By Sarah Binder
Daily Staff Writer
Two Iowa musicians performed Tuesday for a live recording of the NPR show “From the Top” at Fisher Theater.
The weekly show, hosted by acclaimed pianist Christopher O’Riley, features classical musicians, between the ages of 8 and 18, from across the nation – all corners of the nation.
“I don’t get the experiences of some kids in Chicago or New York,” said Bryanne Presley, an 18-year-old oboist from Nevada. She said she was “shocked” when she learned she had been accepted.
Caroline Weeks, an 18-year-old violist and self-proclaimed “good old Midwestern girl” from Des Moines was also featured.
However, “From the Top” co-founder Gary Slavet believes the “big city snobs” could stand to learn something about music education from their Midwestern counterparts.
“There are such wonderful music education programs here in Iowa,” Slavet said. “I love experiencing the audience reaction to hometown kids.”
Slavet said one of the goals of “From the Top” is to break down the cultural barriers that keep people from enjoying classical music. The audience for Tuesday’s show ranged from high school students, some wearing decorated T-shirts in support of Weeks, to Iowa born, internationally-acclaimed opera star Simon Estes, who spoke briefly about his Roots and Wings tour.
Slavet opened the show by dancing onstage to James Brown’s “I got you (I feel good),” wearing purple shoes to match his tie, and having the audience cheer “the power of music.”
Then, Weeks performed “Sonata for Viola and Piano” by Rebecca Clarke, and Presley performed “Concerto in A minor for Oboe and Strings” by Ralph Vaughan Williams.
Other performers included Kong Qi, a 16-year-old pianist studying in Massachusetts; Keitaro Harada, a saxophonist and former “From the Top” performer who has gone on to a career in conducting; and the Octet Abbraccio, a group of high school string players from Ohio.
As a part of each performance, the students shared stories with O’Riley. These ranged from the students’ musical upbringings to funny personal stories – Presley described planning pranks for her father, who is also her band director.
The show at Fisher Theater was part of a three-year partnership between “From the Top” and Orchestra Iowa called “Iowa Makes Music,” that also includes outreach programs in local schools. Previously, the program brought concerts to Des Moines, Cedar Rapids and Iowa City.
“It’s been an interesting ride, and we’ve been finding great young Iowa talent,” said David Balsom, tour director for “From the Top.”
The ultimate goal of “From the Top” over its 10-year existence has been to showcase these young artists. Slavet said it began while he was touring the Northeast Conservatory Philharmonic Orchestra, and he realized some of the students didn’t feel pride in their classical music accomplishments. He discussed the matter with Jennifer Hurley-Wales, who would later become his “From the Top” co-founder.
“And the whole show just popped into my head,” Slavet said, “it hasn’t changed a whole lot since.”
The show is now broadcast on nearly 250 stations each week, including Iowa Public Radio, for a listenership of more than 700,000.
“I’m so happy I could’ve been a part of this experience,” said Weeks, adding that she’s made friends in the music world between rehearsals and sound checks.
Weeks will graduate from Roosevelt High School this spring, and attend the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University to pursue a degree in viola performance. She said her dream job would be as a professor of the viola.
Presley will graduate from Nevada High School this spring, and attend the University of Minnesota to pursue a degree in oboe performance. She hopes to have a career as a performer.
On the radio: Tuesday’s performance of “From the Top,” will air at 4 p.m. June 19 on Iowa Public Radio.