Off Campus

Podcast pianist Avik Sarkar enjoys a national platform

From the Top’s National Public Radio podcast will air a live recording featuring pianist Avik Sarkar ’19 on November 6. Avik performs twice, first as a soloist playing Bartók’s Piano Sonata Sz. 80 and later as part of a four-hand duet playing “Souvenirs” by Samuel Barber with renowned jazz pianist and composer Fred Hersch.

The classical concert recorded for the national music program took place on Sunday in New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall and included interviews with all of the musical guests, among them five other high school students, Mr. Hersch, and Orchestral Conductor Yuga Cohler. 

Avik said he has been listening to the radio show From the Top—the nation’s largest platform celebrating the stories, talent, and character of today’s young classically trained musicians, according to its website—since his earliest involvement in music. At a young age, he said, he felt amazed by the talent and virtuosity of the performers.

“I aspired to play on their level so that I, too, could be on the radio one day,” he said. 

As he developed as a pianist, he added, appearing on From the Top became a goal that he worked toward. Avik applied twice to the program before finally gaining acceptance.

“I was ecstatic,” he said. “There was the element of gratification, of course, that came with success after two failed attempts, but more broadly, I was extremely excited that, thanks to From the Top, I’ll be able to share my music-making with a larger audience than ever before.”

Avik described the program’s application process, which involved writing several essays and polishing his recordings, as long, arduous, and initially disappointing.

“On the other hand,” he said, “being rejected prompted me to work harder to establish myself as a serious pianist and musician.”

From the Top’s national tour marketing manager, Erin MacCurtain, called the selection process highly competitive, pointing out that the majority of their applicants are already very accomplished young musicians. 

In the rigorous selection process, a music producer from the program sifts through over 700 applications a year, taking into account many factors beside musical ability including gender, age, instrumentation, repertoire, life experiences, and racial diversity, according to Ms. MacCurtain. From that applicant pool, a total of around 80 soloists, nine chamber ensembles, and one or two big music groups are chosen yearly to perform on the program’s weekly nationwide broadcasts, each of which showcases five to six students.

A number of qualities factored into Avik’s selection, Ms. MacCurtain said. 

“He is an incredibly accomplished musician: he’s a gifted pianist, he’s a composer, and he’s also an excellent cellist,” she said. “From the Top is also impressed by his leadership and interest in community engagement.”

The achievement was ultimately worth the investment of time and effort, Avik said, adding, “This was a significant step forward in my artistic journey.” 

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