome! I love how From the Top does these concerts. The whole interview and more relaxed environment make it just awesome. I actually thought that it was little bit odd that the staff expected us to be super nervous backstage right before the performance.

Music has the power to make the world a much better place. It can unite people. It can build emotional connections between people. It is the best tool of communication we have got. It can do anything.

Eric Goldberg, 18, percussion
“Scirocco” for solo marimba
By: Michael Burritt

“Scirocco” means “hot desert winds,” and this image is definitely well captured by the melody of this piece. It consists of a lot of notes in a very short amount of time, which helps contribute to its frenzied storm-like nature. This piece was a challenge to learn not only because of its technical difficulty, but it was difficult to figure out how to communicate the imagery of it.

This piece evokes more imagery than others I have played, and there is a story that I have to tell. The tempo and dynamic ranges help communicate the varying intensity of this storm, so it is my duty to make that clear to the audience not only by the sound that I produce, but how I present it physically.

Eden Chen, 13, piano
“Concert Paraphrase on Rigoletto” S.434
By: Franz Liszt

I feel like I can play this piece for any occasion. It’s got lyrical sections AND virtuosity. I’ve played it in small parties and larger concerts, and always get great reactions. I think it’s like a chili pepper: what you’ve got is the drama and scope of an opera packed into the length of an impromptu. I remember once I was performing it at a hotel for some relatives, and some little kids ran up and started playing random keys. It was pretty funny because no one wanted to interrupt me, but the kids wouldn’t stop.

One of the most important things to keep in mind is the overall structure and unity of the piece. Since it came from an opera, and an opera is a story, everything has to sound adherent. To me, that’s the most difficult part because it’s really easy to get caught up in all the details. It is the first transcription I’ve ever played, and I enjoy it a lot, so I’m definitely going to want to play more transcriptions in the future.

Mittelpunkt Duo
“Geistliches Wiegenlied” (Sacred Lullaby) from Two Songs for Alto, Viola and Piano, Op.91, No.2
By: Johannes Brahms

Michaella Cipriani, 17, mezzo-soprano

Mittelpunkt DuoThis piece is a lullaby for Jesus, and it’s a pretty dark lullaby. In some parts, the speaker is pleading desperately to the angels for help protecting her child. She’s yelling at the trees to shut up because they’re being too loud. Eventually, the windstorm calms down, the baby falls asleep, and everything’s very sweet and picturesque.

I think this is one of those pieces where expression is more important than beauty. For me, that means sounding “yucky” sometimes – using straight-tone, glottal attacks – stuff I’m not supposed to do. It’s an interesting balancing act between singing with technical correctness (legato, with clean onsets, tone that projects, vibrancy, etc.) with expressiveness.

Post-Show Reflection: I loved hearing all the other performers play and talk about their music. They’re all so passionate. I think everyone’s enthusiasm rubbed off on each other, and built up higher and higher. I was surprised at how non-nervous I was. I think it was because I had the personal, informal connection with the live audience from talking about silly things in the interviews. I felt like everyone in the seats were good friends, and I was just hanging out, making music for fun with my friends. 

Music has the power to create understanding between people who otherwise have trouble communicating with each other.

Eva Kennedy, 18, viola

This is one of the most gorgeous pieces I’ve ever played. It’s fairly repetitive, but the melodies are so beautiful that they never get old. One thing that we’ve worked on has been presenting the repeated melodies a little differently each time, so we ended up playing them over and over again in rehearsals and I still absolutely love playing and listening to them!

This piece has been a very unique experience for me – his is the first time I’ve ever played with a vocalist. It’s very different than playing with other string players, so it was difficult at first, but it has been fun and very beneficial, especially since we (string players) are always told to phrase like vocalists. We also had to take the meaning of the text into consideration when exploring different colors and characters, which is something I’d never had to do before.

Post-Show Reflection: One of my favorite parts was sitting backstage after we had finished playing with the other performers who had finished and listening to the show. It was so much fun to listen to the other performers; everybody sounded fantastic and the interviews were all hilarious, both of which were particularly apparent because of the audience’s reactions. Also, I had to miss the first night and two of the other performers missed the Arts Leadership workshop, so it was really nice to be there with everyone and feel that camaraderie.

It was so much fun! I had my last college audition the day before the show, so it was really exhilarating to walk onstage and know that I was just there to share this beautiful music–the audience wasn’t a panel judging me, they were a group of friends, family, and music-lovers who were engaged and excited to be there. As a performer, you can totally feel that.

Music has the power to do anything. Music can foster deeply meaningful human connections, international peace and understanding, personal growth and healing and discovery, and a million other things. If we continue to expand the boundaries of music and if we believe in it, music can do anything.

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

Six Alumni to Compete in Van Cliburn Competition

It is with excitement that we report that six From the Top alumni have been named among  30 competitors in the Van Cliburn Competition, May 24 – June 9 in Fort Worth, Texas, one of the world’s most prestigious piano competitions.

vcipc_companncmntThe Van Cliburn Competition was founded in 1962 to recognize the great pianist Van Cliburn, who passed away in February 2013. In its 50-year history, the Cliburn has identified and ushered a host of exceptional artists to international prominence, including From the Top host Christopher O’Riley.

Meet the From the Top Van Cliburn competitors who represent six of eight U.S. contenders:

Sean Chen, Age 24, From the Top Show 134
Van Cliburn Profile

Sara Daneshpour, Age 26, From the Top Show 15
Van Cliburn Profile

Lindsay Garritson, Age 25, From the Top Show 19
Van Cliburn Profile

Steven Lin, Age 24, From the Top Show 157
Van Cliburn Profile

Alex McDonald, Age 30, From the Top Show 9
Van Cliburn Profile

Eric Zuber, Age 28, From the Top Show 7
Van Cliburn Profile

We’ll be reporting from the competition once it begins. So stay tuned as we follow these alumni.

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
“Kaddish”
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. 

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