The classical music radio show “From the Top” has won the hearts of classical music lovers and others who simply enjoy the freshness, enthusiasm and talent of young people. The show will hold a live taping Feb. 6 at Jordan Hall in Boston featuring an alumnus who now is a professional trumpeter, as well as up-and-coming teenagers from Dorchester, Norwood and Newton.
Teenage violinist Pippa Jarvis earned the nickname Pipsqueak because she squeaked playing soccer. Fortunately, she did not squeak on the violin. Far from it. When the Milton musician performed on the classical music radio show “From the Top” in 2008, she played a lively, beautiful mazurka. She also told host and pianist Christopher O’Riley about her nickname, her enjoyment of kayaking and running, and the ups and downs of growing up with musician parents.
Now a violin performance student at McGill University in Montreal, Jarvis recalled the thrill of performing on “From the Top” before an audience in Columbus, Ohio. The taped show was heard by about 700,00 radio listeners across the country.
“It was exciting, nerve-racking and fun,” said Jarvis, 20, who then was a senior at Walnut Hill School for the Performing Arts. “Being on the show was inspirational. I loved sharing my passion with such a large audience and sharing stories about my family.”
As the large listening audience and full concert halls show, “From the Top” has won the hearts of classical music lovers and others who simply enjoy the freshness, enthusiasm and talent of young people. As part its 10th anniversary season, the show will hold a live taping Feb. 6 at Jordan Hall in Boston featuring an alumnus who now is a professional trumpeter, as well as up-and-coming teenagers from Dorchester, Norwood and Newton.
Expect to hear not just impressive performances but to get a feel for the kids who make the music. O’Riley clearly likes to have a good time with these musicians, who often laugh at his comments. Anyone who believes the stereotype of the nerdy, socially inept musician will think again after these engaging interviews.
“The idea when we started was to present these kids and their music and make it entertaining,” said “From the Top” co-executive producer Jerry Slavet, an entrepreneur and trustee of New England Conservatory. “These kids lead very interesting lives, and they have a spot on national radio and television. That’s cool and doesn’t happen to too many kids.”
The Feb. 6 concert will feature violinist Gergana Haralampieva, 16, of Norwood; Bobby Chen, 17, of Newton; pianist Phuong Nghi Pham, 14, of Dorchester; and a youth orchestra. The music is by Kreisler, Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn and others.
“These are normal kids doing extraordinary things in classical music who also are passionate about other interests,” O’Riley said. “We hadn’t expected this, but the show gives people a general sense of hope about young people.”
Broadcast weekly on All Classical 99.5 and nearly 250 other stations across the country, the one-hour show features five individual or ensemble performances accompanied by interviews, sketches and games with the musicians. About two dozen live shows are taped each season in concert halls around the country.
“The live taping makes it exciting for both the audience and musicians and kicks it up a notch,” said O’Riley, who is also the show’s accompanist.
The selection process is extremely competitive, with about 125 individuals or ensembles selected from 1,500 to 2,000 applicants. “From the Top” also held auditions this year at the New England Conservatory and the Longy School of Music.
“Even with all the problems that classical music and music education faces in this country, there still seems to be thousands of kids from every background and nook and cranny who decide they want to play classical music and do it very well,” Slavet said. “The tragedy is that there are hundreds more who are more than qualified to be on the show, but we don’t have slots.”
To get on the show, musicians send in recordings and answer a questionnaire, which includes questions about things they find fun (other than music); good, bad and funny experiences; and what family and friends tease them about. Then they’re interviewed by phone, and the transcripts of these conversations become the basis for the show’s interviews and sketches. On the day before they perform, the musicians gather for a pizza party, orientation and informal rehearsal. The following day, they have a dress rehearsal and then the taping.
“We bend over backward to make the kids comfortable, so they can luxuriate in the show, but there’s always something that happens in the show that doesn’t happen in the dress rehearsal,” said O’Riley, who also will give a piano recital Feb. 27 at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston.
When “From the Top” premiered in 2000 on just 77 stations, Slavet said he was hopeful but unsure of its success. After all, he and co-producer Jennifer Hurley-Wales had to work for nearly four years to raise money, sign on stations and develop the show. He certainly didn’t anticipate that “From the Top” would move to public television two years ago with a series of concerts at Carnegie Hall that won two daytime Emmy Awards. This season, it also will be on the television program “In Performance at the White House” and will tape its first broadcast with the Boston Pops at Symphony Hall on June 8. Now, Slavet’s goal is to get “From the Top” aired on news and talk radio stations, not just classical.
“We want to keep moving forward and improve the show,” he said.
IF YOU GO
“From the Top” will be taped before an audience at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 6 at Jordan Hall, 30 Gainsborough St., Boston. Admission is $25 adults and $20 students and WGBH members. For tickets, call 617-585-1260 or go to www.fromthetop.org.
The Feb. 6 show can be heard at 11 a.m. April 3 and 5 p.m. April 4 on All Classical 99.5; year-round, shows air at 11 a.m. Saturdays and 6 p.m. Sundays on 99.5, and all shows are archived and can be heard online at www.fromthetop.org.
Jody Feinberg may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.