Midori: Musician, eductaor

GREAT BARRINGTON — On a sunny February afternoon in 1983, the audience in Temple Anshe Amunim, Pittsfield, beheld the sight of a wispy girl of 11 about to play a violin recital. By the afternoon's end, it was clear that this was no mere child, but a major talent in the making.

The promise should not have been a surprise. A few weeks earlier, the girl had made a debut with the New York Philharmonic in its gala New Year's Eve concert under director Zubin Mehta. And three years later, she commanded the national media spotlight as the child soloist who needed three violins to get through Leonard Bernstein's Serenade for violin and orchestra, under Bernstein's baton, with the Boston Symphony at Tanglewood.

When a string broke on her seventh-eighth size violin, she calmly stepped over and borrowed a BSO player's full-sized instrument to keep going. When, freakishly, a string broke on the borrowed violin, she deftly swapped again for another player's.

"What could I do?" she said in the hubbub that followed. "My strings broke and I didn't want to stop the music."

Now 46, Japanese-born Midori is a household name (and not because she shares the name with a Japanese liqueur) and a veteran of the world's major concert stages. She returns to the Berkshires Wednesday evening at 7:30 in a benefit recital at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center for the Berkshire Music School. With Turkish-American pianist Ozgur Aydin, she'll play a program of sonatas by Mozart and Schubert, plus a romantic favorite, the Cesar Franck Sonata, and — a rarity — the sonata by Italian composer Ottorino Respighi.

The music school likes to point out that it was founded by Winnie Davis Long Crane in 1940, the same year that Serge Koussevitzky founded the Berkshire (now Tanglewood) Music Center for training of advanced students. For Midori, the connection seems a natural. She has made education a central part of her career and returned for later Tanglewood concerts.

It helps to have friends. Executive director Tracy Wilson says: "In planning a spring fundraiser for the Music School, I wanted a world-class musician who exemplified what the Berkshire Music School stands for and supported our mission of music education."

After various brainstorming sessions, John Perkel, the recently retired BSO librarian, now a full-time Berkshire resident, said he knew Midori through his BSO-Tanglewood connection and she was just the person. Wilson called Midori's agent and outlined the school's educational mission, close connection and proximity to Tanglewood, and other features. A few months later, the date was set.

Midori's signature educational program, Midori & Friends, sends teachers into the New York City schools to teach students to play instruments and understand music. She herself makes occasional concert appearances in school programs to set an example. Now finishing its 25th season, the program has reached almost 200,000 underserved New York City children and their families.

Born Midori Goto in Osaka on Oct. 25, 1971 (she dropped the last name for professional purposes), Midori is the daughter of an engineer father and violinist mother. Noticing her talent, her mother gave her a one-sixteenth-size violin on her third birthday and became her first teacher.

The parents divorced early and, encouraged by the renowned violin teacher Dorothy DeLay at New York's Juilliard School, mother and daughter moved to New York for Midori to study at Juilliard on a full scholarship.

Midori later recalled, "When she decided to bring me here — for the study opportunities, for a school like Juilliard — we had no money and could not even speak English. It took amazing conviction to come alone to a foreign country with a little kid, and to go against the family wishes. I like to think I have some of that strong-mindedness." To bring in money, the mother taught violin at the Hebrew Arts School in Manhattan.

Midori's Anshe Amunim appearance was one in a series of young musician presentations by the Temple. Violinist Gil Shaham was another of the talents spotted early by series sponsor Arnold Deutsch.

This year is also the 25th anniversary of Music Sharing, Midori's Japan-based program to provide access to both Western classical and Japanese music traditions in schools, institutions and hospitals. Other Midori programs promote interest in classical music outside of major urban centers in the United States and bring young people together for orchestra residencies. Yet another program promotes intercultural exchange by bringing young musicians from around the world together to present community performances for new audiences. The ensembles have performed widely in Asia.

Midori also speaks on behalf of cultural diplomacy. Next fall, she joins the violin faculty roster at the Curtis Institute of Music as a teacher and an advocate for community building in the school's Artist-Citizen courses.

Summing up, Midori has written on her website: "I believe that everything in this life and in this world comes from somewhere. What we experience through our five senses and its consequences of logic and emotions are rooted somewhere, however mysterious, and deeply hidden in thinking about my activities and passion for community involvement, my spirit for volunteering must come from somewhere as well. For me, there exists an almost innate desire to connect and communicate with others; there is an undeniable drive in my nature to become intertwined with the community and to participate in it."                                                                                                                        

On Aug. 25 she returns to Tanglewood to participate in the BSO gala celebrating the centenary of Leonard Bernstein's birth. She'll play his Serenade, a signature piece for her since the night of the three violins.


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