Since her debut with the New York Philharmonic at age 11, Midori has held a beloved position among concert artists. Those of us of a certain age have had many years to take pleasure in her gifts and her growth. In connection with Midori’s fifth appearance with the Celebrity Series since her debut in 1992, BMInt’s Susan Miron had an email dialogue with the artist about her life and her forthcoming concert at Symphony Hall on Sunday at 3, where she will be playing three Beethoven Sonatas as well as shorter works by Webern and Crumb with pianist Özgür Aydin. Tickets are available from the Celebrity Series here.
Susan Miron: I recently read about your International Bach Project in which you played in sacred spaces in Japan, Canada, and the United States. How did this project occur to you, and has it been as fulfilling as one imagines?
Midori: As part of my anniversary, I have been fortunate to have been able to engage in special projects, and the Bach concerts occupy a large chunk of them. A majority of the concerts so far have been in settings away from the “normal” concert halls. It has been interesting to have such concentrated time with these works, and I have enjoyed working on them tremendously. It is not possible to say that I have worked especially for these concerts, however. I am always working on Bach, and it is not possible for me to remember a time when I did not work on Bach for as long as I have been a musician! Naturally, performing Bach means that we do not need a piano, and some of the places where the concerts have taken place would have been impossible were we to bring in a large instrument!
Earlier in my career, I had so many opportunities to perform in local concert series around the country (in the US); many of them took place in high school auditoriums, synagogues, churches, etc. My early performance experiences were built through these opportunities. Sadly, many of these presenting series have disappeared in the last 10 to 20 years. I think many people assumed that I wanted to play Bach in religious settings, but that was not my intention at all. However, it was more my interest in connecting some of the earlier venue-types that I had experienced. I wanted to re-visit them in this project.
Is there any music that deserves a sacred space more than Bach on the violin? When did your love of hearing and playing Bach begin? Do you find it hard to teach Bach, more than other composers?
There is a calmness and serenity inherent in Bach’s music for solo violin. My own love of Bach began at an early age. I really can’t remember when it started. I think one lives with Bach’s music.
These Sonatas and Partitas are considered to be foundational works for the instrument. It was always presented to me as such, and I never thought otherwise. There was much stress placed on them throughout my studies and I think that is the case for most musicians. They pose incredible challenges to musicians of all levels, technically and musically. I think that it makes absolute sense that one can study the music of Bach for a lifetime and continue to find new difficulties and rewards.. Teaching Bach is also both immensely challenging and highly inspiring. I enjoy very much the process and the work encountered in the process.
Have you always had an interest in contemporary music, or did this take root later in your life?
Yes, I have always had an interest in contemporary music. As a youngster, I did not separate the music of my time from those from the past.
The importance of new music and living composers to the passing on of our traditions of the classical music world cannot be overstated. Moreover, it is so exciting to see in many communities how contemporary composers and performers are connecting with audience members in innovative ways. One can also say that contemporary music provides a window into various aspects of our world. It can help to illuminate people and cultures that may be unknown, fostering relationships that otherwise may have never existed, and it will allow future cultures to understand our way of life more fully as well.
Was it difficult growing up musically in the limelight? Do you wish you had had more private space in which to musically and emotionally mature?
Every child grows up in his or her own unique way. I generally do not think about what might have been and I therefore do not have regrets or second thoughts about my musical life and career.
I am fortunate to have had a wide net of support from the time that I was young. These friends and members of my family always encouraged me to pursue my interests in the ways that I intended, so I played the violin because I loved to do so. Beginning a career at an early age can seem to pose certain challenges for a young person, but in my own case, I never felt rushed or deprived of opportunities to experiment and to learn.
I always find it such a surprise that my dedication for education and community work is taken for something as my way of “giving back”. I am passionate about them and so grateful to be able to be involved. I think being involved in the community is something that came naturally to me because of the family background. I would say that it was a natural outcome of growing up in my family to have become involved with the community.
When did you begin to teach, and what, besides technique, do you try to instill in your students at USC? What do you find most pleasurable about teaching?
I began to teach in 2001, when I accepted a position at the Manhattan School of Music. I later relocated to Los Angeles, where I now serve as the Jascha Heifetz Chair in Violin, Chair of the Strings Department, and Distinguished Professor at the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music. It is an inspiration for me, as well as great honor, to be involved in my students’ lives through teaching. I am so fortunate to be able to work with them on a regular basis.
Is there a reason you are devoting most of your Boston recital to Beethoven sonatas? Are they particularly close to your heart? Have they evolved because of new ideas you’ve had and/or as a result of collaborating with different pianists?
I think as my Bach project was coming together for the season, I got this idea of concentrating on a particular theme and contrasting them with something that would entice the ears. In the current program, there are three Beethoven sonatas— all in A Major. Another program this season includes three other Beethoven sonatas plus works of Bach and Brahms (the Three B’s Program). As with Bach, it seems that I am always playing my Beethovens, either on or off stage, and they are great!
The Beethoven sonatas for piano and violin, except for Opus 96, are written over rather short span of time. (Incredible, isn’t it?) Yet, they are each so unique. They also, like Bach, offer me such flexibility of interpretation because the given information from the composer is so clear, intriguing, and inspiring, and it gives us performers much food for thought. It is interesting when there is clarity in the information given.
A part of what intrigues me as a recitalist is that not only do different compositions offer me inner enthusiasm of interpretation and performing, but it is also the different combinations of works in a single recital that excite me .