NPR to record Stanford Symphony Orchestra Nov. 10 performance

Nov. 8, 2013, 1:09 a.m.

For the first time, National Public Radio’s “From the Top” program will record the Stanford Symphony Orchestra. The show will also feature several student performers and young classical musicians from around California.

The Nov. 10 performance sold out to the general public this summer, but some tickets are still available for Stanford students to purchase. Students and members of the community can also hear the broadcast on Dec. 2 on Classical KDFC (104.9 FM in Palo Alto).

Courtesy of Andie Waterman
Courtesy of Andie Waterman

Although “From the Top” has aired from Stanford before, this will be the show’s first collaboration with the orchestra.

The show airs on 250 stations across the United States and is heard by an estimated 700,000 listeners. The national scale of the recording also fulfills the educational mantra of Conductor Jindong Cai, noted Assistant Conductor Anna Wittstruck, Ph.D. ’15.

“He’s brought people from all over the world to us,” Wittstruck said. “And now it’s our chance to really sort of extend beyond the Stanford Cardinal bubble, and be a musical ensemble that is recognized.”

Wittstruck noted that the national exposure accompanies an upward trend in the orchestra’s reputation after the opening of the $111.9 million Bing Concert Hall last January.

Cai observed this trend as well, adding that before Bing opened not that many people knew of the orchestra’s talent.

“Now we have this platform [Bing] and people start noticing we’re good,” Cai said.

The music director for “From the Top,” Tom Vignieri, said that he worked hard to build a diverse program that maximizes the new hall’s potential.

The Nov. 10 recording will feature several performances by young musicians before the finale with the Stanford Symphony Orchestra: the San Francisco Girls Chorus; Chase Onodera, a 12-year-old guitarist from Sacramento; David Yu, an 18-year-old pianist from Los Angeles county; Youjin Lee, an 18-year-old violinist from Los Angeles; and a trio comprised of two Stanford students and Lee.

As the show usually focuses on performances from younger musicians, the college orchestra’s involvement came as a last-minute surprise.

“From the Top” first invited Wittstruck—who appeared on the show when she was 13 years old—to appear again. Wittstruck, a cellist, told the show’s agent that Cai had offered to have the orchestra back up any soloists on the show.

A few weeks later, “From the Top” told Cai that the program’s host–pianist Christopher O’Riley—could perform a piece with the orchestra.

O’Riley will play the “Presto” from Ravel’s “Piano Concerto in G Major”–a work he will perform in its entirety with the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra less than a week after his appearance at Stanford and again at Carnegie Hall on Dec. 9.

“It’s a fantastic virtuoso piece,” Cai said.

But the orchestra won’t be the only ambassador of the Stanford community on the radio—pianist Hugo Kitano ’17 and Wittstruck, both past performers on “From the Top,” along with Lee, will play the energetic “Scherzo” from Mendelssohn’s first piano trio.

Added to the challenge of the hall, whose resonance makes each instrument in a small group especially exposed, the group has never met before. They will practice together only once before the show, at the Nov. 9 rehearsal.

But Kitano and Wittstruck looked forward to coming up with a shared interpretation of the music.

Wittstruck called it “a perfect ‘From the Top’ piece” which “really showcases all three instruments, particularly the piano, the devilishly difficult piano part.”

Despite the piece’s technical demands, Kitano looked forward to playing it, praising the piece’s wittiness.

“A lot of times I feel like classical musicians forget about having a sense of humor,” he said.

Working with Stanford Live—the performing arts organization which presents shows at Bing and around campus—the show has reached out to other “From the Top” alumni at Stanford, many of whom play in the orchestra.

The program’s alumni may participate in activities the day before the concert including workshops on applying musical leadership skills in the world beyond the concert hall, said tour producer David Balsom.

He added that most musicians on the show have multiple interests.

“The idea was to showcase the fact that at a place like Stanford you could be a musician but you could also be a student of something else,” Balsom said.

Contact Andie Waterman at andiew ‘at’

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