“From the Top” brings young talent to the stage

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“From the Top” host Christopher O’Riley poses in Shaver Theater.

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2012 Chautauqua Music Festival student Laura Park performs during the previous Chautauqua live taping of the NPR program, on July 20, 2012, in the Amphitheater.

Attracting some of the most gifted young musicians in the world, NPR’s “From the Top” will live-tape its public radio program at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater. Christopher O’Riley, a world-class pianist and host of the program since it first aired in 2000, will welcome five prodigious performers to the stage to showcase their musical talents.

O’Riley, who first visited Chautauqua in July 2012 to record “From the Top,” is excited to return, but hopes for a few changes this time around.

“It rained a lot the last time I was there,” O’Riley said. “I really love the campus, so I’m really looking forward to better weather.”

Cellist Megan Yip, studying at Chautauqua Institution’s School of Music this summer, will play alongside O’Riley tonight. Other performers include violinists Hannah White and Lucas Stratmann, recorder player Martin Bernstein, and pianist Elisabeth Tsai. Thousands of musicians ages 8 to 18 apply to perform on “From the Top” every year, but O’Riley said playing classical music is an avenue to a more purposeful goal.

“I think what’s most important is not necessarily music, but it’s empowering kids to do what they’re passionate about and allowing them an outlet to show the work they are doing — not only through the broadcast, but more importantly to their peers,” O’Riley said.

At its inception, “From the Top” was carried on 200 stations, but has since become nationally distributed through NPR and can be heard in more than 220 markets. The program is considered the most popular classical musical broadcast on public radio.

With alumni pool that boasts over 3,000 members, “From the Top” is a nonprofit that awards scholarships totaling $2 million annually to performers, as well as provides outreach programs to young musicians throughout the country.

Though “From the Top” is focused on the proliferation of classical music among new audiences, the program has meshed modern music with traditional performances in broadcasts. For instance, young musicians have covered hip-hop chart-toppers “FourFiveSeconds” and “See You Again” in recent weeks.

“There’s all kinds of greatness in all kinds of music,” O’Riley said. “It’s not just about classical music and that’s the only thing you listen to. … We live by the Duke Ellington adage, ‘There are two kinds of music — good and the other kind.’ It is not about genre distinctions, it’s about the performer on the one hand playing what he or she believes in and that’s what makes it great to them, and on the other hand the audience has to approach a performance with open ears and open hearts.”

From San Francisco to Salem, Massachusetts, O’Riley has traveled all corners of the country recording “From the Top” and watching young performers. But, he said, Chautauqua is a special stop on the tour.

“Places like Chautauqua are much more concentrated as artistic communities,” O’Riley said. “It’s really about steeping yourself in the creative process, and I know kids who have been in the music program there who have thrived and really just loved the surroundings and find it a really inspiring and inspirational place to be.”