Connecting with Peers through Music in Potsdam, NY

We love having the chance to meet with other young musicians whenever we’re on tour for a show. This past April brought us to Potsdam, NY, where we were able to meet with two groups of high school music students. Performers John Lee (cello) and Margaux Filet (flute) joined us for these events. We first visited a class of orchestra and choir students at Canton High School, then traveled to Potsdam High School to meet with a group of students in band and choir. Both groups had really wonderful questions to ask after each program, from “what keeps you motivated to practice?” to “how do you spend your downtime?”

Our performers’ music and stories made great connections with these two audiences. Margaux opened the program with the wonderful Fantaisie by Georges Hue, then gave them a “sneak peek” of the piece she would be playing on From the Top the next evening: George Enescu’s Cantabile. She spoke about her appearance on From the Top as being a “dream come true” for her musical aspirations, and how hobbies like exercise and spending quality time with her family helps her to keep balance. Next was John, who performed Bach’s Cello Suite No. 3 and ended the program with a dazzling “Sacher Variation” by Witold Lutoslawski. John shared that, when not performing or practicing, he loves to play frisbee and hang out with friends.

We asked our performers to share their thoughts on the experience, which you can check out in the video below:

Show 251: Listening Guide

From the Top’s broadcast for Show 251 was taped in Hosmer Concert Hall at Crane School of Music-SUNY Potsdam on Saturday, April 21, 2012. We asked our performers to tell us about the music they performed on the show:

John Lee, cello, 17
Dance of the Green Devil
By: Gaspar Cassado

I knew what a devil was, and I knew what a red devil was, but a green devil? Not so much. After scouring through pages about green devil tattoos, green devil designs and the boss in the MegaMan game series, I gave up my search
and decided that the green-ness described the devil’s playfulness and quirky nature. But I was not satisfied, so I headed back to Google and finally hit the jackpot: the devil wears green, just as hunter wear camouflage, to hide among men and capture their souls. Indeed, Cassado captures this wily nature of the green devil: quick, tricky, and hard to find on Google.

For me, the most difficult task was also the most enjoyable one: delivering a portrayal of the green devil. From the tip-toeing of the bow to the blood-boiling runs to the shockingly celestial glissandos, the piece itself provides a framework of the devil. However, the artist has the job of coloring that framework green and filling the piece with the emotion of the devil itself.

Post Show Reflection: My favorite memory was definitely the interview with Chris on stage – I’ve never felt so refreshed and excited to speak to an audience. The performance was a wonderful experience for me, both as a musician and a person. Being onstage was so exciting and I would do almost anything to relive that moment.

I believe that music has the ability to reach into the hearts and minds of people as human and create another world in which we can flourish and there.

Avery Gagliano, piano, 10
“The Cat and the Mouse”
By: Aaron Copland

I think Aaron Copland’s “The Cat and the Mouse” is very energetic, fun, and exciting. When I play this piece, I tell the story of “The Cat and the Mouse” and picture in my mind an exaggerated cartoon. The music makes me think about the cartoon Tom and Jerry: I see images of cats pouncing, mice skittering, and everybody going around and around. The story behind this piece of music is about a cat and a mouse that always fight: from dawn to dusk they bicker until one day, the cat retires for the day and lounges around admiring himself, feeling all confident and superior. All of a sudden, the mouse takes advantage of the moment thinking that he might be able to get a snack or do something exciting. Then, the cat follows and begins to chase the mouse again. In the end, the cat and the mouse move on to live new lives in separate places, but there is still a little bit of their energy and excitement left in the old house they used to live in, which is represented by a little tinkering in the last few notes.

Since the music of “The Cat and the Mouse” is so wild and creative, I can experiment a lot with it. It is full of false harmonies (meaning harmonies that don’t really sound harmonic), and many other interesting things you can observe in the music. For example, there is sometimes a moment when everything begins to speed up and then all of a sudden, it slows down again and hushes up. Things like this make me love “The Cat and the Mouse” and I think it is a great piece to play.

Continue reading

On the Road with Joanne Robinson: Show 254 Houston, TX

The Houston Youth Symphony

Greetings everyone! The whirlwind spring tour of 2012 continues with our most recent taping in Houston, Texas. We taped at the Wortham Center, the gigantic home of the Houston Ballet and Houston Grand Opera, and our show included plenty of outstanding Houston talent. The audience was packed, and, as a result of the Houston Public Radio’s fundraising drive’s From the Top Day, almost 200 Project GRAD students were able to attend our taping for free!

Kicking off the festivities was the Houston Youth Symphony, 82 members strong, performing Beethoven’s “Leonore” Overture No. 3. After they played, a few of the orchestra members were interviewed about inter-orchestra romance. One of the teenage members shared that he was a student ambassador for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, which works to ensure that gay students are not bullied, and it was heartening to see his orchestra colleagues and the audience applaud in support.

Later in the show, a fantastic 18-year-old baritone, Aaron Bigeleisen, sang Schubert and spoke about founding a Glee Club – although in this case, “GLEE” is a clever acronym for “Gun Lovers and Environmental Enthusiasts!” The audience got a kick out of that, and it struck me that here on From the Top we meet kids of all ages and backgrounds with all sorts of different viewpoints, who bond through their shared love of music and also tend to find a lot of common ground with each other. Now if only the rest of the world could work like that!

As always, for your viewing pleasure, enjoy this Sneak Peek of the upcoming broadcast, and make sure to tune in when this show airs in September.


