Monday, April 16, 2007

Q&A: Midori

Midori, the onetime pre-teen violin prodigy from Japan by way of Dorothy Delay’s Juilliard studio, will turn 36 later this year. She was not the typical prodigy, showing off pyrotechnics and tugging a little too insistently at the heart strings; a thoughtful and probing musician since youth, she has matured into an artist of refinement, sensitivity and, above all, clarity.

Midori (a condensation of her full name, Goto Mi Dori) performs on April 21 at the Garth Newel Music Center, near Warm Springs in Bath County in western Virginia. Her recital, with pianist Robert McDonald, highlights a group of spring concerts, a taste of the center’s summerlong weekend series.

Details on Midori's recital are in the April calendar, and on the Garth Newel season at:

I recently interviewed Midori via e-mail about her collaboration with the Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara on a new work, "Lost Landscapes," which the violinist is introducing this spring, and about her views on the state of her art. (Questions are in italics.)

In your April 21 Garth Newel recital, Rautavaara’s "Lost Landscapes" is preceded by Beethoven’s "Spring" Sonata and followed by Hindemith and Strauss sonatas. "Framing" new music with older music is common in concert programs. Do you seek to select surrounding pieces that may be complementary or place the new work in a stylistic context or on some sort of musical-historical continuum?

It is always a great pleasure to incorporate a musical composition of our time in a recital program. We select and arrange our recital programs to have an interesting yet cohesive flow between the pieces, and seek to balance various musical elements such as texture, sound and style.

A few months ago, I interviewed Richard Stoltzman about his working with Rautavaara on a new clarinet concerto. Their interaction was extensive, and the finished product was to a significant degree a collaboration between the composer and performer. Did you and Rautavaara engage in that kind of back-and-forth on technical issues, length, suitability of the music to the instrument, reconciling your artistic personality with his?

Mr. Rautavaara and I corresponded as he was writing "Lost Landscapes," and I did visit him a few times in Helsinki while he was working on the piece. I believe that these communications were a natural exchange of our personalities, and after all, we would not have pursued the collaboration if either of us felt that there were irreconcilable differences in our artistry. What resulted is a deeply personal piece from a master composer, and I am delighted to play it.

Some musicians and observers detect a renewal of interest in classical music, especially contemporary and experimental music, occurring "under the radar" of the music industry and mass media. Do you feel freer to program new or little-known music today than you did, say, 10 years ago?

Around Christmastime 2004, I was fortunate to have been able to present my first all-contemporary recital program in Japan with pianist Robert McDonald, and we recreated the New Music Project in a recital tour of the U.S. in spring 2006. I have always been interested in modern works, but this was the first time I was able to offer a concert entirely comprised of music written during my lifetime. I think that the simple fact that I was able to do this both in Japan and in America gives some indication toward a growing interest and acceptance of contemporary music.

Along the same line, do you find your audiences more willing to experience the new or unfamiliar than they were in the past?

Despite making small steps toward wider acceptance, it is still generally believed in the business that contemporary music is indecipherable to most audiences. For some new listeners, particularly younger people, simply having an open mind for new sound experiences greatly enhances the adventure of a new music concert. I have also realized that providing the audience with background information about the composer could sometimes be helpful for them to feel more connected to the composer, which makes the listening a more personal experience.

What can performers do to help people relearn the art of "pure" listening?

Performers need to do whatever we can to help avoid alienating our audiences, and to ensure that listeners don’t simply have a generic experience.