Outgoing host O’Riley: ‘I am ‘From the Top’’

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Peter Halstead


The public radio show From the Top, which spotlights young performers of classical music, has dropped its host of nearly 20 years.

The show announced Wednesday that it is not renewing the contract of Christopher O’Riley, who has hosted From the Top since its debut in 1999. “Chris has been dedicated to From the Top’s mission from the beginning,” said Executive Director Gretchen Nielsen in a release.

“We are grateful for his commitment to showcasing outstanding young musicians, and for the impact he’s made on America’s musical landscape,” continued Nielsen, who became the first executive director of From the Top’s producing organization in January. “We wish him all the best with his future projects.”

O’Riley recorded his final episode June 5. A series of guest hosts, including some alumni of the program, will fill his role starting in September, according to the release.

After 18 successful years, From the Top needs to adapt to the changing media landscape,” Nielsen wrote in an email to Current. “Over our history, the show has established how vital the voices and performances of youth are to our society. This will remain at our core, as we feel that it is more important than ever to amplify the beauty, stories, and struggles of our youth who reflect the diversity of America. While we had hoped to work with Chris this year as we began our transition to guest hosts and new voices, we were unfortunately unable to reach an agreement.”

O’Riley told Current that he was negotiating a shorter final season with From the Top until he received a letter late Tuesday notifying him that his contract would not be renewed.

“I feel pretty good about the rather heartening outpouring, first and foremost identifying me with the show,” said O’Riley, who shared news of his departure in a Facebook post titled “They Seemed Nice.”

The show’s producers had told O’Riley that they wanted to give him a bonus recognizing his work with the From the Top, he said, but he responded, “I am From the Top.

“For the intents and purposes of the perception of the audience, meaning stations and the kids who have been on the show, it’s not the organization,” he told Current. “It’s me.”

The producers don’t yet know whether they will look for a permanent replacement for O’Riley, Nielsen said. “The next 18 to 24 months will be a period of discovery and development, so we’re not sure what the permanent hosting situation will be,” she wrote.

The NPR-distributed show airs on 213 stations. In 2007 it branched out with a PBS series.

26 thoughts on “Outgoing host O’Riley: ‘I am ‘From the Top’’

  1. More and more young musicians see modern and contemporary music the path to excellence in their craft and potential to compete for highly desired positions in the music world. I would hope at this time of considering new directions that “From the Top” would give more emphasis on composers. Please curtail the warhorses.

  2. I agree with O’Riley; he is From the Top!
    I can’t imagine anyone else accompanying the young musicians in the fashion that O’Riley does.
    Furthermore, his wit and clever exchanges are priceless.
    He is irreplaceable.

  3. I miss Christopher O’Riley! His way of working with the remarkably talented young guests is unique. This morning’s host , Yugo Cohen, came the closest to Mr. O’Riley’s style of helping the guests relax and do their best. His knowledge and experience is priceless. He encouraged young composers as well as the players. And as one listener noted, who else can accompany these young artists as well as he did? Yes, I miss Christopher O’Riley

  4. Saturday, February 23, 2019–7:43 AM Eastern Standard Time
    I just found out about this and had a feeling it was coming. Christopher O’Reilly was overworked and was listening to everyone but himself. I know how he feels. Ii was murdered by society and the Mafia because I vowed, at age 23, to never conform. I have just written Chris to urge him to return to “From the Top”. I am about a year and a half younger than he is, age 61. I will do all I can to support him.
    Emily Albano (Juilliard, BM, ’79, MM, ’80, piano).

  5. How ungrateful of NPR. I will not being watching the replacement From the Bottom, considering that Riley was let go. I wonder went on behind the scenes.

    Shame on you public radio idiots!

  6. Thank you for 19 + years of From the Top. I’ve been listening since August, 2001 and I don’t think I’ve missed but a few shows. Chris Riley is to be congratulated for showcasing young extraordinary musicians and letting them tell their stories and inspiring them to go on to do great things with their lives and inspire many others. Chris did it all with class and made life of young people better and entertained all listeners with music and stories that we will never forget. Thank you Chris and I look forward to your great future. You set the bar high and kudos for inspiring others and bringing great young musicians from all over the country to my Sunday night listening to their music and personal stories. We’ll try to follow your career where-ever you go. Thanks for enriching our lives and for recognizing the achievements and dreams of young people.

  7. After years of enjoyment, I’m afraid the new kids in charge of the candy store format of the show just isn’t working out for me. I reckon I’ll be leaving as well. Best wishes.

  8. Wow, I knew Chris O’Riley was a pompous ass, but I didn’t realize he was quite THAT much of a pompous ass. “I *am* From the Top”? Really? Not the kids, the writers, the producers, Joann, and everyone else who made the show even possible as a platform for your own career? And then people talk about how much class he has? Talk about biting the hand that feeds you. I’m sure From the Top will be just fine without him. While he, on the other hand, will soon be forgotten. You had your moments, Chris, but you’ve just tarnished your own memory…you’re only as good as your last goodbye.

    • Are you kidding me? Christopher O’Riley was offered the hosting job at “From the Top” as a result of his already hugely successful international career as a concert pianist, having won top prizes in Montreal, Busoni, Leeds, Van Cliburn and performing with the greatest symphony orchestras and conductors worldwide (plus his proven wit and charm in broadcast and written interviews). NPR came to O’Riley hat in hand, hoping to ride the coattails of his fame and public following to create a successful show, not the other way around. Check your facts before you cast aspersions. And by the way, the show without Chris? A mere shadow of its former self and not worth tuning in. O’Riley’s right – He *was* “From the Top.”

