Music Feature



Midori & the Genesis of a Gala

July 30, 2004 - Cape Cod, MA:


To mark the 25th season of the Cape Cod Chamber Music Festival (formerly the Cape and Islands Chamber Music Festival), the violinist Midori, a significant artist on the world scene, was asked to participate in a gala program. The Cape Cod Festival was founded by the remarkable pianist Samuel Sanders, a member of whose family remains on the board of the Festival today. The search for the artist began last summer since the schedules of the guest musician and the Festival had to match and because the artist had to plan with the Artistic Director of the Festival, Nicholas Kitchen (from North Carolina) a program pleasing to the artist and the audience and within the parameters of the Festival's aims.

Many of us are have no idea what goes into preparing for an event like this, involving a legendary artist like Midori. As it happened, she had two special incentives for performing at the Cape Cod Festival - she wanted to play Vivaldi's Four Seasons in full, and her performance was to include local children and professional artists in a special DVD to be played during the gala presentation of The Four Seasons . The production of the DVD was Kitchen's suggestion; when Midori, excited by the idea, gave her full consent, a collaboration with James Wolf, of the Cotuit Arts Center in Contuit, Massachusetts, was formed to carry out the project.

Arts Day was the event that produced the drawings used in the DVD. This companion event evolved into a day-long reading, drawing, and playing workshop where artists - young and old, amateurs and professionals - drew as the music was played live (by Kitchen, standing in for Midori). Posters displaying the poems that introduce the four concerti, in the score, lined the space. Cut-out photos were used as idea starters, and Kitchen read the poems line by line; thus the drawings were made especially to fit specific sections of The Four Seasons that were being worked on during the various sessions. This event took place two weeks before the performance.

Starting July 23, a week before the concert, Kitchen worked intensively with photographers Joan Gechas and Jim Hoek, who are associated with the Contuit Arts Center, to get all the images into computer formats. Hoek did a second computer metamorphosis of each of the images so four or five permutations of each chosen drawing were available. The images were then roughly synched together by Kitchen, using a tape of his own performance; they would eventually be linked to Midori's own reading of the work. An orchestra consisting of the Borromeo quartet - violinists Kitchen and William Fedkenheuer, violist Mai Motobuchi, and cellist Yeesun Kim - with Peter Sykes, harpsichord, and Paschal Delache-Feldman, bass, provided the accompaniment.

Throughout the world of classical music, visual images are being blended with sound and educational programs are being linked to all forms of art during formal classical presentations.

With Midori's interests, an Art School willing and able to help, and the Festival's Nicholas Kitchen eager to make the connections, this special part of the gala was set. The second half would be Midori, accompanied by Peter Vinograde at the piano, playing the Ravel Sonata, a contemporary suite for violin and piano by Alexander Goehr, and a selection of virtuoso violin pieces.

All that remained for the Seasons was to synchronize the images with Midori's playing. Preliminary rehearsals with the Borromeo and friends began on July 28 and continued for two more sessions on the 29th. Then Kitchen took the DVD images from the Art Day at Cotuit and did an all-nighter, timing each image to Midori's playing of the Vivaldi concerti. The dress rehearsal, in the auditorium of Mashpee High School, with lighting and DVD projections, took place the afternoon on the day of the gala itself with Kitchen making the final adjustments to the timing between 4 and 5 p.m., before the concert. A final rehearsal with Midori and all players took place from 5 to 6 p.m., ending just an hour before the gala began.

Every ticket was sold, and so many concertgoers - around 600 - waited to enter the auditorium in Mashpee that the start of the program had to be delayed. As the audience filled the seats, the artists from Art Day took their places in the front rows.

Fantasia 2000 had nothing on this Cape Cod gala! The audience was wrapped in exquisite sound. Midori's splendidly assured reading with the Borromeo and company enveloped the audience, many of whose young members had come to see and hear the legendary woman who, at age 11, played a Paganini concerto with the New York Philharmonic and, soon thereafter, delighted the pundits at the White House.

Midori gleamed in a graceful gold and champagne dress, and her fiery demeanor and energetic movements mesmerized us all. The visual accompaniment blended so well with the music that had I not known the complexity of the preparations I would have thought such harmony to be the easiest thing in the world. Midori and the other performers were rewarded with the first standing ovation of the evening.

