Music & Friendship Mark From the Top’s International Debut

Matthew Hazelwood and the Filarmónica Joven de Colombia

Matthew Hazelwood conducts the Filarmónica Joven de Colombia in a rehearsal. From the Top’s Colombian broadcast is dedicated to Maestro Hazelwood. 

At From the Top, we say that “Music is Powerful Stuff.”  In some ways, our experience in Colombia last week was powerful in ways we could never have expected. Our first international show, From the Top Colombia, a collaboration between From the Top, Batuta (Colombia’s national youth music program) and the Filarmónica Joven de Colombia (Colombia’s national youth orchestra), was one of the most inspiring and rewarding shows on which we’ve ever had the pleasure of working. Our trip lasted from Sunday, May 27 through Thursday, May 31st. Please click below to read more about our amazing experience.


For many years From the Top has enjoyed a wonderful relationship with conductor Matthew Hazelwood.  We first featured Matthew leading his excellent Interlochen Arts Academy Orchestra in a performance from Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite” on a taping in January 2007.  Matthew then led them in a performance on our PBS television series, From the Top at Carnegie Hall. Shortly thereafter Matthew was hired as the Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the Filarmónica Joven de Colombia (FJC), the national youth orchestra of Colombia, and he and Music Producer Tom Vignieri began discussing the possibility of taping a show there.  We kept hearing from Matthew, or “Mateo” as he was called in Colombia, about the amazing progress this young ensemble was making. It soon became apparent that From the Top would be the ideal showcase for the young musicians of Colombia participating in Batuta, the national youth music program.

To do something special, like taping your first show outside the United States, requires a lot of work, and to make From the Top Colombia happen meant extensive planning sessions with our production team and the team in Colombia, including: From the Top‘s Executive Producers Jerry Slavet and Jennifer Hurley-Wales, Tour Producer David Balsom, Radio Producers Tom Voegeli and Tim Banker, Music Producer Tom Vignieri, Mateo Hazelwood, President of Batuta Juan Antonio Cuellar, Executive Director of FJC Helena Barreto, the Colombian Consulate in Boston, and the Colombian Embassy in Washington, DC, just to name a few.

Many months of planning went into making our trip an action-packed week that we will never forget.

Meeting the Orchestra

We arrived in Bogota late Sunday night after almost 12-hours of traveling that began
with a flight out of Boston at noon and ended with checking in to the hotel at 11:00pm.

FJC rehearses in the round

FJC rehearses “in the round”

On Monday we sat in on a rehearsal where Mateo had the orchestra playing in the round; something he liked to do so they could all see and hear each other.  The music making by these young musicians was nothing less than astonishing.Later that day, producers Tom Voegeli and Tim Banker spent time with several orchestra members who would be interviewed during the show. Dinner followed, and everything was humming along as planned.

Challenges in Our Path

We woke up on Tuesday morning to the very distressing news that Mateo had suffered a heart attack overnight. However, we were encouraged to hear that he was resting comfortably at a nearby hospital and they were making plans to move him to Bogota.

Helena and Juan Antonio gathered the orchestra for rehearsal and to break the news about the beloved Maestro. Helena said that this was a teaching moment about how life is unpredictable and that it often throws challenges in our paths. FJC assistant conductor Luis Guillermo Vicaria would take over conducting duties, and as the saying goes, “the show would go on.” Juan Antonio then said that the collaboration with From the Top was Mateo’s inspiration to share “with his countrymen the achievements of you, the future of Colombia.  It is your responsibility to fulfill his dreams.” The silence in the room was profound.

Luis Guillermo then took to the conductor’s podium and led the FJC through a reading of Strauss’ “Death and Transfiguration” that was to be part of the show.  It was as powerful and moving a musical experience as one could imagine as the kids played beautifully in tribute to Mateo. Rehearsals that day finished with a vigorous reading of Rachmaninoff’s Variations on a Theme by Paganini with host Christopher O’Riley at the piano.

Allegro in Rehearsal

The members of Ensamble Allegro in rehearsal.

Meanwhile, we were receiving periodic reports of Mateo’s condition; he was stable enough to be moved to Bogota, and his ambulance passed the From the Top team on our way back to Bogota to meet Allegro, Batuta’s premier Orff ensemble (a youth choir with small mallet instruments) that also would be featured on the program.

Show Day

From the Top taping days are always long ones, but Wednesday was particularly challenging.  In addition to the language barrier, we had a full orchestra on the show, AND an additional 40 member ensemble with Allegro.  But as always, our production team led by Elizabeth DeVore with Technical Director Berred Ouelette and sound engineers John Servies and David Forbes worked seamlessly with the local crew and load-in went on without a hitch.

Just before dress rehearsal, Juan Antonio reported that Mateo was coming out of intensive care soon.  Things were looking very positive.

