Show 253: Listening Guide

From the Top’s broadcast for Show 253 was taped at the Newmark Theatre in Portland, OR on Sunday May 6, 2012. We asked our performers to tell us about the music they performed on the show:

Simone Porter, violin, 15
III. Allegro Animato from Violin Sonata No. 3 in C minor, Op.45
By: Edvard Grieg

I had the great privilege to perform the 3rd and final movement from Grieg’s 3rd sonata in c minor for violin and piano with Christopher O’Riley on From The Top in May. This sonata is certainly a favorite of mine. The third movement alone incorporates passionate melodies, elements of Norwegian folk music, overarching long lines, and excellent dialogue between the violin and the piano! I think the 3rd movement very operatic; it alternates between Nordic themes that feature exchanges between the violin and piano, which I consider flirtatious conversation amongst my opera characters, and passionate melodies which I imagine to be arias, declarations of love. Grieg employs many syncopated rhythms throughout the 3rd movement, which makes the music agitated and anxious at times, but in the end, the music takes a sweeping turn into C Major, and ends in celebration.

This sonata is all about human communication: most obvious is the interaction between the violinist and pianist performing, but I think that the connection between the performers and audience is just as essential. While I was in Portland with From the Top, we talked alot about music’s power and influence. I brought up the idea that music is a universal language that doesn’t acknowledge any prejudice, and invites everybody to join the conversation. I hope that with this performance, I successfully invited and engaged the audience in a lively discourse.

Post Show Reflection: Rather than a specific experience, my favorite memory is the way friendships developed between the performers over 3 days. We entered (mostly) strangers and left with new friends who will keep in touch and meet up when our paths inevitably cross in the future. Performing for a live audience and imagining how that performance will reach so many more was so wonderful! I loved collaborating with the brilliant Christopher O’Riley, all the people at FTT, and being with the fantastic and supportive Portland audience!!

Music can establish connections and dissolve boundaries in a world that can be so divisive. Music is the universal language and we invite everyone to join the conversation; art doesn’t recognize any prejudice. From the Top encourages a discussion in which everyone is accepted and welcomed, regardless of race, gender, age, sexuality, opinions, etc. Musical education brings peace and hope and light to society; the educators and educated benefit from the experience.

Ruta Kuzmickas, piano, 16
Waltz in A-flat Major, Op. 34 No. 1
By: Frederic Chopin

In my opinion, this piece is very optimistic, energetic, and indeed very “grand,” as the name suggest. Overall, it’s just plain fun to perform. Aside from the optimistic characters in the piece, there’s also a melancholic cry towards the middle, although it is very short-lived. After that briefly dramatic moment the happy “character” returns with its original flamboyant thematic elements.

This piece is both musically and technically demanding. What I love about it is that there are so many different themes, yet they repeat so many times, making it fun to play around with ways to change every repetition and make each one unique. That alone was one of the most difficult things to get across, although in some ways Chopin has given the pianist a lot of space for creative thinking and interpreting.

Post Show Reflection: A favorite memory from the past three days was getting to see the other’s performances during the recorded rehearsal. It was interesting to see a variety of personalities, interpretations, and ideas. It was such an honor to be on the show. Performing on stage felt fantastic. So much work went in to preparing for the performance, so I knew I could relax and just let it happened. My main goal was to portray the spirit of the piece from my point of view, and I’m hoping it came across well.

I believe music has the power to heal, bring happiness and most importantly, connect people and bring them together. Music inspires, empowers, creates, and relates. Music is for everyone, regardless of race, gender, age, or identity.

The Aries Trio
II. Scherzo: Allegro from the Horn Trio in E-Flat Major, Op.40
By: Johannes Brahms

Jisoo Kim, violin, 18

The Brahms Horn Trio is special because this piece is for an unusual combination of instruments – piano, violin, and horn. One would think that the issue of balance might create problems, but it is incredible in how Brahms weaves these different instruments together to make beautiful music.

I have actually never worked with another brass instrument before (in terms of chamber music), so this experience was quite unique. I was always used to playing with either string instruments or the piano, so I had to adjust to a whole new setting. 

Post Show Reflections: My favorite memory from the last three days was the live performance and interview. The audience was wonderful, and I had an unforgettable experience with trio in Portland, Oregon. I grew closer with my trio and met so many inspiring people. I am so lucky to have experienced this FTT performance. We gave a great performance ,and the interview process with Christopher O’Riley was fun as well. From the Top provides such an incredible moment for performers everywhere, and I am thankful to have come to Portland and experience it again!

Music has the power to bring people together. It is inspiring and truly makes a difference in so many people’s lives.

Roy Femenella, horn, 18

Brahms wrote his Horn Trio after the passing of his mother, and so one of the primary emotional themes of this piece is grief. Because of this, the trio begins with a slow movement, and is one of very few works of this scale to do so.  The second movement, which we play on the show, exudes a tremendous feeling of renewal and possibility after the initial, sad first movement.

The second movement is very striking due to its different forms of contrast: emotionally, rhythmically, dynamically, etc.  Because of this, this music is very challenging, both individually, and as an ensemble.

