Show 232: Listening Guide

From the Top’s broadcast for Show 232 was taped in the Dekelboum Concert Hall (within the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center) at the University of Maryland College Park, MD on Saturday, April 16, 2011. We asked our performers to tell us about the music they performed on the show:

Kimberly Hou, 16, piano
IV. Fuga: Allegro con spirito from Sonata
By: Samuel Barber

For me, the Barber Fugue is a classical music piece with substantial jazz references. My favorite aspect of the piece is how Barber created a four voice fugue (something that we usually associate with Bach or another Baroque composer) with colors and rhythmic syncopations that belong to contemporary music. In other words, the fugue is a classic example of where conventional composition forms meet modern jazz. That’s a combination we don’t see every day.

Many people would probably think the technical passages are the hardest or the most important things in the piece, but I would say conveying the rhythmical message and the personality of the piece to the audience is most essential. One of the most fun aspects of jazz is the play on rhythm and the strong beats popping up where you don’t expect them. Since a more modern composer like Barber incorporates that into a technically classical piece, it’s rather important to focus on the big picture when performing it.

Post-Show Reflection: I loved many small things about the experience as a whole, such as listening to Mr. O’Riley practice the Grieg Piano Concerto, chatting with the other performers about various music-related topics, and listening to the performers shine with their music. There is also the “snap” of a broken string I heard from inside the piano while I rehearsed the Barber Fugue the day of the show… Whether on the stage of Carnegie’s Weill Recital Hall or in the dining lounge of the local retirement home, performing is always exciting and fun for me; it’s one of the big reasons why I play the piano. Performing on the From the Top show was honestly no different for me. I absolutely loved every second performing there.

Music can completely refresh and uplift the listener’s spirit, give joy and excitement to the child, and instill lasting inspiration for entire families. I believe music has the potential to cuddle the human soul and give a fresh, positive outlook that makes a person believe he or she can overcome any predicament.

Brian Hong, 17, violin
Sonata No.4
By: Marco Uccellini

This piece is a wonderful example of bipolar music in the best sense. Baroque pieces tend to have a single affect, or mood. However, this sonata is, in a sense, a one-movement sonata with many divisions and affects. I feel like I have to change my mood every 30 seconds! I sometimes think that I’ll end up bipolar myself from playing this incredible music.

This piece is incredibly different from others in its structure. It is a very short sonata, but has 5 to 6 mini movements that all flow attaca into each other. Each movement has a specific mood and that is important to get across. And, honestly, that is the hardest thing to nail (besides shifting without a chin rest and shoulder rest!). I actually find the Uccellini sonata to be more similar to contemporary works by the likes of Berg and Schoenberg in its structure than even other works within its time period.

Post-Show Reflection: A favorite memory besides Kimberly snapping the piano string during sound check? It actually has to be the arts leadership orientation.  To be honest, I was a apprehensive about a 3 hour meeting talking about arts leadership (I was like, what is that, anyway?) but thanks to (From the Top), the actual meeting itself was the highlight of the whole experience in my eyes. I had never really ever been in a situation where I was with a whole group of people who saw music and life the way I did; and thus, I was able to talk very freely, be myself, and share many intimate and personal stories and details about my life that I had never openly shared with anyone ever before (and the fact that I had just met most of these people only 2 days before made that even more astounding).

I believe that there is a plethora of ideas of what music can do. However, I believe one of the most poignant powers music has is to heal. It helps to quell the hurts, sorrows, and fears within a person, helps them to feel accepted even when they are not. That is what music did to me, anyway, back when I had horrible social issues. I also recall a gig I played at a church (once) – a…boy with Tourettes syndrome was listening to the music being performed with the choir, and he was swaying side to side, humming, with a huge smile on his face.  For that short period of time, there were no problems in the world for him; he was normal and happy.  

John Williams, 16, guitar
II. Valseana & III. Preludio e toccatina from Aquarelle
By: Sérgio Assad

The Aquarelle suite is one of my favorite guitar pieces and is written by my favorite guitar composer: Sergio Assad. The second movement is incredibly beautiful and allows you to be very expressive. The third movement is extremely difficult and really shows off technique.

Unlike a lot of contemporary music, this piece keeps me interested throughout the entire suite. Its combination of beautiful melodies, Brazilian rhythms, and difficult passages truly make it an amazing work. The amount of notes and different things that Sergio has you do at the same time really set this piece apart from anything I’ve done before.

Post-Show Reflection: My favorite memory was after the performance and we went to meet the audience. The pressure was off, and it was really encouraging to see how many people had come to see us perform! Performing on stage was incredible! I have listened to FTT for years, so to finally be on the show was just an amazing experience! Also, the performance hall itself was very cool. Definitely one of the better halls I’ve played in!

