Announcing the Big Break: From the Top & Carnegie Hall Search for America’s Best Young Musicians

We are excited to partner with Carnegie Hall to announce the Big Break a new online contest that offers young musicians the chance to compete for a spot on NPR’s From the Top  radio broadcast, hosted by Christopher O’Riley, as well as an opportunity to grace the stage at Carnegie Hall, performing in a Carnegie Hall Family Concert in Zankel Hall in spring 2011.

Through November 18, musicians ages 8-18 who are United States residents are invited to submit a video of a solo classical performance at (For musicians age 13 and younger, entries must be submitted by a parent or guardian.) Please note: previous From the Top soloists are not eligible for this contest.

All Big Break entries received by November 18 will be reviewed by a panel of judges at From the Top and Carnegie Hall who will select a group of finalists to move on to a public voting stage, beginning in late November. Public voting will begin around November 29 and end on December 14. The Big Break’s grand-prize winner selected by the public will appear on an upcoming national radio broadcast of From the Top on NPR with host Christopher O’Riley. The grand-prize winner plus several runners-up will also perform at a Carnegie Hall Family Concert on April 9 in Zankel Hall, produced in partnership with From the Top and hosted by Mr. O’Riley. Big Break winners will be announced in mid-December.

Each year, From the Top receives thousands of applications from young classical musicians across the country wishing to appear on its radio and television broadcasts. This contest marks the first time that we will open that audition process to the public, inviting them to help identify their favorite performers. Carnegie Hall, with its deep commitment to programs that nurture young talent and encourage musicians to aspire to excellence, is happy to continue its partnership with From the Top, offering Big Break musicians the opportunity to perform on its popular Family Concert series.

All entries must be received by November 18th at midnight! For more information and the complete rules, go to

Arts Leadership in Davenport, Iowa

"The Rave" Group

Last week the From the Top crew and nine performers gathered together in Davenport, Iowa to tape a radio show. The following morning was the Arts Leadership Orientation, during which performers reflect on using music for positive change. Upon naming themselves “The Rave,” the performers designed a video for From the Top’s Green Room which illustrates their energy and shared definition of arts leadership. Check it out below!

In case the text was a bit hard to read on our little flipcam video, here’s their message.
Arts Leadership is:

  1. Promoting the arts and inspiring kids to explore their creativity and imagination and inner artist.
  2. Music/art can be a safe haven not just a practice jail.
  3. Helping the community in means other than words.

Working hard to define "Arts Leadership"

Learn more about the show by checking out On the Road with Joanne Robinson, and tune in the week of November 1st to hear the show! Check your local listings for air dates and times here.


A New Age of Arts Leaders

Tuesday, October 5th, was the first in a series of Boston Arts Leadership gatherings From the Top is hosting to bring together local musicians – high school, college and beyond – who are passionate about using music to make a difference. We met with some of last year’s Margaret Stewart Lindsay Arts Leadership Award recipients as well as some Boston Arts Academy High School seniors involved in the school’s Senior Project Grant Proposal program.


Michael and Brian (left) Noni and Griffin (right)


Among the attendees were four faces familiar to our blog : Brian Kaufman and Michael Reichman of the concert series Musical Diplomacy, and Griffin Gaffney and Noni Carter – two Harvard sophomores developing a project  that promotes literacy and exposure to the arts for Boston middle school students.


Arnold Pesnell, Jonathan Anderson, and Gregory Groover


Joining the group were three new arts leaders from the Boston Arts Academy (BAA): Arnold Pesnell, Gregory Groover, and Jonathan Anderson. Continue reading

On the Road with Joanne Robinson: Show 220 Davenport, Iowa & A Special Stop in Parkersburg


Mississippi River in Davenport


Hi everybody! I’m writing to you from backstage at the Aplington-Parkersburg High School in Iowa where we are about to go onstage for the show. We taped a show last night in Davenport, and then went on the road to bring the same show to Parkersburg, a small town in central Iowa that sadly experienced a devastating tornado a few years back, but have recently rebuilt their high school and this great auditorium! Right now, the Parkserburg Big Band is entertaining the crowd as they file into the house, and swing dancers are living it up onstage. I’m waiting in the wings with Chris and our first performer, violinist Michael Ferri, and in just a minute or two, we’ll be going on. I’ll catch up with you afterwards.


Good morning From the Top fans! I’m continuing my blog from a breakfast nook at the Cedar Rapids airport where the co-mingled smell of cow manure and breakfast bacon is wafting through the air. Last night’s show was truly wonderful, as was the one the night before. The artistry was uncanny; each and every musician delivered something special and memorable. Here’s a little run down so you can know what to look forward to when the broadcast airs:

Opening the show was Michael Ferri, who performed the Allegretto Moderato from Bartok’s Rhapsody No. 1, a virtuosic piece, which Chris described as phenomenally evocative. Next up was Justin Moser, who not only played a mean sax, but also showed off his vocal chops and teen idol potential by reenacting his audition for “American Idol.” 12-year-old pianist Sherry Tang took the stage next, playing Mendelssohn with a sophistication that far exceeded her young age. Next up was Quartet Danae, this year’s gold medal winners of the Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition, who treated us to an amazing, wild movement of Prokofiev’s String Quartet No. 2. Closing the show was a spectacular treat – two marimba players from Chicago’s Percussion Scholarship Group, John Ringor and Marcelina Suchocka – performed “Octobones,” a musical duel of a piece, which required a lot of jumping around, not only physically, but also on each other’s marimbas. I almost injured myself during dress rehearsal when I tried to flip cam them while standing atop a high stool so I could look down and capture the mallets flying!

