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Young Musicians Show Versatility in Vermont

This week, From the Top comes from the Chandler Music Hall in Randolph, Vermont, and features a teenage violinist from Woodstock performing the music of Fritz Kreisler, a French horn player performing Strauss, and a 16-year-old pianist from Pittsburgh who honors his grandfather's musical legacy.

One could say Alvin Zhu was born to play piano. "My grandfather, Zhu Gongyi, was a famous pianist in China and the head of the piano department at the Beijing Conservatory of Music," says Zhu. "However, due to the Cultural Revolution, he was forced to lock up his piano, and none of his four children were able to learn to play. When my parents came to America, they wanted to let my generation continue the legacy of my grandfather."

A recipient of the Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Award, Zhu had the good fortune of being able to take two private master classes with his idol, the superstar Chinese pianist Lang Lang.

"The best tip he gave me was to show the audience how much I enjoy playing the music," says Zhu, who did just that with his energetic performance of Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2.

Seventeen-year-old Katie Jordan's musical life began at the age of five with piano lessons, but when she wanted to join the school band in the fourth grade, she realized she'd have to take up an additional instrument. She decided to try the French horn because no one in band was playing one and she liked how shiny it was.

"I actually progressed faster on French horn than I did on piano." she says. "I'm glad I started with piano, though, because by the time I joined the band program I was already familiar with the fundamentals of music." Jordan plays the first movement from Richard Strauss's first Horn Concerto.

Like Jordan, Christopher Pell, 16, already played the piano when he encountered what is now his primary instrument. Pell found success with the clarinet from the very first moment he picked it up in fourth grade.

"I noticed this instrument that was black and silver and pretty cool-looking," Pell says. With aspirations of coolness motivating him, Chris tested it out by playing an open note and, rather than squeaks, a beautiful sound came out.

"The teacher had all the kids stop what they were doing and listen to me play that one note," he recalls. "Then she had everyone clap for me! From that point on, I wasn't allowed to try any other instruments. The teachers wouldn't let me." Pell plays a rondo by Carl Maria von Weber.

Dorothea Talento, 18, was inspired to play violin by her uncle, Pop Wagner, a professional musician who plays fiddle and guitar.

"When I was little, he'd dress me up like a cowboy with a big hat and boots, like he wears," she recalls. "When I was about five he gave me a tiny violin and taught me my first tune." Now Talento spends most of her time playing classical violin, but she also enjoys playing fiddle music and going to folk music concerts. She performs Tempo di Menuetto by Fritz Kreisler.

Hailing from the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra's chamber music program, the Cerberus Trio members are siblings Kevin Hu, violin, and Ophelia Hu, piano, with cellist Mira Luxion. When the group was looking for a name, Luxion wanted to call the trio "Fluffy," after the three-headed dog from the Harry Potter book, but her sister suggested "Cerberus," the ancient Greek equivalent of the same character.

"We decided to go with that rather than 'Fluffy' because it was a lot classier," she says. The trio plays the finale from Smetana's Trio in G minor without the aid of sheet music.

"We made a decision to play this piece from memory because we really wanted to communicate with each other," says Luxion. "When you're not staring at a music stand, you're able to look at each other and listen better."

This program originally aired on November 28, 2007

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