During a dress rehearsal for her perfomance on NPR’s “From the Top,” the 10-year-old girl in the red sweater appears tiny at the grand piano. She pulls her hair back, gazes down, plants her small fingers. Out comes a sound so big, it leaves audiences enchanted.
Avery Gagliano, a 5th-grade student at John Eaton Elementary School in Northwest Washington, was selected to perform before a live audience on “From the Top,” NPR’s popular showcase that features the country’s best young classical musicians.
Avery’s performance, of “The Cat and the Mouse” by Aaron Copland, the same piece she played on her audition recording, is scheduled to air at 6 p.m., Sunday, June 3, on classical WETA, 90.9 F.M.
“The energy with which she attacked the piano was extraordinary,” says Tom Vignieri, music producer for “From the Top.”
“Out of this small person came a big sound, and you realize you are in the presence of the real thing.”
Avery, who studies with Marina Alekseyeva at the Levine School of Music, came to the attention of “From the Top,” when she won a $10,000 Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Award. The foundation partners with the radio show to aid exceptionally promising students ages 8 to 18.
“The moment I heard her, I immediately booked her because she was extraordinary,” Vignieri said.
Vignieri describes Avery as “a compelling presence at the piano. She immediately draws you in—not because of histrionics. She is smaller than most. She attacks the instrument with incredible enthusiasm. The image of her hovered over the keys and attacking, as the piece required, is very much with me until today.”
“The Cat and the Mouse” is an extremely challenging piece, according to Vignieri. “It requires strong technique and a strong sense of drama and pacing. It is a narrative about a cat and mouse,” he said. “Not just that she plays the notes well, but she plays them and tells a story. She has the technique and the musicianship, which is the ultimate combination in a young artist.”
Avery said she just had fun during the recording of her live performance. “It was amazing, a nice feeling,” she said. “It felt relaxed and calm. I wasn’t very nervous when I was on stage.”
The daughter of Drew and Ying Gagliano, Avery has been playing piano since she was 5 years old. “I love music,”she says. “Music is my passion. My life. It’s my spirit. It is really special, and the piano brings out the music. It’s a part of me — one part that puts together who I am.”
Avery, who says she practices piano every day for one hour, also enjoys swimming, reading and singing, and recently became interested in tennis. She also plays the violin, which she started at age 8.
Each week, “From the Top,” hosted by acclaimed pianist Christopher O’Riley, airs stories and performances of extraordinary young musicians, ages 8 to 18. “She is a rising star in the D.C. music scene, a fresh young talent, an exceptional pianist for 10 years old,” said Robin LaPlante, marketing and communications manager for the radio program.
The June 3 show will also feature: John Lee,16, a cellist from Basking Ridge, N.J.; Margaux Filet, 18, a flutist from Davis, Calif.; Jieming Tang, 14, a violinist from Cleveland; and a quartet of teenagers: Caitlin Adamson, 16, a violinist from Evanston, Ill., Claire Bourg, 17, a violinist from Aurora, Ill.; Tara Safavi, 16, a cellist from Naperville, Ill.; and Ade Williams, 14, a violinist from Chicago.
The violinist from Cleveland “was given a loan of a Gagliano violin from 1715,” Vignieri said. “So, we had a 330-year-old Gagliano violin, and at the same time a 10-year-old Gagliano pianist. Extraordinary!”