Midori Masters the Violin

Prodigy Plus Age Equals Genius

Midori and Robert McDonald.

In 1981, Midori performed the “Sauret Cadenza” of the Paganini Concerto at the Aspen Music Festival. Few violinists in the world can play this work at all; nine-year-old Midori gave a brilliant interpretation to an astonished audience. Pinchas Zuckerman, a virtuoso himself, told the listeners, “Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t know about you, but I have just witnessed a miracle.” Twenty-seven years later, Midori is no longer a child prodigy, but she still works miracles. She continues to play astoundingly well, touring the world and recording extensively while keeping her position as chair of the String Department at the USC Thornton School of Music and heading several major outreach programs. Recently, she was named a United Nations Messenger of Peace. She will perform yet another musical miracle with pianist Robert McDonald at UCSB’s Campbell Hall on Friday, April 11, at 8 p.m.

The role of child prodigy isn’t always kind to those who play it; Mozart, for instance, found being a court musician difficult as an adult, when he could no longer get away with sitting on the laps of kings and queens as he did when he was a child. Midori, guided by strong family bonds and a keen intellect, has become a major force in musical culture by virtue of hard work and growing wisdom. Despite a demanding performance and recording schedule, she managed to complete both a BA and an MA in psychology at the NYU School of Individualized Study. She believes education is crucial to the development of the arts, and recently told me, “For some time, music and the arts have been left out of the public schools’ curricula because of cutbacks in government funding. This is a terrible shame, and music-lovers and professionals have been seeking out various ways of bringing these programs back to children. I can only hope that all of these efforts, including my own, will garner enough attention from the powers that be to bring music education back into the standard national curriculum.” Among these efforts is the Partners in Performance program, which brings top musicians into close contact with communities across the country.

Midori’s awareness of the social context of music extends to her interpretation of it as well. Despite the performer’s naturally intense focus on the technical side of a work, she said, “There is something to be said for knowing the context of a piece of music and the circumstances that might influence the composer at the time of writing.” But each piece has its own character as well; Beethoven’s Sonata No. 6 (Opus 30, No. 1), which she will perform at Campbell Hall, has a surprisingly peaceful side: “This sonata’s gentle beauty seems to be a departure from the strident musical character usually associated with Beethoven, but I do find the piece to bear some similarities to the introspective and deeply personal quality of the piano sonatas and string quartets composed during his late period.” She will also play DvoÅ¡k’s Four Romantic Pieces, the Franck Violin Sonata, and the Sonata for Violin and Piano by American composer John Corigliano.

Above all, Midori conveys a sense of balance between tradition and innovation, and between the public and the personal. She records regularly, but hardly ever stops touring. As she explained, “Recordings are important to the genre, certainly, and there is nothing like the live experience of a concert. Both are vital elements in understanding and appreciating the great tradition of classical music.” She regularly commissions new works, and frequently performs entire concerts of contemporary classical music, but she also continues to interpret the great masters, both onstage and in the studio. Still, she believes that it all comes down to her desire to give each audience member something important: “I hope that each person comes away from the concert having had a meaningful, personal experience with the music.” And I’m sure they will.

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UCSB Arts & Lectures presents Midori and pianist Robert McDonald on Friday, April 11, at 8 p.m. at UCSB’s Campbell Hall. Call 893-3535 or visit artsandlectures.sa.ucsb.edu.

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