Show 328 From Boston, MA Transcript

Recorded live from NEC’s Jordan Hall on October 16, 2016

Tickets to our upcoming live show in Boston on Feb 11, 2018 are now on sale! Learn more here.

Christopher O’Riley: Welcome.

It’s great to be back in Boston.  We’ve got another inspiring show for our hometown crowd here at New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall and for all our listeners across the country.

Today, it’s all musicians from the Boston – New York corridor.  You’ll hear an outstanding women’s chorus from Boston’s famous Handel and Haydn Society, a Boston area violinist who grew up with such enthusiasm for the classical music scene here he attempted to do everything it had to offer at once, and we’re going to meet an outstanding pianist who moved from Shanghai to study at the Juilliard pre-college program in New York.

Sean Yu, 12, cello

But let’s start things off with the youngest musician on today’s show.  Also from New York. From Rye, New York, this is 12-year-old cellist Sean Yu.

? Applause ?

Christopher O’Riley: Sean, tell everyone what we’re going to play together.

Sean: I will be playing polonaise by David Popper. This piece is full of colors, and it’s very energetic, and what I like to think about is an actor, who starts to try to build up his career to become a famous actor.

Christopher O’Riley: Good narrative. Okay, when you’re ready, let’s take it from the top.

Music: David Popper: Polonaise de  Concert, Op. 14

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Christopher O’Riley: Sean Yu, 12 years old from Rye, New York played David Popper’s Polonaise De Concert, Opus 14.

Wow, you really told the story there Sean. Beautifully done. We’ve had a lot of Popper on this show, but we have never had that piece done. You’re such a strong player at such a young age, but you say there was a specific moment when you started to really care about music.  What happened?   

Sean: The turning point in my life was when I was 9 years old and I got accepted into Juilliard pre-college.  My first day there, I thought it would be really competitive, I thought I would have a lot of enemies. After a few weeks, I made friends there. One thing about Juilliard that I really like is the orchestra. The first day I had orchestra, and there was a lot of power coming from these instruments all together.

So, you’ve had a lot of good days since you were accepted at Juilliard, but I think you’d agree that you’ve had a couple of really bad … and really humorously bad … days, too.

So, would you tell the story about what happened outside the Juilliard building?  This was a really bad day!!

Christopher O’Riley: What happened?

Sean: I was going to a lesson, and we were right outside Lincoln Center, swinging on a bar. And I kind of landed on my cello- well, I landed on my cello. You know, it was actually quite comfortable, so… I’m looking at my mom and dad who are over there, and I’m like, you know, “I can get away with this.” But when I looked under the case and found there were a bunch of wood chips and a few little lines, which were the strings- you could call it a mini playground.

Christopher O’Riley: A mini playground! That’s how you put a positive spin on it.

Sean: Yeah…minus the happiness. I was crying when I went to my lesson, and I asked my mom for another one. And, she gave me another one.

Christopher O’Riley: Really bad, almost as bad as your story about the mall.  Tell that one.

Sean: I always saw these fountains full of free coins, so one day I decided to grab one.  But when I leaned over to pick up one of the coins I fell in.  My dad put me under the hand dryer in the bathroom.  Then we went to a clothing store and I couldn’t really be controlled.

I saw a mannequin and tried to take the clothing off it.  It got knocked over and I broke it.  I kind of tried to walk away from it, but my dad was there.  Now I avoid mannequins.

Christopher O’Riley: So, what would you call that kind of day?

Sean: A really bad day!!

Playback:*Dastardly sting*

Christopher O’Riley: Sean Yu, 12-years-old from Rye New York

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Helen Wargelin, 18, horn

Christopher O’Riley: Thanks, Joanne.

Our first Massachusetts kid today stands center stage now, ready to treat us to the beautiful sound of the french horn.  She’s 18-year-old Helen Wargelin from Concord and she and I are going to perform Nocturno, Op. 7 by Franz Strauss.

Helen: Franz Strauss actually the father of the more famous, Richard Strauss, played the horn, but he had a real smoking problem. So anything that he or his son wrote for horn has a breath mark about every measure, so horn players today are like, “No, I’m not gonna breathe there!”

Music: Strauss: Nocturno, Op. 7

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Christopher O’Riley: Helen Wargelin, 18, from Concord, Massachusetts performed the Nocturne, Op. 7 by Franz Strauss.