The images used were by a mixture of both children and professionals, and no one was mentioned by name since most of the images were montages of small sections of the drawings that had been made. The children, especially, drew many abstract shapes. Pictures of scenes in autumn were quite realistic, and the red, blue, gold, and green color washes that were put in by the photographers were fascinating. Abstract images occurred in more than one season. The most remarkable thing about the DVD and the music was that they worked seamlessly together. All the performers were brilliant, and it was a completely integrated experience for me, as an audience member. This was shown in an interesting way: after the very first movement there was sporadic applause, after which the audience joined with the music completely, and nothing more was heard from them until the ovation at the end. What happened was that the story, the picture, and the sound became one, and the audience was absorbed into the experience - we were transported into another time and dimension with sound included.

After intermission, it seemed that the auditorium was even more filled, for all the performers and volunteers found ways to come in to listen.

Midori and her pianist presented the Ravel Sonata with verve and humor, and its clear-cut motifs and jazzy center movement set off the rushing winds of the Vivaldi perfectly. Ravel, with his motifs, has some programmatic qualities himself.

The next work, the Goehr, was abstract and dissonant, providing a contrast in style, tonality, and spirit to what had come before. The three virtuoso works - "Souvenir de Moscou" by Wieniawski, Dvorák's "Songs my Mother Taught Me," arranged by Kreisler, and the Suite in Olden Style by Christian Sinding - were dazzling. This tiny woman awed us again and again, and we roared our approval and jumped to our feet with an ovation as she ended her performance, which had shown us everything it is possible to do on the violin.

Midori graciously agreed to be interviewed about her playing and about her preparations for the gala. The resulting conversation, conducted by e-mail, follows.

CVNC : You were playing an old, traditional work, The Four Seasons . Was the preparation different from contemporary works?

M. Every piece requires a thorough preparation. In this sense, every piece is the same. For the individual pieces, one must always get beneath the skin of the notes, understand its context and style, and integrate the work within oneself.

CVNC : Is there a difference in the musical language of our time and Vivaldi's?

M. A musical language, like any language, is a living matter, constantly changing. It is difficult to verbalize the exact differences because the subject is more complex than it is possible to explain in words.

CVNC : Did you approach your playing differently because The... Seasons is program music?

M. No.

CVNC : Recently you attended a conference discussing the importance of discipline in general education. Would you tell us something about this conference?

M. I attended a conference [that] discussed various topics in the context of US-Japan relations. I was assigned to give a mini-presentation on education at the secondary level. Since I have experienced schooling in two countries, I spoke directly from my own past, supporting some arguments with psychological theories. I enjoyed being at the conference. There were about 40 of us - twenty delegates from each [country]. The discussions and lectures ranged from AIDS, education, foreign policy, [and] the North Korean question to the future of the Iraq War.

CVNC : What forces from your own experience made you especially interested in music education and caused you to create your three organizations?

M. About a dozen years ago, I kept hearing about the paucity of arts education in the public schools, and in some cases, the complete absence of music education. I knew something had to be done. This unfortunate lack was the impetus that forged my plan to take music and music education into the elementary schools. Also, I have been surrounded in childhood by people who were proactive towards their beliefs. To me, there was nothing special about taking a decisive step in creating an organization for a cause I believed in. Now... I have three organizations - Music Sharing, Midori and Friends, and Partners in Performance - as well as various projects including URP (a residency program with small universities [involving] interdisciplinary subjects and students and ... performances) and ORP (a program [blending] youth orchestras with professional and community orchestras and playing with the students in chamber music). I have the pleasure of watching each one develop in distinctive ways.

CVNC : I have been told that you love to cook.

M. Actually, I cook just as a matter of daily living. I don't do anything elaborate, and I have no intention of opening a restaurant! I prefer to eat at home, so inevitably, I need to cook.

CVNC : You have played from early childhood to great and well-deserved acclaim. As you mature and study for advanced degrees in subjects other than music, do you find your musical interests changing?

M. As life evolves and [one] is subjected to different experiences, naturally every sustained event becomes part of the fabric of the whole, as it were; those experiences are then expressed in the music and performance of the music. Tastes grow and change, as do interests. Repertoire-wise, I am always curious and trying to learn more [about] composers and their works. Of course, when you learn more, you realize that the wealth of knowledge to be explored and discovered is infinite, and this excites me greatly.

CVNC : Do you have any special words for those of us who share your interest in music, whether as performers or listeners or teachers?

M. I think the most important thing is to continue listening to what your heart says. Music is about you, me, us - anyone and everyone who is touched by it. It's about each of our own responses to music that we (hear).

CVNC : Thank you, Midori. Your insights and your personal view of this art and of its place in our lives is enriching and as beautiful and ever-changing as your playing itself. We appreciate your spending time to share your thoughts with us.

Note : Contributor Dorothy Kitchen is Director of the Duke University String School. She had exceptional access to the rehearsals and to Midori because she is the mother of violinist Nicholas Kitchen.