Longwood ‘From the Top’ on NPR

Longwood Gardens hosted a live recording of National Public Radio’s “From The Top” on Sunday night.

It can be heard the week of Nov. 5 on FM station WRTI (90.1).

The appearance by the “From The Top” show was part of Longwood’s summer concert series and was moved inside to the ballroom because of rainy weather. The sold-out ballroom, built in 1929 and renovated more than 12 years ago, provided the kind of acoustics that perfectly highlighted the young musicians performing on “From The Top.”

Guest hosting the show was “From The Top” alumnus and pianist Peter Dugan, who not only performed with several of the show’s highlighted musicians but also performed an original piece he wrote specifically for the appearance at Longwood Gardens. The piece paid homage not only to the Philadelphia area – the “Rocky” theme featured prominently – but also to the late Aretha Franklin, herself a pianist.

At the beginning of the night, the audience received various instructions about what would happen during the recording, often delivered with humor.

“You’ve heard my voice. We’re friends,” said Tom Voegeli, the senior radio producer for “From The Top,” as he told the audience not to “leap out of your skin” if they hear his voice during the broadcast.

The main features were the performances from Angeline Ma, Jack Boettcher, Faustina Housner, Ria Modak, Andrew Chang, and Akili Farrow. Audience members listened to their performances and also learned a little more about the young musicians.

The 17-year-old cellist Boettcher and Dugan, on piano, performed Alberto Ginastera’s “Pampeana No. 2, Op. 21 for Cello and Piano” to open the show. Boettcher, of Illinois, described the piece as depicting a day on the Argentinian savannah.

The audience laughed when Boettcher told of winning a Chicago Bulls talent search with a cello piece set to Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust.” He renamed it “LeBron James Bites the Dust” and performed it in front of about 20,000 people during half-time of the Bulls’ game.

Fifteen-year-old pianist Angeline Ma performed next on “From The Top,” with two waltzes by Chopin. Ma described the one piece, Chopin’s “Waltz in A flat Major, Opus 42” as a loving and tender piece. When she plays, Ma told the audience, she associates the pieces with certain colors. She said she saw Opus 42 as the color red. Ma’s associations of the music with colors continued when she talked about playing pieces in her favorite key of E Major, describing E Major as “a golden sunshine or sunny afternoon kind of key.”

Ma, a Berwyn, Pa. native who helps edit her high school’s literary magazine, also read the audience a poem she wrote.

A teenage duo performed an Astor Piazzolla piece titled “Histoire du Tango: Café 1930.” Ria Modak’s guitar set the scene while Faustina Housner’s violin told a story.

“You took us all back in time,” Dugan told the duo, describing the Piazzolla style as a combination of classical and jazz.

Housner, 17, of Cherry Hill, NJ, first met Modak, 18, of New York through the National YoungArts program.

“One of the first things we did was to play ‘Café 1930’ together without rehearsing in front of (other) musicians,” said Modak.

Housner appeared on “From The Top” as a 2019 recipient of the Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Award.

Philadelphia violinist Akili Farrow joined with Dugan in playing Brahms’ “Sonatensatz in C minor,” a piece Dugan described as “tense and dramatic.”

After her performance, Dugan asked the 18-year-old – who was leaving in five days to study violin at the Royal College of Music in London – how she brought the Brahms’ piece to life. Farrow explained how her violin teacher brought in an actress during their second lesson to help Farrow discover her inner actor.

“That helped me bring out the actor in the piece,” she said.

Farrow thanked all the programs she had been involved in over the years – such as Play On, Philly!, Musicopia, and the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra – that helped her hone her musical skills.

Dugan played a recording of Farrow’s mother talking about how she would miss the sound of her daughter playing the violin, once Akili leaves for London.

“The thing I will miss the most about Akili is hearing the violin,” her mother said. “Akili not being here will make the house lonely.”

The fifth young musician to perform also collaborated with Dugan on piano. Andrew Chang, a 17-year-old clarinetist from California, played Robert Muczynski’s “’Time Pieces’ for Clarinet and Piano, Opus 43.”

“You managed to create this beautiful line,” Dugan told him. Chang responded that his music teacher told him to “sing through the notes.”

“The audience here in Kennett Square definitely loved that performance,” Dugan said. “Bravo.”

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About Monica Fragale

Monica Thompson Fragale is a freelance reporter who spent her life dreaming of being in the newspaper business. That dream came true after college when she started working at The Kennett Paper and, years later The Reporter newspaper in Lansdale and other dailies. She turned to non-profit work after her first daughter was born and spent the next 13 years in that field. But while you can take the girl out of journalism, you can’t take journalism out of the girl. Offers to freelance sparked the writing bug again started her fingers happily tapping away on the keyboard. Monica lives with her husband and two children in Kennett Square.

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