Helen, we loved pretty much everything you had to say about the french horn when we talked earlier, so it’s time for …

Playback: *cliche french horn hunting call*

Christopher O’Riley: “A horn talk with Helen.”

So Helen, demystify the horn for us.  Tells us about the relatively simple thing every horn player is trying to do, but how difficult that can be.

Helen: Well, the ultimate goal is to always know what is going to come out the other end. But it’s not that simple because, on any given fingering, we can get a whole bunch of different notes. At a certain point, you can get any note with any fingering.

Christopher O’Riley: And there’s a hard lesson every horn player’s got to learn.

Helen: Because it’s so easy to miss notes, don’t let those cracked notes bog you down.  It happens to everyone.  I cracked a note in a solo in a concert where I was the principal horn and the youngest.  I got so upset and thought everyone was judging me.  But everyone understood that stuff like that happens with this risky instrument.

Christopher O’Riley: Exactly, the walls of Jericho did not come down at the end of your squeaked note, and you just move on from there. Helen, is it true that the horn can have an adverse effect on your eyebrows?

Helen: I used to wiggle my eyebrows when I played.  People found it so funny because they could tell how high I was playing by how high I’d raise my eyebrows.  It’s actually not a good thing because it creates tension and you want to be as relaxed as possible, so I’ve worked hard to learn not to do it.

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Handel and Haydn Young Women’s Chamber Choir

Christopher O’Riley: The Handel and Haydn Society is a Boston treasure.  The oldest continuously-operating performing arts organization in America, it’s named after the “old” music of the Baroque Period and the “new” Classical-era music of the very early 1800’s when the Society was founded.

Known for its outstanding adult chorus and period-instrument orchestra, H&H has a variety of educational programs and youth choruses and we’re going to hear one of those now.

Please welcome the Handel and Haydn Young Women’s Chamber Choir, and their conductor, Alyson Greer.

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Christopher O’Riley: Great to have you here, Alyson.  How many young women have you brought to sing for us today?

Alyson: There are 21 of us.

Christopher O’Riley: And we’re going to hear an arrangement of a folk song, yes?

Alyson: Yes, it’s called “Early Spring” and it’s a folk song from Newfoundland. It’s arranged by Kathleen Allen. This song is about a young fisherman and a young woman, and they grew up together in a fishing village. They are lovers, and the song is narrated by the young woman, who tells us about their love story and the uncertainty that comes with loving a man who goes out to sea.

Music: Trad. Arr. Kathleen Allan: “Early Spring”

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Christopher O’Riley: The Handel and Haydn Young Women’s Chamber Choir, under the direction of Alyson Greer, performed an arrangement of the Newfoundland folk song, “Early Spring.”

We’re going to talk to two singers from this fine chorus. 17-Year-old Francesca Hsieh, from Brookline, Massachusetts and 18-year-old Johanna Geremia from Shrewsbury.

Your director, Alyson, had you do an interesting exercise to make sure you personally connected with this music. Francesca, what was that?

Francesca: We wrote down our own version of the story to work out who the people are in the piece, their names, backgrounds, hopes, and dreams. You can then visualize these people and get this really personal and emotional connection to it.

Christopher O’Riley: Johanna, you say choral singing does amazing things for the typical stressed-out teenager.  Like what?

Johanna: Just the actual act of singing you have to relax your body, you have to be able to just produce the sound.  And I think that just takes away all thoughts of doing anything else.  You can only focus on your singing and you don’t need to think about anything else.

Christopher O’Riley: And do you find that there’s a special quality that comes with being a choir of all young women?  Francesca?

Francesca: It’s really amazing to be a part of a group of young women who share such similar experiences and interests to you. We do sing a lot of pieces by women composers and talk about being a woman in society and how it is hard to feel empowered or strong but it’s important that we all know that we don’t have to apologize or feel shy about who we are.

And I know you both love the support you get from the relationships you make with the other members of the chorus.  What’s that been like, Johanna?

Johanna: It’s really incredible. The foundation that you build with the other members, it’s just incredible friendships and I know they will last forever. You could have the worst day of your life, and you show up at choir and you don’t even have to say anything, your friends are just there for you and they’ll support you and your day can completely turn upside down and becomes the best day ever.

