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La Scena Musicale Online Reviews and News / Critiques et Nouvelles

Visit La Scena Musicale Online Reviews. [Index] Critiques de La Scena Musicale Online

Midori - from child prodigy to virtuoso

By Denise Lai October 22, 2003

The picture of a tiny pig-tailed eleven year-old violin-playing Japanese girl storming the musical world is forever associated with Midori. Twenty years later, at the age of 31, that little-girl image is again evoked as she appeared with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra on October 15th, with American guest conductor Keith Lockhart of Boston Pops fame. Her still-petite frame clutching a 1734 Guarnerius violin, she looks much younger than her age, and yet exudes immense confidence and mature artistry.

Midori brought to Felix Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E Minor an unusually deep and thoughtful interpretation. Instead of the full, bright sound that is commonly heard, hers was translucent, almost thin in the high notes. She played the first movement with intensely dark emotions as marked molto appassionato, mirroring the emotions on her face. Her approach was effortless and seamless especially during the cadenza. A fine balance of intricacy and delicacy was evident throughout the profoundly expressive second movement and in the playful finale.

That high calibre of playing was sadly not matched by the orchestra. Lockhart chose a middle-of-the-road approach, to which the ensemble responded with the same mediocrity, lacking in Midori's sensitivity. At times, she seemed to disappear into the orchestra when her line should have stood out.

The remainder of the program consisted of two ballet suites, Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring, and Igor Stravinsky's The Firebird, both 1945 versions. Copland, in his own words, described Appalachian Spring as reflecting "the unique quality of a human being, an American landscape and a way of feeling," that conveyed "the American pioneer spirit, with youth and spring, with optimism and hope." That latter statement seemed a more accurate depiction of the piece. The orchestra danced through the music with lyrical phrasing and well balanced dynamics.

The same could not be said with The Firebird suite. The opening movements were laborious with a heaviness that made it difficult to imagine ethereal dancers leaping on stage. It was not until the "Inferno Dance" that the orchestra was able to inject the much needed vigour into the music.

This kind of playing from the Toronto Symphony has been fairly typical in recent years brought on by financial constraints and the absence of musical directorship for the past two seasons. The programming has been far from innovative. It remains to be seen how successful a "saviour" Peter Oundjian, its Music Director Designate, will be to this beleaguered organization. In the mean time, bringing in stellar guest artists such as Midori, is working some small magic.

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