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Tell Me / A little Q&A

Christopher O'Riley's radio show, "From the Top," spotlights promising young musicians and is heard Saturdays on WNED-FM. O'Riley is a concert pianist and has been president of the Alexander Scriabin Society. The musician also likes to adapt pop music to solo piano. He has recorded two discs of the music of Radiohead, and one to the songs of Elliott Smith.

At 3 p.m. Sunday, O'Riley is bringing "From the Top" to Artpark for a national taping. Admission is $15 to $48; call 885-5000 for info.

One musician performing at the taping will be Williamsville violinist Alex Boissennault, 18. A student of Buffalo Suzuki Strings' Mary Cay Neal, Boissennault will tackle an ambitious concerto by the Romantic composer Henryk Wieniawski. As always on the show, the jokes and virtuosity will flow freely.

We reached O'Riley at his home in Ohio to discuss what was in store for us.

The kids on the show are always so accomplished. Do they ever suffer from nerves?

We try to make things as comfortable as possible for everyone. We want to make the music friendlier than it has been. A lot of times, attention makes classical musicians look like deer in the headlights. There are all kinds of people who get nervous, and others who don't. [Concert pianist] Andre Watts shows nerves. I would hate to be him! He looks so nervous. He looks as if he isn't having a good time.

Any distinguished alumni?

We have the youngest woman ever to hold the principal tuba chair of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Lots of other kids go on to musical careers.

I've heard "From the Top" helps get younger listeners into classical music. Is that true?

I run into kids who have never been into, say, the concert hall in Minneapolis. They say, "My God, this is an incredible space to hear music." And they want to come back. Kids have written in to my Web site, saying: "I liked your Radiohead record, and I see you're going to be playing a Mozart concerto in San Diego. I've been wanting to check him out." They think, we have mutual good taste. They figure they can trust me.

Do you consciously try to break down the boundaries between different types of music?

Duke Ellington said there are only two kinds of music: good and bad. I have responsibility to put across what I believe in, in the best way I can. The audience's responsibility is to react. To allow yourself to say, "That was pleasant, I'd do that again" or "It wasn't pleasant." You decide if it's good or bad.

Have you ever met Radiohead?

I met Thom [Yorke] and Colin [Greenwood] backstage, after the first Radiohead record came out. I shook hands with Colin Greenwood and he said, "We're so excited about what you've been doing." He's very excited about how the classical music audience reacts to the music. We talked about all kinds of songs and influences. He was endlessly self-deprecating.

-- Mary Kunz Goldman

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