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This article by Elaine Strauss was prepared for the September 25, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Midori & Her Musical Kids

Violinist Midori does all the things a respected performing

artist must do, and does them precociously. Her first public recital

came at age six in her native Japan, when she played a Paganini Caprice.

As an 11-year-old, conductor Zubin Mehta presented her as a surprise

guest at the New York Philharmonic’s New Year’s Eve gala. At 14 she

made the front-page of the New York Times because of the aplomb with

which she handled the chronic breaking of strings on violins that

she played during a Tanglewood concert. "Girl, 14, Conquers Tanglewood

With 3 Violins," the headline declared.

Midori performs with her long-term collaborator, pianist Robert McDonald,

in New Brunswick’s State Theatre on Saturday, September 28, at 8 p.m.

Making its appearance, for the first time, is a new Steinway & Sons

concert grand piano, the gift of Jack and Margrit McCrane of Colts

Neck.

In 1986 Midori performed the feat that landed her on the front page.

Approaching the finish line in Leonard Bernstein’s "Serenade,"

the E string on her smaller than normal Del Gesu violin snapped. Concertmaster

Malcolm Lowe handed her his full-sized Stradivarius and commandeered

the Guadagnini of acting associate concertmaster Max Hobart. Before

long, the E string on Lowe’s violin broke. Midori finished the piece

with Hobart’s instrument. The audience responded with cheers, stomps,

and whistles. The Times’ John Rockwell praised the girl’s "winning

artistic insight." It was like winning Wimbledon on borrowed tennis

racquets with grips that were too large (U.S. 1, February 26, 1992).

Her name became a household word.

Established performing artists sensitive to social problems eventually

turn their energies to improving bad conditions. Usually, the desire

to form a foundation for good works comes to fruition when the artist

reaches middle age. But, precociously, Midori did something about

the difficulties of inner city children at the age of 21. In 1992

she established Midori & Friends, which brings music programs to New

York children who otherwise would have little or no access to the

arts. She has founded a similar organization in Japan.

Midori herself, as well as her friends, perform in participating schools

giving what the organization calls "Adventure Concerts" for

third and fourth graders, as well as for parents. But Midori & Friends

goes beyond providing the occasional concert. Its four-tier program

starts with kindergarten and goes through sixth grade. Rhythm, singing,

movement, and composition are treated from the beginning, along with

listening. Starting in grade three, twice weekly instrumental lessons

are available. There is no charge for any of the activities.

Midori & Friends has served more than 100,000 school children since

its inception. Currently, 15 schools participate; the program’s teaching

artists present over 130 classes a week and give 60 pre-concert workshops

and Adventure Concerts for children and families. A staff of four

people, assisted by several interns and volunteers, administers the

foundation.

The budget of a little under a million dollars has doubled over the

past five years. The bulk of support comes from individuals and foundations

in the metropolitan New York area. However, Judi Linden, executive

director of Midori and Friends, tells, with enthusiastic gratitude,

and perhaps some surprise, about a fundraising September 11 concert

in San Francisco for the organization.

Linden summarizes the joys and difficulties of the program.

"The greatest success of our organization," she says, "is

the establishment of long term partnerships with inner city schools

in fostering music education for underserved elementary school children.

We have actually had at least one partnership for over seven years

in Jamaica, Queens, and many others span between two and five years.

This enables us to really be a change-agent and to integrate our music

programs into the culture of each school. We have also seen schools

actually hiring music teachers with their discretionary funds because

of our efforts."

"The greatest obstacle," says Linden, "has been the challenge

of working within a large school system such as New York City’s. Each

school is run separately, and therefore, we need to first find out

about each school’s culture and goals, before we are able to properly

present and integrate our programs into individual schools. With

about 15 partnerships, this takes a lot of listening and understanding

on our mutual parts, which makes for the strong partnerships we have."

In addition to devising activities, Midori & Friends deals in persuasion,

convincing principals and teachers to excuse children, when necessary,

from other classes for their music lessons. It emphasizes that music

during the school day is not a frill.

"As the founder and president of Midori and Friends," says

Linden, "Midori is the visionary behind the organization and is

very involved in establishing the types of programs that we offer. Although

she is not in the office, we meet and speak frequently, and she is

always consulted about new ventures and ideas." Midori is president

of Midori & Friends.

