Gerald Slavet is a man pursuing his passion. A businessman who originally hails from Boston, Slavet has found his place in life for the last 12 years as a founder and co-executive producer of “From the Top,” a classical music ensemble dedicated to celebrating the lives of musically gifted children.
The independent, nonprofit organization travels the country seeking out pre-collegiate musicians aged 8 to 18. For the past 12 years, its shows have been broadcast on National Public Radio and on PBS. Now, “From the Top” is coming to Chattanooga for a live concert and to tape a radio broadcast on Thursday, April 26, at the Tivoli Theatre.
“Our mission is to identify, support and celebrate young, exceptional classical musicians and we present their performances as a concert,” Slavet said. “The performance itself is primarily classical. The pop world does not need us, with the likes of ‘American Idol’ permeating the airwaves, but if an exceptional bluegrass player is discovered then they are welcome to perform as well.”
Slavet was excited to talk about all facets of “From the Top” during a recent phone interview from San Diego, preparing to make his way across the country to Chattanooga.
“Every child we work with learns discipline, passion and focus, and with those three factors, anything can be accomplished,” he said. “It’s remarkable to travel around the country putting these radio shows together that are always broadcast as live concerts and watch these prodigal kids perform.”
Two young local musicians will participate in the Chattanooga show: Thomas West, a gifted bass vocalist from Lookout Mountain, and John Burton, who plays trumpet. Also performing are 16-year-old pianist Jerry Feng of Knoxville and 15-year-old violinist Alina Ming Kobialka of San Francisco.
Burton, a 17-year-old from of Cleveland, said he is a longtime fan of the show and excited about the opportunity to perform on the program.
“My mother was a musician and we have listened to ‘From the Top’ all my life,” he said. “I thought it was so cool to watch these people who were young and cared so much about what they were doing.”
Slavet said it is discovering such gifted young performers as Burton that keep the show fresh and vital after more than 230 radio broadcasts.
“One of the most amazing things we’ve discovered as we travel around the country is that these gifted kids and instructors make the show enjoyable by presenting it in such a way that it can be appreciated by both aficionados and novices alike,” Slavet said. “You will be absolutely amazed by the stories of the kids performing here. You really get to know them.”
For the unitiated, Slavet said that half of each show is devoted to speaking with the kids about their lives—sometimes sad, sometimes happy experiences that give the program added dimension.
“These are real kids,” he said. “You can go see a superstar and that’s one thing, but these kids provide inspiration to other kids and that makes them believe if they work hard enough, they can accomplish anything they are determined to do.”
Hosted by acclaimed pianist Christopher O’Riley, the program is now entering its second decade as one of the most popular weekly music series on public radio. The show reaches more than 700,000 listeners on more than 200 stations each week, including Chattanooga’s WSMC-FM, which is based at Southern Adventist University, a counterpart to UTC’s WUTC-FM.
“It’s a great view of the arts and music,” said the young trumpeter Burton. “To watch young passionate people that have worked so hard to become what they are. It is quite inspirational.”
From the Top
7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 26
Tivoli Theatre - 709 Broad St.