Copious Notes

Public radio’s ‘From the Top’ is looking for more than the next classical star

Christopher O’Riley is the host of the public radio series “From the Top.”
Christopher O’Riley is the host of the public radio series “From the Top.”

Some of Central Kentucky’s most successful musicians of recent generations got their first national exposure on the public radio series “From the Top.”

In October 2002, 14-year-old Lexington trumpeter Caleb Hudson appeared on an episode recorded in Boston, playing “Grand Russian Fantasia” by Jules Levy. Hudson is now a member of the Canadian Brass, arguably the most famous brass ensemble in the world.

The next year, Richmond violinist Tessa Lark appeared on an episode recorded in Cincinnati, and she now enjoys a substantial solo career, including a triumphant return home to play with the Lexington Philharmonic last September.

But ask host Christopher O’Riley about “From the Top’s” biggest success stories, and he’s not interested in the subject.

“I know a lot of people have gone on into music careers and done very well; people in major orchestras and with solo careers,” O’Riley said last week in a phone interview. “Part of the idea of ‘From the Top’ is a lot of people pursue classical music, but not to the exclusion of other things.

“So we have ‘From the Top’ players who have gone on to do fully funded stem-cell research at Harvard University. We’ve had kids go on to great science and medical and law careers, and others who have kept their music in the forefront but used it in a sort of missionary zeal and shared their music in all kinds of countries. ...

“The whole idea of the program is not that we are looking for a particular type of musician but to show musicians who are at the top of their field but also have their own story to tell. So it’s all about putting them all each in their own best light.”

Thursday morning, five young musicians will step into “From the Top’s” sonic spotlight at the Norton Center for the Arts on the Centre College campus in Danville. The home-state student will be 10-year-old violinist Lilyanne Thoroughman of Williamstown.

Also taking the stage will be cellist Mari Nagahara, 18, of Andover, Mass.; guitarist Joseph Tollefsen, 17, of Columbia, S.C.; pianist Hsi-Yun Wu, 15, from Philadelphia; and flutist Daniel Charif, 17, from San Jose, Calif.

Regardless of public or private school programs involving music education or not, you can look at all of our shows and realize there’s not one corner of this country that is not staffed and populated with first-class music training.

Christopher O’Riley, host of “From the Top”

O’Riley recalls that when the show started in 2000, some people suggested that it wouldn’t last long because the show would run out of kids from the Juilliard Pre-College program and Interlochen Arts Academy.

“That’s just not the case,” O’Riley said. “Regardless of public or private school programs involving music education or not, you can look at all of our shows and realize there’s not one corner of this country that is not staffed and populated with first-class music training. In every state of this country, there are teachers bringing us students at a world-class level. ... Yes, of course, when you get to the conservatory level, this is the country people want to come to and learn music. But from the grass-roots level up, it’s like that.”

From the host’s chair, O’Riley has seen almost a generation of young musicians, and he has noticed unique characteristics of the new generation of players.

“Thirty years ago, it was all about being the best and the fastest,” O’Riley said. “Now, after every program, we have our kids do their own artistic leadership conference, where they discuss how they can best advocate for music in their own communities. That means arranging a concert for disaster relief or what-have-you and bringing the kind of presentation they become comfortable with at ‘From the Top’ into their community.

“So it’s not just about trying to get to Carnegie Hall. It’s about becoming a valued and integral member of their own community as musicians.”

Follow Rich Copley on Facebook and Twitter, @copiousnotes.

If you go

“From the Top”

What: Recording of the public radio show with host Christopher O’Riley and five student musicians.

When: 10 a.m. March 16

Where: Centre College’s Norton Center for the Arts, 600 W. Walnut St., Danville

Admission: Open to elementary, middle and high school students. Free admission, but reservations required at 1-877-448-7469.

Online: Nortoncenter.com, Fromthetop.org.

Listen

“From the Top” is not on the air in Central Kentucky. It airs at 6 p.m. Sundays on Louisville’s WUOL-FM 90.5. It can be downloaded at most podcast services and heard online at Fromthetop.org.

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