Francesca Hsieh and Johanna Geremia, teenage members of the Handel and Haydn Young Women’s Chorus.

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Joanne: From NPR, it’s From the Top! Celebrating the power of music in the hands of America’s kids. This week we’re coming to you from our home in New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall in Boston. Coming up, a gifted 18-year-old violinist plays the opening movement of the Debussy Sonata. Here, again, is Christopher O’Rileytopher O’Riley …

Wenfang “Ivan”, Han, 16, piano

Christopher O’Riley: Thanks, Joanne.

And now the music of a younger contemporary of Sergei Rachmaninoff, the Russian composer Nikolai Medtner.

16-Year-old Wenfang Han from New York City will perform his Sonata Tragica, Op. 39, No. 5

Music: Nikolai Medtner: Forgotten Melodies II, Op. 39, V. Sonata Tragica

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Christopher O’Riley: Wenfang Han, 16 from New York City performed Sonata Tragica from Forgotten Melodiesby Nikolai Medtner.

Wenfang, I guess you go by “Ivan.”  May I call you that?

Ivan: Yes.

You’re obviously a very thoughtful pianist, but you’re a very emotionally connected pianist, too.  Here’s a case in point …

Playback: “Der Lindenbaum” from Schubert’s “Winterreise,” fades out

Christopher O’Riley: That’s an excerpt from Schubert’s despairing “Winterreise” or “Winter Journey” sung by the great Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.

Tell the story about the night when this music helped you release your emotions.

Ivan: It was last winter when I was preparing for my math final, unfortunately. One night I was studying for my finals listening to the Schubert.  I was exhausted from all the studying I’d done, so I was lying in my bed, listening to this recording. About five or ten minutes later, a wave of emotions came over me, and I started crying. And I believe it is quite important to me, it not only established an intimate relationship between the piece and me. I believe it is one of the reasons why I pursue music.

Christopher O’Riley: I want to pursue some more of your very noble thoughts about music. You say that music gives you dignity.  Explain what you mean.

Ivan: I believe music or art, in general, has the ability to make known to us the sufferings and the happiness to the extremities that we don’t usually show in normal life- we try to hide from ourselves. And music or art, in general, it gives us the opportunity to express and connect to each other those feelings or sentiments.

Ivan Han, 16 from New York City.

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Joanne: Podcasts of From the Top’s featured bonus content not heard on the radio broadcast are available every week at

Sammy Andonian, 18, violin

Playback: *Sammy’s pre-produced intro*

Music: Debussy: Sonata for Violin and Piano, I. Allegro Vivo

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Christopher O’Riley: The first movement of the Debussy Sonata for Violin and Piano played by Sammy Andonian, 18, from Lincoln, Massachusetts, right outside Boston.

Okay, Sammy, as you said, it’s been music, music, music during your young life.  How are you going to maintain balance now that you’re actually attending New England Conservatory for real and even more is expected from you?

Sammy: Yes. For sure. I need to pursue music as a career and get a degree in music. It’s already a lot, I can speak for a lot of us, I think. Just to do what’s expected of you of one instrument, let alone what I was doing when I was younger with all of those things, but not even just committing to my school work if you’re gonna call it that. It’s just maintaining sanity, finding other interests, you know, reading, exercising, all those kind of things.

Christopher O’Riley: Now, what’s next? Because it was your extracurricular before, but now it’s for real. It’s what you want to do with your life.

You’re teacher, Donald Weilerstein, here at NEC, must help you find that balance.  He’s known as a pretty great life coach and well as a musical pedagogue.

Sammy: I just started studying at the New England Conservatory with Mr. Weilerstein. Even only after five lessons, it’s amazing how much he knows about physicality, about the body and how our bodies connect to our brains and to our emotions when we are playing, and he’s so knowledgeable about making your entire body as relaxed as it possibly can be to be able to emote and express to an audience the best you possibly can, and I am so grateful for that.

Well, Sammy, we’d love to hear you play something else to take us out of the show.  You game?

Christopher O’Riley: A great way to end our show today.  I want to thank all our young performers and thank you for listening.  This is Christopher O’Riley  Please join me next week.

And now, Sammy… Let’s take this from the top …

Music: Fritz Kreisler: Tambourin Chinois, Op. 3

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