Thomas May discovers how Midori’s remarkable range of commitments reflects her belief in art’s power to transform
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For Midori, the wonderful thing about milestone anniversaries is that they justify spending even more time on projects she loves. What the music world celebrates as the 40th anniversary of a celebrity violinist’s professional debut is for her a pretext to reaffirm priorities: fresh interpretations of classic repertoire, collaborations with favourite colleagues and giving a platform to contemporary composers.
An anniversary season gives you leeway to do these large projects,’ says Midori during a Zoom conversation from her hotel room in Los Angeles, en route to a marathon Beethoven programme in Tokyo. In November she released (on Warner Classics) her accounts of all ten of Beethoven’s violin sonatas with long-time friend and collaborator Jean-Yves Thibaudet – an undertaking that captures an understanding of this essential music by two artists in their prime. They also performed three complete live cycles in the autumn, the last of which took place at Suntory Hall in Tokyo. She has devoted the rest of her 40th-anniversary season to solo recitals of Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas paired with music by living composers.
In the public mind, all the fanfare recalling the performance that launched Midori’s professional career at the age of eleven revives images of the child prodigy: the fairytale-like scenario of an enormously gifted child invited by Zubin Mehta to appear as a surprise guest at the New York Philharmonic’s New Year’s Eve concert in 1982 (which, as it happens, took place on 30 December as well). That image was further cemented by the performance, under Leonard Bernstein, that immediately became an inescapable part of Midori lore, landing her on the front page of the New York Times in July 1986 with the headline ‘Girl, 14, Conquers Tanglewood with 3 Violins’…
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