The performance itself was one of the most compelling we’ve ever experienced.  Teatro Mayor Julio Mario Santo Domingo was filled to capacity, with many in the Spanish-speaking audience following the spoken sections of the show via translation on assisted listening devices.

FJC and Christopher O'Riley

FJC and Christopher O’Riley at the performance

For the young musicians we showcased on the broadcast, this was an event of immense importance.  This was Colombia’s opportunity to shine on an international stage and to be part of the most influential national radio program in the US presenting young musicians.  And these kids made the most of it.

Christopher O’Riley, who gave an outstanding performance of the final variations of the Rachmaninoff with FJC told the orchestra that their performance of the final moments of Strauss’ “Death and Transfiguration” had moved him to tears.  They replied, “We were all thinking of Mateo.”

Bittersweet Homecoming: A Friend Lost & Remembered

We all headed to the airport very early the next morning knowing that we had been part of something very special, and yes, powerful.  We were part of a culture-changing event for music in Colombia.  Audiences across the US and beyond will hear the amazing the energy, discipline, and passion of the Filarmónica Joven de Colombia as well as the impact music is having on young people in Colombia through Batuta’s neighborhood-based, national music project.

But, the long travel day on Thursday gave way to shocking developments on Friday.  Helena had written an email around midnight to say that Mateo passed away less than 24 hours after our concert in Bogota.  On Thursday, he had been surrounded by his friends and family when he was presented with the From the Top medal given to all performers on the show.

Mateo Hazelwood

Mateo Hazelwood wearing the From the Top Medal

Jerry Slavet summed up our feelings when he wrote to our colleagues in Bogota that “All of us at From the Top are forever grateful for Mateo’s introduction to Batuta and FJC, and even more importantly for his help in making sure that the concert/recording was filled with exquisite music. We will miss our dear friend but our sadness is lessened by the extraordinary accomplishments that he has left behind, making this world a better place through music.”

The From the Top episode recorded in Bogota is dedicated to the memory of Maestro Matthew Hazelwood, and will premiere the week of September 24, 2012.

8 Responses

  1. This is so inspiring…as an alum of this year, I am amazed at how From the Top is climbing and climbing, fulfilling its own dream and the dreams of countless people around it. It really seems like the sky is the limit when it comes to your, and Maestro Hazelwood’s, passion for music. I am humbled by the beauty of what both you and the Maestro have just accomplished.

    -Lisa Chertok (Meshugene Quartet)

    • Lisa, It is young people like you and your friends that allow us to pursue and fulfill our dreams. Keep dreaming and don’t let maturity take any of the dreams away.
      Jerry Slavet

  2. ”This all happened because I was working with a great team!”–Mateo Hazelwood

    It is quite moving to see Matt’s pictures on your site. I had the privilege to be with Matt when he received his medal. He held it in his hands for a few minutes, and then he asked me to take a picture, so he could share it with the team at “From the Top”.

    Matt shared his respect and admiration towards your team over the years, as you worked on numerous collegial projects, including a recording at Carnegie Hall with the Interlochen Arts Academy Orchestra. Matt’s dream of collaborating with “From the Top” to carry the sounds of young Colombian musicians to USA audiences is finally a reality, and I was fortunate to celebrate this accomplishment when I joined him at the hospital on the afternoon of May 31.

    I learned about the story of your journey in Colombia through Matt’s accounts. We gathered around his bedside to listen to an iPhone recording of the rehearsals. His eyes glowed as he talked about a long-lasting dream come true, in spite of a rocky pathway. It was never in question that he attributed success to the work of a great team.

    Thank you “From the Top” for carrying the sounds of the young colombian musicians to unexpected corners of the world. Your vision has given us an image of a ”beaming” father and husband we will hold forever close to our hearts.


    Matt Hazelwood’s Family

  3. […] have never anticipated. Rather than giving you my usual play by play, I’m going to ask you to click here for a blog that tells the story […]

  4. This is a wonderful blog entry that captures the essence of the work my friend, Matt, was trying to do with children in Columbia and other places around the world. I am grateful that you captured this so we could all know what Matt was up to! I look forward with great joy to this episode of From the Top, as well as others.

  5. I am a colombian living in Chicago and this amazing show make me feel proud and grateful. All people envolved in the project brough positve images and sounds from a country that has great culture and values to share. Viva Colombia

  6. The world as we knew it, is not the same without Matt. But we take only good memories with us. Thank you Mateo!

  7. Thank you so much for sharing your visit to Bogota with the world! My mother, who is Colombian, and I were listening tonight and we were in tears the entire time! Colombia is a beautiful country, full of passionate people! The music and the stories were wonderful to hear!! We cannot thank you enough!!

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