Senior Avik Sarkar's impressive musical talents, well known at BB&N, will be broadcast, quite literally, to a much wider audience now that National Public Radio (NPR) has released Show 360 of From the Top, the weekly program spotlighting the country's best young classical musicians.
Recorded October 14 at New England Conservatory's Jordan Hall in Boston, the show features stunning performances by Avik, two other soloists, a string quartet, and the Guest Artist, legendary jazz pianist Fred Hersch, with whom Avik also plays a piano duet. Listeners can tune in or download the podcast, starting November 26, from the From the Top website.
The live event also treated the audience to engaging onstage interviews, during which the musicians emerged from their older-than-their-years virtuosity to reveal their teenage personalities.
"I hate talking about myself!" says Avik. "I was definitely thankful that they'd told me beforehand the questions because I'd really be at a loss if they hadn't! I think it's challenging for me sometimes to talk about these things, so it was good practice in that. I really enjoyed the exposure that the whole experience gave me."
Getting there, though, did not come easily, as Avik willingly attests. The highly competitive application process required written responses to questions and a tape of Avik playing a couple of pieces. "I applied three times, actually, before I finally got accepted, which was very gratifying," he says. For its carefully crafted programs, the From the Top crew seeks a diverse mix of both musical selections and performers.
The day before the concert, the performers participated in an outreach program with students at a Boston charter school and spent time getting to know one another and Guest Host Yuga Cohler, a From the Top alum and current music director of the Ridgefield (CT) Symphony Orchestra. "That made the interview portion feel a little bit more organic," Avik says.
Cohler's questions prompted Avik, also a cellist and a composer, to talk about his award-winning composing, which sometimes draws on his Indian heritage for inspiration, as well as his interest in social activism. Previously the recipient of an Arts Leadership Grant awarded by the From the Top organization, Avik organized a benefit concert last January to support the Boston Center for Refugee Health and Human Rights.
"People came up to me after the recording and mentioned specifically the clip of my composition [played during his interview segment] and the benefit concert, which I really appreciated," Avik says. "I was really glad that I had a chance to talk with such a large audience about these things that are very important to me."
Cohler also praised Avik's performance of the first movement of Piano Sonata, Sz. 80 by Hungarian composer Béla Bartók, who himself once played in historic Jordan Hall, nationally renowned for its exceptional acoustics. In that refined setting, the piece's "violence," as Cohler described it, was all the more astounding.
BB&N's orchestra director Brian Reasoner comments, "You saw at the performance this easygoing kid, so comfortable in his artistic skin, who played so ferociously. It's a real bear of a piece, but Avik is always faithful to what the composer requires in the printed score."
Bartók's score explodes with syncopation verging on disintegration and requires a willingness to let fly, an ability to restore stability—all of which showcased Avik's precision despite his blurry-fingered speed.
"There's definitely risk-taking involved in playing this piece, but sometimes you just have to let your hands be, like, whatever happens, happens, which led to some wrong notes," Avik says with a laugh.
After the fury of the Bartók, Avik shifted to a gentler gear in playing the fifth movement, "Hesitation Tango," from Samuel Barber's Souvenirs in a duet with Hersch. "That was very cool," says Avik. "I was so awestruck." But he found Hersch utterly engaging and down to earth, "almost unaware of his own importance, which I really like," he continues. "I asked, 'Can you give me a little bit of time here? Can we take a ritardando?' It was really nice to feel that I was collaborating with someone so significant in his field. Besides that, it was so inspiring to hear about his activism." Hersch was among the first to use his music to raise both awareness and money to help combat the escalating AIDS crisis in the 1980s.
"The most inspiring part of the whole experience," Avik says, "was meeting my fellow performers, spending the entire weekend with them, tackling together the challenges of rehearsals and performance anxiety. I made connections in the musical community that I will continue to cherish, thanks to From the Top."
1) Guest Host Yuga Cohler interviews Avik on stage during the taping of From the Top.
2) A strong contingent of BB&N fans flocked to Jordan Hall to support Avik at the show's taping in mid-October.
Written by Sharon Krauss, Upper School English
Photos courtesy of From The Top and Sharon Krauss