NPR’S “FROM THE TOP” IN PITTSBURGH

“From the Top”, the distinguished showcase for young musicians heard weekly on Classical WQED-FM 89.3 came to the Carnegie Music Hall in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to tape a radio broadcast on Tuesday, February 14. I am glad I was able to attend and pleased that “From The Top” could be my valentine! The popular NPR program, hosted by Pittsburgh’s own pianist Christopher O’Riley, featured the fabulous performances and intriguing personal stories of phenomenal young classical musicians from across the country. This episode was presented by the School of Music at Carnegie Mellon University (celebrating their 100th Anniversary) with local media sponsor Classical WQED-FM 89.3.

The broadcast taping featured local 17-year-old violist Daniel Orsen from Pittsburgh, performing the fourth movement from Sonata in F-minor by Johannes Brahms, accompanied by host Christopher O’Riley on the piano; and 14-year-old pianist and composer Aleksandr “Sasha” Voinov from Sewickley, Pennsylvania performing Polonaise in A-flat major, Op. 53 by Frédéric Chopin. Sasha also performed an arrangement of his own on Paganini’s Caprice No. 24 in which he donned a “Paganini wig”!

Also on the broadcast: 17-year-old euphonium player Grant Jameson from Dublin, Ohio performing “Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms” by Simone Mantia, accompanied by Christopher O’Riley; 16-year-old violinist Kelly Talim from Buffalo Grove, Illinois performing Second Rhapsody by Béla Bartók, accompanied by Christopher O’Riley, piano, and The Temple University Music Preparatory Honors String Quartet which includes: 16-year-old violinist Amy Semes, 14-year-old violinist Brenden Zak, 17-year-old violist Tiffany Laraia, and 15-year-old cellist Sangbin “Bihn” Park performing String Quartet No. 14 in D minor, (“Death and the Maiden”) by Franz Schubert .

The opening of the show was quite different than I had anticipated. It was quite a fun and very lively opening. As a faithful listener of F.T.T., I had an image in my head more or less of what I pictured the whole show to look like. Obviously, when listening on the radio program, you cannot see their set-up and intro. The show this past Friday was such a thrilling experience–to be there live when Christopher O’Riley says, “Let’s take it From The Top”, and the featured musicians astound you with their skills. This show opened with a short video containing clips from past F.T.T. shows, followed by a brief clip of the producer, Tim Banker introducing himself as he danced onto the stage resulting in a cartwheel. Amidst his comedic ways and “show” came announcer, Joanne Robinson hurrying onto stage with a large red, and brightly decorated suitcase which she placed on a table next to her chair, stool and microphone. Out of the suitcase she produced a vase of flowers to be placed on her stool, and a few more items which were handed up by the hand of one of the sound technicians eventually popping out of the suitcase to reveal herself, and with applause and amusement she walked off the stage “in the suitcase”, and the show began!

The musician starting the show off was solo euphonium player, Grant Jameson. I have never heard this instrument solo before this night. I was really quite captivated by the beautiful, and nostalgic quality that Grant produced through the euphonium. With a luscious vibrato, and soaring pitches, he and Christopher O’Riley gave a memorable performance.

Next, was Daniel Orsen on viola. He conveyed his chosen piece with such eloquent and beatific qualities. He displayed blissful happiness through this piece and once again Christopher O’Riley accompanied flawlessly.

Following that performance was pianist/composer Sasha Voinov. He is certainly on his way to fulfilling his aspirations of becoming one of the greatest pianists and performers of all time! He becomes the piano, and produces a whole orchestra on the piano. Truly a young musical master.

Before the next performance, Christopher O’Riley played a lovely piece, to which the title escapes me. It is quite entertaining to watch him with his jovial and confident ways to which he approaches and presents the work.

Next up, was The Temple University Music Preparatory Honors String Quartet. The members gave a first rate performance. Such communication and excellent chemistry was present—a couple of the main ingredients to presenting an ensemble work to its fullest extent. The first violinist was a great leader.

Concluding this already excellent night of music was the wonderful violinist, Kelly Talim who added yet more excellence, already spilling out into the lobby. She performed her chosen work with such confidence and precision. She was an exceptional performer.

The musical maturity each young performer possesses makes for musicians filled with musical promise.

This episode will air nationally the week of March 5, 2012 and on Classical WQED-FM 89.3 Saturday, March 10, 2012 at 5 pm. From the Top is heard weekly on Classical WQED-FM 89.3, Classical WQEJ-FM 89.7 in Johnstown, and at wqed.org worldwide Saturdays at 5 pm.

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