I believe music has the power to draw so many different emotions and just be really inspiring. It can put you in a good mood, sad mood, or make you feel basically any way. That’s why I think being a musician is a really great way to express yourself.

Sandra Bailey, 18, bassoon
I. Allegro con moto from Sonatine
By: Alexandre Tansman

This piece of music was actually the first piece that I had connected to a story. While I attended the Northwestern High School Music institute I met a singer who told me how easy singing is because there is always a story to help convey the purpose and emotion. While at camp I began to look up music in the library with this different view and came across the Tansman. When I think of this piece a lot of emotions are felt. I can sometimes imagine many of my lives past struggles and it is relieving to play it because I feel that they are devoured with my music. In the first movement particularly, there is a lot of stress that I feel is relieved through the fast and hard articulated phrases. In the middle passage where things slow I feel that I am explaining why the beginning was so frantic. My favorite part is after Meno mosso at “A Tempo” when it speeds up because of the energy that is exerted when playing. My least favorite part would be the beginning just because of the confusion that can be brought upon the listener with this contemporary piece.

This piece of music is unique because of its contemporary style and simply the time that it was written in, the early 20th Century. During the time this piece was composed, many influences such as Jazz and worldly conflicts manipulated its contents. When I am playing this music I believe that it is important to show listeners how all of these elements are implemented in this “classical: but contemporary piece. It can be a little difficult to play; this song is this bizarre style when it is noted as a classical piece, but it broadens my idea of classical music.

Post-Show Reflection: My favorite memory was when Kimberly Hou, after a great run through of her piece, broke one of the b keys on the piano. After, one of the FTT staff members yelled out, “Sandra, please don’t break your new bassoon”, and my mother responded. “Ohhhh Nooooo!” Then stage helpers had to take out the broken piano and bring in another from the next hall. Even though this seemed like an inconvenience, Christopher O’Riley said he liked the other piano anyway.

I believe music has the power to uplift, calm, excite, and change any person in this universe.   

Conrad Tao, 16, piano
By: Conrad Tao

Eventide is an exploration of what happens after the initial desire and passion of love subsides. It is also sonic interpretation of the evening, of its intimacies. The piano alternates between delicate, crystalline passages and quietly urgent, flickering textures, contrasting with lyrical lines in the strings. The violin and cello dance around each other, constantly meeting and falling apart, and meeting and falling apart, again and again, until they finally fuse together for a brief but crucial moment. The movement ends in a very lonely place. Eventide is cold.

Compared to other pieces that I’ve written, Eventide is significantly more sparse yet also more conceptually intact than most of my works. I remember writing the piece in a very short time – two days, in fact, and to this day, it remains virtually untouched from the very first draft. It was also one of my first works with a good portion composed at the piano, and one of my first pieces to receive a significant influence from ostensibly “pop” artists.

Dawn Wang, 17, violin
By: Conrad Tao

This piece evokes in me the image of sunset by the beach – one of those few moments of a day when one can look directly at the sun and marvel at its warm, gentle beauty. The piece has a very fluid, impressionistic quality, creating this mystical, surreal atmosphere. It is easy, while playing or listening to it, to forget where I am, as if the music can cast a spell and submerge me into this other world of stillness, sunset, beach, and eternity. FYI: Maybe due to its “fluid” quality during one performance I came in late for my entrance, and after the concert no one – not even the composer – had a clue about my mistake =)

It’s always special to play a work by close friend I’ve grown up with over the past 8 years, especially when we’re playing the piece together. For me, one of the hardest things asides from the counting, is to constantly remember there’s never a moment when it’s just “me”, but that I’m always part of the whole picture and overall effect. Also, though there are many seemingly repetitive measures in the piece, I feel that every note, every moment is special and essential, always pointing towards and building up to the next scene in the story.

Post-Show Reflection: My favorite part of the three days had to be when, in the green room, I tried to play Brian Hong’s Baroque violin.  It’s the first time I’ve ever played one, and I needed to adjust a lot of bow arm techniques to play it.  But, I loved it!  It especially worked well playing chords in the Bach Fugue =D The performance itself wasn’t that much different from other performances. What made it special, though, was knowing that this is From the Top, and an interview would follow that can connect you with the audience from a different perspective, which never happens in ordinary concerts.  Also, the knowledge that you’re being taped, recorded, and broadcasted to the entire nation and even the whole world is quite scary, but exciting too!

Music can touch people in places that words or pictures can’t.  It is a universal language, and a highly personal one as well. I believe that no melody can strike two people quite the same or evoke the same images and emotions. It is a most effective way to reach out to humanity.