Midori’s devotion to the work of Midori & Friends surfaces in our

e-mail interview, which she tucks in despite her 6 a.m. flight from

New York to Atlanta. Explaining how she connects with youngsters whose

background is very different from her own, she says, "When I stand

in front of children there is no boundary that separates us. Music

stands as a connecting thread to unite us. My philosophy, as is my

foundation’s, is to interrelate with each individual student. We follow

the ‘whole child’ concept where we consider the entire person as a

whole. I love children and working closely with them."

She views the next steps in the evolution of Midori & Friends as continuing

the foundation’s present trajectory. "We will continue our work

of bringing high-quality music education to children in New York,"

she says. "We work closely with each partner school, therefore

we do not take the cookie-cutter approach where all the programs are

exactly the same. Each program is distinct, with the common goal of

the benefits of music education."

Those benefits, Midori thinks, apply, not only to those who aspire

to music-making as a career, but also to those who do not expect to

become professionals. "I believe strongly in the power of music

and the difference it makes in children’s lives," she says. "I

know instinctively and from experience, that an education that includes

the arts is indispensable to the well-being of any individual. Moreover,

quite a lot of scholarly research has been published by educators,

psychologists, music therapists, et al., on the importance of music

in children’s lives. Test scores have been presented that illustrate

the opening of intellects and hearts and minds after the introduction

of music studies and serious attention to music. The benefits, however,

of the existence of music and music education in a child’s life are

not necessarily measured quantitatively. Trying to always come up

with a proof by numbers minimizes what in fact may be possible."

In short, Midori believes that the benefits of music are not necessarily

quantifiable.

While Midori is intensely caught up in the work of her foundation,

she simultaneously presses on with her career, now in its 20th season.

Commemorative events have been planned throughout the world with orchestras

which have played an important role in her life. In January she performs

with Zubin Mehta and the New York Philharmonic, the conductor and

orchestra with whom she made her U.S. debut. She opened the 20th anniversary

commemoration with a major recital tour in Japan in the company of

Robert McDonald, her duo partner for more than 15 years.

McDonald is her collaborator in all but one of the celebratory recitals.

The pair’s most recent Sony Classical recording, devoted to pieces

by Saint-Saens, Debussy, and Poulenc, was released this summer. Their

recording of sonatas by Bartok, Enescu, and Schnittke is tentatively

scheduled for release in 2004. Winner of both the Busoni International

Piano Competition in Bolzano, Italy, and the University of Maryland

International Piano Competition, McDonald is a musical partner, rather

than a mere accompanist. He is on the piano faculties of the Juilliard

School and Baltimore’s Peabody Conservatory.

Like her pianist, Midori also has a conservatory appointment.

Since 2001 she has been a member of the violin faculty at the Manhattan

School of Music. She is also a student. In 2000 she earned a magna

cum laude bachelor’s degree in psychology and gender studies from

the Gallatin School of New York University. She is now a master’s

degree candidate. Last fall Midori won the Avery Fisher Prize for

her career accomplishments and the Instrumentalist of the Year award

from Musical America.

Born Midori Goto in 1971 in Osaka, Japan, to an engineer father and

a violinist mother, she began studies with her mother at age three.

Juilliard violin pedagogue Dorothy Delay was so dazzled by a homemade

tape of her playing at age eight, complete with family dogs barking

in the background, that she arranged for a scholarship for Midori

at the Aspen Music Festival in 1981. By the following year Midori

was studying in New York with Delay. In 1983 her parents divorced

and she dropped her last name and became known as Mi Dori. Following

the Tanglewood triumph she started using the undivided name.

Having spent two-thirds of her life in America, the violinist considers

herself beyond a national identity. "I do not think of myself

or my personality in terms of a nationality. I have lived in an environment

that has exposed me to diverse cultures — not just ethnic backgrounds.

For me the term Culture is more your environment and your experiences

than the passport one carries. There is a culture for each and every

group of all kinds, and as an individual. I belong, most of the time

without consciously realizing it, to many cultures. An individual

makes up his or her unique culture."

Midori’s culture allows ample room for whimsy. Her two present dogs

are named Willa, after Willa Cather, a favorite author, and Franzie,

after Franz Joseph Haydn.

— Elaine Strauss

Midori, State Theater, New Brunswick, 877-782-8311.

Midori and Robert McDonald in a program of works by Mozart and Strauss.

$25 to $45.Saturday, September 28, 8 p.m.


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