At Aspen Music Fest, violinist Midori revisits a work that made her a legend
IF YOU GO …
Who: Midori with the Aspen Festival Orchestra
Where: Benedict Music Tent
When: Sunday, Aug. 5, 4 p.m.
How much: $90
Tickets: Wheeler Opera House and Harris Concert Hall box offices; aspenmusicfestival.com
More info: Midori will joun the orchestra to play Leonard Bernstein’s Serenade. The program also includes Mahler’s “Das Lied von der Erde.”
It was the ultimate test for an uncommonly poised young musician.
The violinist Midori, at age 14, was performing as the soloist in Leonard Bernstein’s Serenade, after Plato’s “Symposium,” at Tanglewood with the legendary Bernstein himself conducting the Boston Symphony. During the fifth and final movement of this virtuosic work, the E string on her violin snapped.
She paused momentarily and turned to the concertmaster, who handed her his Stradivarius, and she went back to playing. Moments later, it happened again — the E string broke. She took the associate concertmaster’s Guadagnini and went back to it.
“Unwilling once again to interrupt the music,” the New York Times reported two days later in a breathlessly astonished page-one review by John Rockwell, “she played on, perfectly.”
This concert, in July 1986, ended with a “cheering, stomping and whisting ovation,” hugs and kisses from Bernstein, and it cemented the legend of Midori in the classical music world. A student at Juilliard at the time, she’d been studying with the influential Dorothy DeLay in Aspen since age 8.
“What could I do?” Midori told the paper in an adoring profile that followed days later. “My strings broke, and I didn’t want to stop the music.”
Midori, now 46, will revisit Bernstein’s Serenade on Sunday at the Benedict Music Tent with the Aspen Festival Orchestra.
Rockwell wrote that Midori’s quick adjustment after this nightmare of two broken strings “astound(ed) the audience and the Boston Symphony itself with her aplomb in a situation that might have daunted the canniest veteran.”
Today you can see this indeed astounding moment on YouTube, where grainy footage of the tiny teen Midori’s three-violin switch is preserved. (The 88-second clip has racked up 300,000 views.)
In the decades since that humid day at Tanglewood, Midori has risen to the heights of global stardom as a concert violinist. Now on the faculty at the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music, she has returned to Aspen regularly to both perform and work with students.
On Tuesday, she led a master class with four young Aspen violin students at Harris Concert Hall. Spending about 30 minutes with each of these world-class young musicians, Midori gave notes on not just technical elements but on the infinitessimal space between notes and the vital importance of finding and communicating the soul in a piece of music. Talking through Grieg’s Violin Sonata No. 3 in C Minor with violin student Sayuri Kuru, she said: “It’s an emotional projection, not just a sound projection. … You have to ask, what does it mean to you?”
Aspen Music Festival President and CEO Alan Fletcher noted that Midori is the rare musician who has grown from a blazingly talented prodigy into master and a generous teacher.
“(Midori) has made the transition which is not so easy to make, from being a prodigiously gifted young person to being an artist of worldwide importance,” Fletcher said at Tuesday’s master class. “In the trajectory of that transition, she has also become an interpreter and teacher of very powerful and emotional gifts.”
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