Christopher O'Riley is sure that he has met the next Joshua Bell or Yo-Yo Ma.
"Several times over," said the classical pianist and host of National Public Radio's "From the Top With Christopher O'Riley" show. "I don't think there's any question that we've had extraordinary kids on the show, kids I would prefer playing with than any of the A-listers you might name. That's part of what I get out of it selfishly."
For more than a dozen years, "From the Top" has shone the spotlight on talented young classical musicians from kindergarten through high school. The weekly radio show, broadcast to hundreds of stations, spotlights musicians from around the country.
On Sunday, the show comes to Tucson. Two young musicians - pianist Cameron Williams, 13, from Basis; and guitarist Augustus Woodrow-Tomizuka, 17, from Sonoran Science Academy - were chosen to participate after applying last fall.
O'Riley, who has played several concerts with the Tucson Symphony Orchestra and several Tucson recitals over the years, will accompany Cameron and Augustus in the show, which will be taped in front of a live audience. For O'Riley, the shows rejuvenate him professionally.
"Working on my own as a pianist, I don't get to have as much input as I do playing with five different partners a week," he said. "Listening and adjusting to their wishes is my most important task. And making them as comfortable in their style of music-making as possible makes me all the richer in terms of musical vocabulary of gesture and phrase that I learn from them."
"From the Top" was created to respond to the decline in classical music attendance. It has a twofold mission: to encourage young musicians and to increase audiences for classical music.
"Certainly a lot of young kids around the country are feeling like they now have a forum, an arena to shoot for for which they can receive national recognition of their efforts," O'Riley said last week during a phone call from Ohio. "Probably the most salient point of the program, sort of the byproduct of the program, certainly is hope. The impression of the listening audience is that the next generation of Americans is not going to hell in a handbasket.
"These are extraordinarily motivated and passionate and really charming and entertaining and quite intelligent and unique young kids who may or may not go on to have a life in classical music," he added. "But I think that's incidental to the idea that they should be applauded for their passion and their interest and their expertise."
If you go
• What: National Public Radio's "From the Top With Christopher O'Riley."
• When: 4 p.m. Sunday.
• Where: Centennial Hall, 1020 E. University Blvd., on the University of Arizona campus.
• Tickets: $20-$40 with discounts through uapresents.org
• Featuring: Tucson musicians Augustus Woodrow-Tomizuka on guitar and pianist Cameron Williams.
• Et cetera: NPR will tape the event for later broadcast.