Kids Today: From the Top at Mondavi Center

Christopher O'Riley: From the Top
My friend Chris O'Riley is in town today. His über-popular NPR show From the Top tapes tomorrow night at Mondavi Center, and it features a couple of previous winners from the Mondavi Center Young Artists Competition, which I run here. As it happens, we're in the middle of national semifinals for same (just back from NYC and Portland regionals), and the Northern CA auditions will take place this Sunday. Which means that in the course of this week a few dozen ridiculously talented little pianists will pass through the Artists Entrance of Mondavi Center and take a turn on its stage.

Lara with (ridiculously talented) Grace Zhou
 Broadcast on nearly 250 stations nationwide to an audience of more than 700,000 listeners each week, every From the Top episode presents five high-caliber performances along with interviews, sketches and games, revealing the heart and soul behind extraordinary young musicians. Now in its twelfth year on air, From the Top is taped before live audiences in concert halls from all over the country, from Boston to Honolulu.Tune in pretty much any week of the year, and you will hear a few ridiculously talented little pianists. And I hear them on my travels, and here at home, and I'm amazed, time and again, at how many wonderful musicians are growing up in every town and city the world over. It's inspiring, and also a little overwhelming, and for those of us mentoring them, who know what the realities of the future have in store, for any ridiculously talented little pianist, there is a big job at hand. People have asked me why I direct a competition for young pianists. I've addressed the question in this space before, but I think that the core of my motivation - and Chris' too, I know - is to  support and shape a new breed of musician:
  • A musician who is aware of his/her role in society - From the Top does a beautiful job of training young artists to go out into schools and communities and work with their peers as "Arts Leaders", sharing their talents as arts advocates and educators

  • A musician who thinks creatively, flexibly, and openly, and has an ongoing sense of the wide potential for making and sharing music;
  • A musician who is prepared for the difficulties and realities ahead, with skills in career development, programming, outreach and education...
  • A musician who knows that perceptions, goals and desires will constantly shift within the trajectory of a life in music, and that change is most of the process;
  • A musician who is prepared for the bad times as well as the wonderful ones;
  • A musician who knows that practicing is only the beginning, and that everything else we learn and do in life is what ultimately makes our music what it can be-
 Chris O'Riley is a model of this kind of musicianship - versatile beyond belief, busy with new projects that span genres, audiences, and musical partners, giving his support and advice to young people, on the air and face to face. He believes as I do in shaping a diversity of artist-communicators for a future in which the place and space for our music will continue to change.
As a mentor to young people, there's nothing better than seeing growth happen, in real time. At times when I am confronting the puzzle of how to make the different pieces of my life fit into my one head, my one day, I realize how much it brings to me, every day.
 Here's a lovely quote from a 2012 Mondavi Center Young Artists winner, soprano Anush Avetisyan:
"My experience with the Mondavi Center's Young artist competition was one that has shaped and inspired my future dreams  as a singer, as a musician and as an active member of the community. Surrounded by passionate talents and nurturing leaders, this Young artist competition is truly a platform to express yourself and grow with those around you in the process. I will forever feel blessed to have had such an experience."
Amen, I say.

NPR's From the Top tapes live at the 
Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, Thursday October 25, at 8pm.