A wiser Midori returns to BSO Music: The violin prodigy says tonight's repeat performance of Brahms will have more of herself in it.

September 11, 1996|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Midori will return to the scene of the crime tonight when she performs the Brahms Violin Concerto with David Zinman and the Baltimore Symphony in the orchestra's first subscription concert.

This is not to say that there was anything criminal about the way Midori, then 19, played the Brahms back in 1991 when she made her first appearance here with Zinman and the BSO. It was, in fact, a remarkable performance in which difficult-to-reach chords that many violinists fake were dispatched with ease; carefully controlled vibrato never obscured the pure core of the note; bow changes were seamless; and intonation had an almost unearthly purity. And this technical perfection was combined with classical taste that revealed the long spans of Brahms' architecture with unusual clarity. If there was a fault, it was that in her avoidance of the sentimentality that often muddies performances of Brahms, Midori also eschewed some of the composer's sentiment -- and some of her own.

According to the violinist, however, tonight's performance is likely to be more personal than the one five years ago.

"I don't like to compare myself with myself, and I always try to do what I think is right for the music," Midori says. "But when I first began to play the Brahms I tried to keep as closely as possible to what was printed in the score. As I grew older I became much more spontaneous and I began to think more in terms of taking the music into myself instead of getting it off the page."

It must seem to some people that Midori was never young. She had been an extraordinary child prodigy: a much-talked about New York Philharmonic debut at age 10; a front-page headline in the New York Times a few years later ("Girl, 14, Conquers Tanglewood with 3 Violins"), which was occasioned by her unfazed, flawless performance of Leonard Bernstein's "Serenade" -- with the composer himself conducting -- on a third borrowed violin after successive stringbreaks on her own violin and a first replacement violin.

The celebrated violinist Pinchas Zukerman vividly remembers the first time he heard Midori at the Aspen Festival.

"Here is this child who walks out with a stuffed animal and a half-sized violin almost as big as she is, and she plays the Bartok Violin Concerto so beautifully that I began to cry," Zukerman says. "Then I ask her if she plays anything else and she says, 'Yes, the Sauret cadenza of the Paganini concerto.' Less than 10 years old and she already plays the Sauret like only a few people in the universe can do at any time -- and I'm talking about forever!"

Midori is now so famous that -- like the cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the pianist Evgeny Kissin -- she has joined the select society of soloists for whose presence on season-opening programs orchestras compete. Last week she opened the Houston Symphony's season with the Beethoven Concerto; this week in Baltimore it's Brahms; next week in Detroit she opens the season with the Beethoven.

But Midori was indeed a child when she became famous, and making the transition to adulthood is difficult enough without having to do it in public.

"I've had reason to be concerned for her in the past," Zukerman says. "And I won't breathe easily until I'm convinced that she's out of the woods."

Zukerman is referring to the eating disorder and subsequent treatment that forced Midori to cancel four months of appearances in the fall of 1994. Until her illness became quasi-public knowledge, people used to be charmed by Midori's slenderly ethereal, almost bird-like, appearance and the fact that she seemed only to eat salads and desserts. Many teen-age girls, however, are so afflicted, and Midori is not convinced that her life as a much-publicized prodigy made growing up more difficult than it might have been otherwise.

"That's very difficult to know," she says. "We all have our blessings and afflictions. We have our set of good things and bad things that we have to go through in order to mature."

Midori wisely reacted to the stress in her life by changing her lifestyle. She cut her concerts back during the regular seasons and abandoned them entirely the last two summers.

"And for the next several years!" adds the violinist, who spends her summers in the relaxed atmosphere of Marlboro, Vt., where she studies and performs with her peers.

When Midori is home in New York, she and her friends attend the theater faithfully. And she also began to do something that she always wanted, but was unable, to do -- go to college. A career that takes her all over the world makes attending college in the conventional sense impossible. But she does independent study at New York University, studying with professors expert in subjects that interest her and about which she writes term papers.

And while she has been on her own since she was 15 -- her age when she suddenly and unexpectedly fired her teacher, Dorothy Delay -- she has learned to reach out for help and advice.

"Being on your own doesn't mean that you stop learning," she says. "When I have musical problems, for example, I can call an experienced friend like Isaac Stern and get help.

"It's wonderful to be able to pick up the phone and just ask," Midori adds. "And it's comforting."

Midori & the BSO

Where: Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St.

When: 8 p.m. today amd tomorrow

Admission: $19, $25, $31, $37, boxes $52.

Call: (410) 783-8000

Pub Date: 9/11/96

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