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Midori refused to be frozen in time.
She could have forever been that violin genius who made her attention-getting debut with the New York Philharmonic, at age 11. Or the 14-year-old who wowed America, and Leonard Bernstein, by overpowering two broken violins to carry out her solo with the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood in 1986.
Instead, the woman born Midori Goto became a seeker and an educator as well as an entertainer, and shares some of what she’s learned in a sold-out concert and talk next week at Sleeping Lady Chapel Theater in Leavenworth. Midori performs with pianist Charles Abramovic on her tour of “New Music Recitals,” playing chamber works created since the 1980s. It’s one of just five such recitals scheduled for this year so far, with five very modern compositions including James MacMillan’s “After the Tryst” (1988), Toshio Hosokawa’s “Vertical Time Study III” (1994) and John Adams’ “Road Movies” (1995).
Since her astonishing early years, Midori, 38, has appeared on a score of CDs tackling the music of Bartok, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich, Dvorák and other masters. She frequently tours and teaches, now chairing the string department of the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music, and has established nonprofit music outreach programs including Midori & Friends, channeling music resources to needy children in New York City, and its sister organization, Music Sharing, in Japan.
Beyond her musical work, Midori holds a master’s degree in psychology. She replied to questions by e-mail.
Go! Magazine: Why did you pursue degrees in psychology rather than music? Have you found ways to make the two disciplines work together?
Midori: When I enrolled at New York University’s Gallatin School, I had no specific area of study that I wanted to explore. I took an introductory psychology course in my first year, which solidified and magnified my interest in the subject. I had always been fascinated by people, their psyches and their behavior. I love studying people and trying to figure them out. That first psychology class inspired and challenged me to explore my fascination on a deeper, more intellectual level. Although psychology was not something I chose to study to “help” me in any way, it is a very practical and almighty land of a subject with myriad applications in life, including music. I also took to heart NYU’s interdisciplinary approach to education; Gallatin’s philosophy of embracing the whole person is a guiding force in my own teaching style.
Go!: Did studying areas outside of music help you gain a better perspective on music, having studied and performed it your whole life up to that point?
Midori: I believe that the whole of my experiences and knowledge is reflected in my playing and musical interpretations, though not necessarily in a concrete or traceable way. Though it may not be a conscious effort, I draw on all aspects of my life when preparing for performances, and certainly my education is no small part of that.
Go!: Please introduce us to Charles Abramovic.
Midori: Charlie and I began performing recitals together about seven years ago. He is a brilliant pianist, and we see eye-to-eye in selecting repertoire and in rehearsals. His interpretations are insightful and thought out with great care, and his expressive playing engages the listener in the music.
Go!: The pre-concert talk at your Leavenworth appearance is free of charge. What’s the motivation for this open approach?
Midori: Many presenters feel that a concert is more engaging for their listeners if they have some background knowledge and an understanding of the context of the music. This can be said about most of the works, but it might be especially true with contemporary works. As part of previous New Music Recital tours, we have held educational workshops and pre-concert lectures to help familiarize the audience with the repertoire. We also crafted a special section on my Web site about the program, which I hope the audiences — and you — have had the opportunity to peruse prior to coming to the concert hall.
Go!: Do you see your music outreach programs as more important than the experience of performing and recording?
Midori: I don’t think of my activities in any hierarchy; rather, the community engagement work and teaching go hand-in-hand with the concerts and recordings. Each cannot exist in my life without the others. Taking music to students, and to small communities lacking those venues found in larger cities well-known to the touring world, is such a complete pleasure for me. Through my projects, I am able to experience again and again what music can be in our world.
Go!: How did you select each of the pieces that you’ll be performing in Leavenworth?
Midori: Recital programs are usually planned for a tour of several cities rather than tailored for individual venues. Our choices of music are contingent on achieving a balance of harmonic elements, while keeping the flow between the pieces interesting and coherent. As I developed the concept of an all-contemporary recital program, my original idea was for the works to have been written in my lifetime. Eventually the focus narrowed to pieces composed after the point of my “musical awareness” in my early teens. Charles Abramovic and I played four of these five works in a previous all-contemporary program in Germany, but the Hosokawa was a new addition for this tour. The program represents a variety of styles from the past 25 years, and the music has great meaning to me as both a performer and a listener.
Go!: The selection of John Adams’ “Road Movies” is interesting, given that both you and he were selected for the American Classical Music Hall of Fame last fall. Is it coincidence?
Midori: Yes, this is absolutely a coincidence!
Go!: You became widely known for your musical skill at a very young age. Have you ever found that burdensome?
Midori: Unfortunately, society tends to put labels on people, and “prodigy” is one such label. As is the case with labels and the prejudice behind them, it can make things difficult as one grows up and tries to come into their own as a serious performer. Indeed, being a so-called prodigy can open doors in the profession for a young person, but overcoming the label can be one of the most difficult challenges a person can face.