The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music Q&A: Violin virtuoso Midori talks about keeping her interpretations fresh after 30 years of performing first as a prodigy and now as a seasoned veteran and music educator, and about playing Shostakovich this weekend with the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

November 7, 2011

By Jacob Stockinger

The biggest local event this week is the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s third concert of the season.

It finds violinist Midori (below top) returning to perform Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1 under acclaimed conductor John DeMain (below bottom, in a photo by James Gill). The rest of the program features Haydn’s last symphony, Symphony No. 104 – a work The Ear thinks is a  great complement to the Shostakovich and one he is looking forward to hearing from the MSO — and Ravel’s “La Valse.”

Performances are in Overture Hall on Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday night at 8 p.m.; and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets are $16.50 to $78.50 with $10 student rush available with student ID. (You can purchase up to two tickets for best seats available with each ID.) Call (608) 258-4141 or visit:

For more information about tickets and program notes, visit:

For program notes by J. Michael Allsen about the concert:

Midori’s most recent Madison appearance was a recital at the Wisconsin Union theater and classes at the UW.

Last week, Midori — seen and heard at bottom in a live recording of her Carnegie Hall debut in 1990 with Lawrence University-trained pianist partner Robert McDonald who has taught at Curtis and Juilliard) performed in New York City and received a rave review from New York Times critic Vivian Schweitzer who included praise for a “ferocious” approach to Shostakovich:

Midori (below) recently have an e-mail interview to The Ear in which she discusses her career, her future projects and her upcoming concert in Madison:

As you have moved from being a child prodigy (below, In a photo by Charles Abbott) to a mature and seasoned performer, what challenges have you faced and how have you and your playing evolved and changed? How do you stay fresh in your approaches?

Throughout my career, I have always focused on the music that I play and my love of playing it above all else. There have certainly been many changes to my approach to performing over the years, as I continue to learn and grow as both a musician and a person. The interpretative process is very flexible and always in formation because it is also greatly affected by circumstances.

Additionally, I feel that each new musical experience that I have, each new work that I encounter, helps to inform the way that I might play others as well.  So, this means that the piece may be the same but the interpretation is always different. It’s impossible to take interpretation for granted, and as such, it is always “happening.”

There are also many times when I will return to a work after not having performed it for months or even years.  In this situation, as I am at a different place in my life and have had many new experiences since the last time I performed, the “change” is perhaps more apparent. (It’s like when one does not notice a child growing when seeing him/her everyday but would notice the marked difference when one sees the child only every few months.)

Having started to perform so young, I had opportunities to work with so many highly respected musicians from a young age, and that was very stimulating. Also, the experience of traveling and meeting people opened my horizons. While so much traveling and moving around may seem unsettling, I was also provided the sense of security and stability through the consistency in my studies and family life.

What are you current and future career plans and projects, including recordings, concert projects and educational efforts?

I always have many plans! As the 2012-13 season marks the 30th anniversary of my performing career, I have many projects coming up that are very exciting.  There will be a Bach Project as well as a New Music one, in addition to special residencies and community engagement efforts.

Throughout this concert season, there are several upcoming engagements with orchestras in the United States as well as Europe and Asia.  In the next few weeks, there are tours in Europe as well as Asia, in addition to engagements in the US.

At University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music, where I have served as Chair of the Strings Department since 2004, my students and I are always in the midst of something at any given time. I oversee the departmental events as well as direct specific projects for my violin students in my studio. (Below, Midori speaking to UW-Madison students.)

My community-directed projects will also continue through my organizations, including Midori & Friends (, Music Sharing (, Partners in Performance (, and the Orchestra Residencies Program (  Each of these projects aims to provide musical and educational opportunities to young musicians in the United States and Asia.

This season, I’m excited to participate in two upcoming residency projects (in Alexandria, Virginia and Eugene, Oregon) through the Orchestra Residencies Program as well as a series of recitals around the United States through Partners in Performance, though there are many other activities taking place through each organization!

I encourage you to visit the websites for each project to learn more about their goals and scope.

Can you talk a bit about the Violin Concerto No. 1 by Shostakovich (below) that you will perform and its place in the violin and violin concerto repertoire and your reactions to it?

Given its powerful expressive content and virtuosity, the Shostakovich Concerto No. 1 is one of the greatest works of the 20th century.  It requires a tremendous emotional and technical involvement from the player, and I enjoy the challenge of preparing and playing the piece.

I remember you last recital and here and wonder if you have any impressions of or reactions to Madison and its audiences?

The last time I was in Madison, I worked closely with the students from the UW School of Music, which I enjoyed tremendously.  It was some time ago, but I also remember how beautiful the venue was. (I believe I am playing in a different hall this time.)

Do you have any ideas about how to attract young people to classical music?

I feel that one of the best ways to attract young people to classical music is to provide them the opportunity to get involved in making music directly. I think that every child should have the opportunity to choose to play or explore whatever kind of music speaks to him or her, and to take that experience into adulthood.

The eventual manifestation could be as a devoted listener, a casual player, or a paid professional musician; whatever that might be, simply having those musical opportunities as a child ultimately benefits the individual as well as the larger culture.

Posted in Classical music

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