For your viewing pleasure, here’s a little montage of the performers in action, plus a bit of post-show fun. Make sure to tune in when the show airs on the week of November 1st.

Transitioning to College – Article by Alum Caeli Smith

From the Top alum and Roving Report Caeli Smith recently wrote a great blog for Juilliard’s Office of Admissions. Caeli’s a first-year violinist at Juilliard, and in this piece she talks about the transition from pre-college to college.

Caeli on From the Top. Photo credit: Stefan Cohen/WGBH

Below is a short excerpt. To read more, click over to the Office of Admissions Blog.

During my last two years of high school, I was a student in Juilliard’s Pre-College Program, which meant, among other things, getting up at 6 AM every Saturday morning to travel to 65th and Broadway from my hometown, Philadelphia. Despite the early mornings and the four hours spent on the New Jersey Turnpike each week, I absolutely loved Pre-College. I adored my teachers and made tons of new friends that shared my passion for music – and getting to spend part of my weekend in New York City wasn’t bad either. Like many of the other seniors in my Pre-College class, I hoped to be accepted to the college division and continue my studies at Juilliard.

Read the rest of the article here!

John-Henry Crawford Performs at City Center Academy in Philadelphia

John-Henry in St. Paul, MN

This past May From the Top alum and cellist John-Henry Crawford (Show 206 in Dallas, TX and Show 219 in St. Paul, MN) performed with Dr. Hung Sung, a collaborative pianist for the Curtis Institute of Music, at the City Center Academy (a high school) in Philadelphia, PA.

John-Henry said “I wanted to do this because hardly any of the students there have exposure to classical music., especially played by someone their age!” Dr. Sung and John-Henry performed the Rachmaninoff Sonata for Cello and Piano in G Minor, Op. 19.

I was shocked when [the students] came up to me and said “That was beautiful!” because this was a far cry from the hip-hop, rap, and other music they normally listen to.  It made me look at music in a new light- always keeping the audience in mind. They were hearing this music for the first time-a blank slate- while I had been playing it very often.

Check out the video clip below of John-Henry’s performance:

I explained that while Rachmaninoff had suffered depression, he was able to turn around and still compose this beautiful piece.  Whatever sadness they are going through, there is always hope, a new day to start over again. I think that the students took away a new-found reverence for music in general, seeing that all music: classical, jazz, “you-name-it”, can change the way you feel, which is what music really is, changing people’s moods through sound.

This [event] related to my development as a musician because I wasn’t having to worry about all the details my fellow musician friends would be listening for,  and I could just focus on the music and share my emotions with them. This is something that Curtis encourages us to do also “To learn by doing,” and to go out into the community. I think that Curtis, like From the Top, wants us to go out into the world rather than keep classical music in some sort of closed society. Last year ten of us from Curtis got together and hosted a benefit concert at Tenth Presbyterian Church to raise money for a Haitian orphanage after the earthquake there. In one night 10 students raised $30,000 through the generosity of the listeners.

John-Henry was recently asked to play a recital this coming March for the Belz-Parker Ascending Artists Concert Series at Baron Hirsch Congregation in Memphis, TN.  He says, “I feel privileged to be on it since historically they have contracted many teenagers long before there became well-known. Some of the very recognizable names are: Itzhak Perlman, Gil Shaham , Hilary Hahn, Misha Dichter, and Daniel Barenboim.”

We’ll fill you in on details of this performance when we get closer to March!

Spotlight on Violist Nadia Sirota

Photo Credit: Samantha West

Today we’re turning the spotlight on From the Top alum and violist Nadia Sirota. Nadia initially appeared on From the Top during our first season – Show 013 to be exact – which we taped at Symphony Hall in Boston on March 4, 2000.  She performed the Viola Sonata, Mvt. Impetuoso by Rebecca Clarke.

Later that same season, Nadia appeared on Show 022 in Lake Buena Vista, Flordia.  She performed with The Capriccio Quartet, a Fischoff Championship Quartet. They performed the first movement of the Ravel String Quartet “in a way that has been unmatched since,” according to From the Top music producer Tim Banker!

Since performing on From the Top, Nadia has received both her Bachelors and Masters from Juilliard and in 2007 she won the Juilliard Concerto Competition, even though she messed up her piece – “I had a memory slip in the 2nd or 3rd movement in my audition in the final of the competition… I wasn’t too depressed. I was like, ‘Look if I don’t win, I know why.’ I mean, it’s nice to have something that tangible to blame failure on.  But then I won. It didn’t factor into their decision.” Continue reading


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