Meet the Host

Christopher O'Riley

A conversation with Christopher O'Riley

This spring, From the Top at Carnegie Hall, a weekly television series hosted by acclaimed concert pianist Christopher O'Riley, returns to PBS. As host of NPR's From the Top, the most popular classical music radio show on the air today, as well as the television series, Chris works and performs with the next generation of brilliant young musicians. Here he shares his thoughts about working in radio and television, his own experience as a young musician, and how to get kids excited about classical music.

Why is it important to bring From the Top to television?

People who come to see From the Top do a live radio taping always comment on how actually seeing the intensity and passion of these young musicians takes their experience up a notch. In the same way, the immediacy and intimacy of the performances on television make From the Top at Carnegie Hall a special experience for our audience.

What do viewers learn about these kids from the series?

They see that in many ways these are kids just like the other kids they know in junior high and grade school. These kids have classical music as an important part of their lives, in addition to all kinds of other fun and interesting things that they do.

How would you compare your own experience of being a young musician with the performers featured in From the Top: Live at Carnegie Hall?

I look back on my childhood and think, man, I wish From the Top was around when I was growing up! I didn't have these kinds of performance opportunities, or the contact with my peer musicians. I was playing classical piano, and although music was something that I wanted to do all the time, I had to shift a little bit, so in sixth grade I started a rock band--I thought maybe the girls would like me better. It didn't help.

Music can be a solitary pursuit--you toil away in practice rooms, go to lessons, you can't talk to more than a handful of kids your own age about what you're doing. From the Top creates a needed community for these kids. They get to share their thoughts about putting this music together, why they think it's great, why they think their peers should enjoy this kind of music, and why it's made such a difference in their lives.

What's the best way to turn children on to classical music?

The main thing is to try to expose kids to classical music as part of their everyday lives. There are many ways to do this: radio, television, libraries, free concerts. The more you make it part of everyday life, the more fun you're going to have with it. I had music in the house all the time, my father had a really great record collection, Mom headed up Pittsburgh's public radio station, and we went to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on a regular basis.

How can an aspiring young musician find out which instrument is the best fit for him or her?

One way is to see and hear a symphony orchestra. There are many stories of kids who see the flute or the cello for the first time at an orchestra concert, and all of a sudden they gravitate to that instrument. It's unexplainable--for some reason it just resonates with them: not only the sound, but the look, it's something that happens immediately and is all embracing.

What do you want viewers to take away from watching the television series?

At times classical music is labeled an elitist pursuit, and I really blanch at that. The pursuit of excellence is something that overrides any consideration of what kind of music you like. These kids are really passionate about what they're doing and really good at what they're doing. No matter how you feel about classical music you're going get a positive impression about the next generation of Americans from this series.

From the Top The Bernard Osher Foundation Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Carnegie Hall Don Mischer Productions WGBH From the Top