This Friday! Chicago Alumni Perform to Support the Orphans of Japan

Calling all Chicago fans! This Friday, violinist Kelly Talim (Show #246) and her brother Kai will be co-hosting the “Walk with Children 2012” benefit concert to help the Japanese children who were orphaned by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. They created the following video announcement (with Kai speaking) to spread the word:

Kelly and Kai will be joined by current students, alumni, and friends of the Academy at the Music Institute of Chicago, a number of whom are From the Top alumni: violinist Clayton Penrose-Whitmore (Show #191), pianist Kate Liu (Show #238), performers of Quartet Al Dente (Show #251), cellist Mariel Werner (Show #167), cellist Ben Fried (Show #200), and cellist Alexander Hersh (Show #209).

The performance will take place this Friday at 7:30pm in the Nichols Concert Hall. “Walk with Children” T-shirts will be for sale to help support the cause, in addition to ticket sales and donations. They hosted a similar event last year, and managed to raise $2,000 towards the cause! Kelly shares her hopes for this year’s event:

“As our second benefit concert, we hope to gather more people and increase awareness of the ongoing recovery of Japan. As long as schools are rebuilding and children live in devastation, we need to continue supporting the orphaned children.”

How can you help? Visit their website to learn more about the event, or visit the Facebook page to join the discussion.

On the Road with Joanne Robinson: Triple Feature! Shows 251, 252, and 253

Spring is a notoriously busy time here in From the Top land, but this spring has been, without a doubt, the extra-crazy-busiest! In the last few weeks we’ve crisscrossed the country from northern New York to sunny Tennessee to way out west in Oregon, all the while as we prepared for our annual gala which took place last week in Boston. Needless to say, I am a wee bit behind on my blogging, so without further ado I present to you… “On the Road with Joanne Robinson: Triple Feature!”

Host Christopher O’Riley gives pianist Avery Gagliano pointers on her piece “Cat and Mouse”

Our extra special triple feature starts way up north almost on the border of Canada in the quaint university town of Potsdam, New York, where we taped a show at the Crane School of Music. It was a terrific show, full of incredible performances and stories and a true diversity of kids who really seemed to have a great time. I loved watching two of our performers – 10-year-old pianist Avery Gagliano and 18-year-old flutist Margaux Filet – playing the hand game “slide” backstage. I also got a kick out of the fact that performer Jieming Tang  played an 18th century Gagliano violin, which meant that a 10-year-old Gagliano (Avery) and a nearly 300-year-old Gagliano shared the same stage!

The drive home from Potsdam to Boston was gorgeous; we found ourselves in a winter wonderland. As we wound around Lake Champlain and down through Vermont, I kept my flipcam out and at the ready, hoping for a “Champ” sighting (Champ is the mythical sea monster who allegedly makes his home in Lake Champlain). Alas, all I captured were rocks and sticks.

A mere four days later the From the Top crew landed in hot and sunny Chattanooga, Tennessee for a taping at the Tivoli Theatre. I just loved the Tivoli, and the people in Chattanooga were the epitome of Southern hospitality. The show featured two local performers – 16-year-old vocalist Thomas West and 17-year-old trumpeter John Burton – and there was enormous audience support for them. Something cool that didn’t make it onto the show is the fact that John Burton isn’t only an outstanding musician, he also happens to be an incredible juggler. He showed off some of his juggling tricks backstage, and I caught some of it on flipcam for you (check out “Sneak Peek Show 252” below)!

Now on to Portland, Oregon! Portland is such a vibrant city, known for its forward-thinking people and great arts scene, but what I think I appreciated most of all was the abundance of great local coffee shops. We taped at the gorgeous Newmark Theatre to a full house. We were thrilled to once again feature violinist Simone Porter, now 15, who was on our show originally back when she was 11, and an incredible musician even then. When the show goes live we’ll be posting a video of Simone “through the ages” so make sure to look out for that! This taping had many great moments, but I especially loved the finale, which featured two piano-playing sisters performing Percy Grainger’s Fantasy on George Gershwin’s Porgy & Bess for Two Pianos. An exhilarating end to a whirlwind tour.

And now for your viewing pleasure, I have three, count ‘em three, video sneak peeks for you! Enjoy – and I’ll be in touch next week to tell you all about our Houston taping.

Alums study with Renée Fleming in upcoming HBO series

This May, two of our very own alums will be featured on HBO with critically acclaimed soprano Renée Fleming!

Mezzo soprano Samantha Hankey (a Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist from Show #226 in Boston) and baritone Sean Plum (Show #201 in Boston) will be featured in HBO’s “Renée Fleming: a YoungArts MasterClass,” revealing the ambition of four singers as  Renée herself guides them. The show will air on May 28 at 6 p.m.

The first MasterClass Series featured artists such as Placido Domingo, Edward Albee, and more.

Like the other students, Samantha and Sean are both graduates of the YoungArts program in Miami. Samantha is continuing school at the Juilliard School and Sean is at the Curtis Institute of Music.

Congratulations to Samantha and Sean and be sure to tune in to HBO!

Alum Marie Kelly debuts at Carnegie Hall

This month, 14-year-old pianist Marie Kelly debuted at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall! Marie performed after winning first place in the American Protege International Piano and Strings Competition.

Marie performing at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall on April 8. Photo courtesy of Marie Kelly.

This spring, Marie was also chosen to perform in the 59th Junior Bach Festival, which features concerts in March and April around Bach’s birthday.

Just one month after performing on Show #225 in Yountville, California, she won first place in the California Association of Professional Music Teachers’ Bartok and Contemporary Music Festival.

Congratulations to Marie on reaching such an important venue!


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: