whither midori?

Midori Goto

Last night we played our first of four concerts with the violinist Midori, who is performing the Sibelius Violin Concerto with us this weekend.  Her visit here has been a puzzling one for me and perhaps for others in the orchestra as well.

Midori has been on the forefront of the concert violinist ‘scene’ since the age of 14 when she made the worldwide news playing three violins in rapid succession (due to broken E-strings) in her performance of Bernstein’s Serenade with the Boston Symphony and Leonard Bernstein at Tanglewood in 1987:

She last played with the Oregon Symphony in a performance of the Elgar Violin Concerto (under conductor James Paul), and she was an engaging presence then, smiling and interacting with the orchestra and conductor.  This time, a cloud seemed to enter the hall with her – gone were the smiles.  Intensity and concentration were present, but not spontaneity and joy in music making.  While from a distance she appears youthful, up close on the platform she seemed older, more worn than one would expect.  She seemed more to be battling her instrument than at one with it – taking some extremes of interpretation in the Sibelius that seemed more a test of her internal fortitude than expressions of the beauty of the music.

I wonder what has happened in Midori’s life since her last appearance here.  Clearly, there has been a marked change (at least outwardly) in her since the last time she was here.

This aside, she has something to say in her performance of the Sibelius concerto, but what exactly that is, I do not know.  There could not be a more marked difference between her and Pinchas Zukerman, who was here two weeks ago.  Where his playing is magisterial, extrovert, and effortless, hers is taut, introvert, and tortured.  One has to wonder how long playing of this sort can be sustained over the course of a long career.  Only time will tell.

NOTE: By the way – Yo-yo Ma’s performance next season has officially sold out, only 227 days ahead of the concert!

8 Replies to “whither midori?”

  1. I heard about this Bernstein performance, but the the absolute composure that Midori had at such a young age is simply amazing. And the odds of three E strings breaking in rapid succession is also amazing. And did I notice a solo bow (another rare occurrence) for the principal violist (a.k.a. my father)? Thanks for posting this!

    1. I was also impressed with Bernstein stopping the orchestra on a dime, the orchestra holding in place, and then once the violin was back in her arms everything just kept going like nothing had happened!

  2. I am glad you posted this as well. I was not sure what to make of her performance last night. Your comments are quite insightful. By the way, it was nice to talk to you last night after the concert. The Tchaikovsky was thrilling. I have the opportunity to attend again tonight. I will finally have my curiosity satisfied as to whether performances differ significantly from night to night.

    1. Charles,

      Your comments are excellent as always. There are many books and articles that expound on difficulties that child prodigies can face later in life. There are also many instances of violinists who have ups and downs in their careers (Menuhin, for example), or whose musical interests and attitudes diverge greatly over time. For me, however, your comments touch on how unrealistic our expectations are for people in the public eye to always be perfect and live up to our “ideal” image of them (be they musicians, actors, politicians, etc.). I am sure that Midori is not immune to the challenges that we all face (death of a parent, personal illnesses, dissolution of a relationship, a “bad hair day,” or even the fact that she is indeed growing older as we all are). If she is going through something major, I hope that the musical community will be supportive of her.

  3. I am so grateful that nobleviola noticed this. I had a voice/opera coach who insisted no closed eyes. When you close your eyes, you deny your audience your soul. I was so disappointed that Midori performed the entire selection with her eyes closed; I was completely shut out from her soul. The playing was fantastic, the music glorious, but I was not a ‘part’ of it. I’m glad to have heard her, but wish the experience had been more intimate.

  4. Thank you for your very interesting comments about the concert. From Row V, I couldn’t see that Midori had closed her eyes during the performance. Her posture and playing style did look uncomfortable and “tortured” (as you noted). Nonetheless, I found her interpretation of the Sibelius compelling and deeply satisfying. For me, this music is about solitude, loneliness, introspection, melancholy–all of which I felt Midori captured. Perhaps my expectations were shaped by my first (long lost) recording of this. Since then I’ve heard majestic, confident and extrovert versions of this concerto–all admirable–but which seemed to miss the pathos and darkness.

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