With her swanlike design, elegant poise and steely gaze, Midori doesn’t look like someone more at home in a dressing room than a deluxe hotel suite, or hanging with college-aged tech geeks.
The illustrious violinist, who made her debut at age 11 as a surprise guest soloist with the New York Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta, carries more than her weight in prestigious music circles, but she insists she prefers books to bubbly and bigwigs.
This year, Midori celebrates the 30th anniversary of her distinguished performing career. An extraordinary performer, she is also a devoted and gifted educator and an innovative community engagement activist. She has created a new model for young artists who seek to balance the joys and demands of a performing career at the highest level with a hands-on investment in the power of music to change lives.
“I believe that music, classical and more, should be available regardless of geographical location,” she said. “In certain parts of our society, music is more difficult to access, and it is important that we take an active stance in an effort to make music available everywhere.”
In addition to performing with the Sun Valley Summer Symphony orchestra starting on Sunday, Aug. 4, at 6:30 p.m., the start of the free summer concert season, Midori will teach a pair of master classes for the Sun Valley Summer Symphony Summer Workshops Aug. 3 and Aug. 6. Through a special arrangement with the Community School, the School of Music will offer the Sun Valley Ski Academy’s Residence Hall in Warm Springs to house faculty and students.
The Sun Valley Summer Symphony, the largest privately funded free-admission orchestra in America, will provide nine free concerts at the Sun Valley Pavilion this summer. The symphony’s year-round School of Music is based at Wood River High School in Hailey.
It make sense to Midori to come to Sun Valley and kick it with young people. She’s a designated Messenger of Peace through the United Nations, and when not performing and traveling she is a Distinguished Professor of Music at the University of Southern California’s Thornton School and chair of the Strings Department. There are four community engagement programs in the United States and Japan: Midori & Friends, Partners in Performance, Orchestra Residencies Program and Music Sharing.
At 21, she started an organization to bring music to underserved neighborhoods in both countries. Midori & Friends alone has reached more than 200,000 children.
“I cherish the time I can spend with my students in Los Angeles,” she said. “To be surrounded by young people, and to listen to what they have to say, always keeps me engaged in life. They are constantly teaching me about new technologies and new trends.”
Midori was born in Osaka, Japan, in 1971 and began studying the violin with her mother, Setsu Goto, at a very early age. Zubin Mehta first heard Midori play in 1982, and it was he who invited her to make her now legendary debut at the New York Philharmonic’s traditional New Year’s Eve concert, on which occasion she received a standing ovation and the impetus to begin a major career. Midori’s violin is the 1734 Guarnerius del Gesù “ex-Huberman.” She uses three bows—two by Dominique Peccatte, and one by Paul Siefried.
In 2000, Midori received her bachelor’s degree in psychology and gender studies at the Gallatin School of New York University, graduating magna cum laude, and in 2005 received her master’s degree in psychology.
And while lofty performances are legion, Midori still prefers simplicity in her routine.
“I travel light, with a single suitcase. Within it, I keep a number of books,” she said. “I always feel the most comfortable in the dressing rooms where I spend much of my time while in a city. I do spend more time in dressing rooms than in hotel rooms and use my artist room as my mobile ‘office’ and practice room.”
With so much engagement so young, Midori has learned how to keep it fresh.
“For me, a performance is always a one-time experience, as well as the process to prepare and to learn repertoire. There is something to be discovered with each practice session—regardless of the repertoire—and as I listen to the music, my responses to the music, to my sound, etc., I get completely involved in embodying the music and the sound.”