from the top

Christopher O'Riley

This time last week I was in the Tarrant Gallery, enjoying a glass of merlot with a few listeners and the producers of NPR’s From the Top.

The show’s host, Christopher O’Riley, had also come for the reception.

There was a moment over kalamata olives and herbed hummus when we realized we shared admiration of the latest Bad Plus recording. (Wendy Lewis, wow – what a great addition to the group. And the piano riffs on Comfortably Numb – Ethan’s a master!)

That’s the thing about Christopher, and in fact, the whole From the Top approach to music. Accessible, conversational, interesting, and – hip. Quite so. No wonder that the show attracts top young talent from all over the States. If you’ve seen it, you know the premise: each week the program visits a new locale and brings to light some of the emerging classical musicians from that area.

Young audience members before the show

Last week the locale was Burlington’s Flynn Center. Before the night was over we had heard from an up-and-coming soprano, a bassoon quartet, an 11-year old cellist, a highschool-aged pianist, and – the entire 93-piece Vermont Youth Orchestra, featuring percussionist Nick Bonaccio with his own improvised knock-down cadenza in the new Schwantner Concerto for Percussion. Hard to tell if he had more fun actually playing the piece, or introducing it by gleefully describing all of the different kinds of drums the piece calls for (bass drum, conga, snares,…) You can decide for yourself when you hear it.*

Besides the weekly spotlight, From the Top also partners with the New England Conservatory and Jack Kent Cooke Foundation to provide 25 scholarships annually to encourage young musicians in their careers. Good stuff all the way around.

*(The Burlington program will air Sunday, May 16th at 5pm ET on VPR Classical.)

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