Post Show Reflections: Playing on the show was definitely a favorite moment for me.  The radio aspect presented a different environment from other performances, and was very exciting

T.J. Tario, piano, 18

The story or image that the Brahms Horn Trio evokes for me is of a hunting scene on horseback/ My favorite part in the Scherzo is when I am starting the piece because I feel as though I set up that element of surprise when the horn and violin come in. Another favorite part of mine is in the middle section of the Scherzo when I’m alternating with the violin. It’s just a wonderful energetic conversation!

What I feel is unique about the piece of music is how Brahms took 3 individualistic instruments and innovatively meshed their sounds together. It would have been, I bet, revolutionary at the time, and I feel it sort of is still in today’s contemporary music standards. I’ve only performed in Piano Trio with violin and cello, so performing with a brass instrument is fairly new.

Post Show Reflections: A favorite memory was prior to the taping, we were all just chilling backstage in the green room and talking about everything basically under the sun: all our mutual friends, future goals, schools, and music festivals. The performance was so exhilarating because I haven’t really performed on that big of a venue since I lived in Hawaii. The Newmark Theatre was just such a wonderful hall and the audience seemed to have responded well to the performance. I also found it exciting as well because I get to start out the Brahms Horn Trio movement and there’s no pressure, but overall I had so much fun playing it with my chamber group!

Music has the power to empower, inspire, and bring joy to others. It also has ability to connect people!

Noah McKee, marimba, 17
Tambourin Chinois
By: Fritz Kreisler
(Arr. George Hamilton Green)

Post Show Reflections: My favorite memory was the first rehearsal and meeting everyone. The performance itself was very intimidating it was the largest crowd I had ever played a solo for.

I believe music has the power to express emotions that otherwise could not be expressed through words.

Gemini Shortcake Duo
Fantasy on George Gershwins’s Porgy & Bess for Two Pianos
By: Percy Grainger 

Alison Chang, piano, 17 

The first time I performed “Porgy and Bess” was as part of a TEDx talk at my school on how anyone can fall in love with classical music and how two piano ensembles are a great way to bring orchestral works to all sorts of audiences. When I play these songs, I think about the characters that are singing (the brave Porgy and the beautiful Bess) and try to capture the style of different instruments- lyrical violins and shimmering flutes.

“Porgy and Bess” is much jazzier than most of the pieces we play. I’ve learned to relax both physically and rhythmically to fully convey the jaunty tone of “Oh I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin” and the jubilant declaration of “O Lawd, I’m On My Way.” Serina and I even watched the opera so that we could better understand the attitudes of the individual people and the community as a whole.

Post Show Reflections: My favorite memories were getting to know the other performers, watching rehearsals (both interviews and music), and hanging out backstage. The performance was a lot of fun- I was less nervous than I’d expected, and the audience was so warm and receptive (even though I couldn’t actually see them!). Thanks to the taped dress rehearsal, I didn’t need to worry about perfection and could just enjoy the music.

Music can bring people together and help them communicate to overcome differences. It can heal pain (physical and psychological) and make people happier.

Serina Chang, piano, 14

“Porgy and Bess” and I have come a long way. It’s definitely an unusual piece for me, especially considering my mostly classical repertoire. As a result, there were parts of it I had trouble understanding. For example, there is sudden mood and melody switch in the middle of “Oh I got Plenty O’ Nuttin” labeled cantabile which used to baffle me because it seemed out of the blue. It wasn’t until last week when I watched the scene in YouTube that it started to make sense. In Porgy’s voice it sounded natural as he explained optimistically that he is just happy to be alive. I saw his smiling face when I played this section again, and found the unique transition enjoyable and I smiled along with Porgy.

I find that the most unique but also hardest part of playing “Porgy and Bess” is accurately capturing the essence of the complex opera with only two keyboards and five minutes. Without words or images, Alison and I are given the task to paint the scene of Catfish Row [the African American neighborhood in which the opera takes place], communicate changes in plot, and express the personalities and emotions in this fast-paced version from the jaunty I get “I got Plenty O’ Nuttin”  to the good yet somber “Lord, I am On My Way”. But these challenges are what make the piece so rewarding to play. Creating the characters and their world is literally at our fingertips.

Post Show Reflections: The entire three days were amazing! Honestly I don’t have a favorite memory but there were a couple of things that stood out. The closeness and light bantering of the staff was something I really liked and in some ways, they made me too feel like part of the FTT community immediately as they broke the ice with their jokes. The other performers were of course very talented, but also I was delighted with how comfortable it was backstage to talk to them. The performance was great and exciting! I really enjoyed the reception because I could individually connect with the audience members and see the stage through their eyes.

The performance was just so, so much fun. I love performing – I actually began piano for the sake of performing, but the From the Top show went so far beyond a performance. There was the obvious change from typical performances – there was an interview and, as a result, the atmosphere was completely different for both the performer and audience. I felt much closer to the audience and when I sat down on the bench to play, I felt like I was simply sharing a funny story with a friend.

Music has incredible power: it can excite, calm, unite, rally, and really do anything to any group of people. History has countless examples of arousing national anthems chanted as soldiers march into wars or as rebels risk their lives. It has the power to incite spirit and this spirit can be transformed into action. The reason the spirit is so strong is that when people sing together or even just feel the same beat, they are literally “in sync” and thus feel like a unit.