  9. I was just set a live recording for from the top and it is nothing like it is to be. Christopher O’Riley is from the cops was from the top and should be from the top

  10. Christopher O’Riley was a nonpareil host for young musician performers on the NPR show, “From the Top.” My spouse and I long enjoyed the remarkable interplay of O’Riley with youth. He brought out the best in them in a humorous but respectful way, and it was a remarkable synergy to observe. He has been sorely missed, because the guess hosts just can’t handle the task as expertly. At the same time, I fully understand “From the Top” executives’ decision not renew O’Riley’s contract after they decided to go with guest hosts and O’Riley’s ego got the best of him, as he retorted “I AM ‘From the Top!”‘ Of course, he is/was not. He was the show’s “face” and an excellent one, but the show’s success was undoubtedly the result of the efforts of myriad people, including guests. It was an insult to all of them for O’Riley to respond as he did. The end result for him and the show is for the worse, regrettably. Nevertheless, I hope they will both reasonably thrive, apart.

  11. From the top will go the way of Prairie Home Companion after Garrison Keillor left. It will hobble along but, be just another show with a non loyal audience. Anyway that’s my far from infallible opinion.

  12. After making sure I listened to “From the Top” every Sunday I could, I had feeling that something was happening when the second ‘guest host’ was on the show. My instincts told me Christopher O’Riley may not be on any more and along with the musicians, he really ‘was’ the show. His interaction with the kids to set them at ease as well as his superb sense of humor really made the show one not to be missed. I agree that Christopher’s comment to NPR was an insult to these talented musicians, but I also agree that Christopher really did an extraordinary job on this show and I look forward to hearing from him and about him soon. He will be sorely missed on this show, if it does survive without him. He really did make the show terrific. Now, I won’t be as disappointed if I miss the show.

    • Icompletely agree with you but it was a mistake for him to make the comment I think that was his undoing(hubris never goes down well). Better to have waited for someone else to make the judgement.

  13. Just tuned into From the Top after a long absence. Am so sorry to find out Chris O’Riley is no longer part of the show. I had listened a few times the past months and was aware of guest hosts, but did not know until I went on line that Chris’s contract was not renewed.
    I was not impressed with the guest hosts before and certainly not now. They talk too much with each other rather than talking with the kids.

    I won’t bother to listen to From the Top in the future.

  14. The following was emailed to fromthetop.org:

    It was with some dismay that I learned just today of Mr. Christopher O’Riley leaving the host position of From the Top permanently. From what I could ascertain from the little I could find online it was apparently something that could not be avoided, which truly saddens me.

    What bothers me was this line: “After 18 successful years, From the Top needs to adapt to the changing media landscape,” which I found on Current.org. Yes, there has been a tremendous change in the “media landscape” over the years. But one of the reasons I listened to From the Top was to hear the interactions of Mr. O’Riley and the up-and-coming musical stars of tomorrow, done in a warm, encouraging and “unchanging” way. Every Sunday I could expect to be continually impressed with the talent and wonderful abilities of the young and gifted artists that will be carrying on the traditions and high level of achievement that classical music requires to perform it well; all curated and fostered in an inviting environment offered by Mr. O’Riley. It was with increasing concern that I noted the continued weekly change of hosts. I had hoped that Mr. O’Riley was on a deserved sabbatical or extended vacation (18+ years is a long time after all), and while some of the guest hosts have been interesting I kept waiting to hear Mr. O’Riley’s voice return to the show. After thinking about his absence I went online and discovered the current situation.

    While the old adage “nothing lasts forever” is true, this change in the show was totally unexpected and the comment “From the Top needs to adapt” sounds “off” to me. The comment I read from Mr. O’Riley about him being “From the Top” was unfortunately stated, if that was what he actually said. But I must tell you, his statement had a great deal of truth in it. Christopher O’Riley and his way of working with the young performers was the main reason I listened. You should know that after listening to many episodes of From the Top with the guest hosts, I find the show lacking in its warmth and demeanor. The young artists are still wonderful to hear, but there now seems to be a large empty hole that emanates from my radio when From the Top is being broadcast. This may tell you something: Long before I knew of what has happened, not too long after I began hearing the guest hosts each week, I found my interest in the program drifting off to other things. As this continued I found myself simply turning the radio off and picking up a book, putting on a CD or streaming music from other sources. After all, if I am going to just be listening to musicians performing I can arrange that myself and make my own selections of what it is I will be hearing. It was Christopher O’Riley’s personality, performance and presentation that made From the Top something to listen to, and appreciate.

  15. I have listened to several From the Top shows featuring guest hosts. My conclusion is that despite Mr. O’Riley’s petulant good-bye, he really is indispensable to the show’s success. The comparison to Garrison Keillor’s PHC seems apt. I hope that there is a massive amount of support for rethinking the terrible decision to fire Mr. O’Riley and to radically change the mission of the program.

  16. I am truly disappointed in the firing of Chris. I can understand his comment made in the pain of his job loss. My husband and I listened every Sunday night on NCR and loved the interplay between Chris and Joann and the kids, as much as we enjoyed the music. The new hosts/hostesses may play well, but they leave a lot to be desired. I miss the funny questions and interplay that I enjoyed so much. This has been a year of loss, first my husband and now From The Top. I will not listen anymore.

  17. Everything that was said already. I am also concerned about this show needing to adapt to the current media landscape. A bunch of words which mean nothing to me. What are they planning to adapt to? Is the classical music format too decrepit for them? Maybe they need to throw in some current political barbs? I loved Christopher O’Reilly and I don’t mind his comment. After all, he was fired after giving a good job for 18 years. I predict a short-lived post O’Reilly show. Fortunately, I have a lot of nice classical CDs I can listen to.

  18. I miss Mr. o’Reilly for all the reasons everyone has mentioned but especially his gentle graciousness. I will continue to listen to “From the Top” because of the young people and the music.

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