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Posted by gustav at 04:01AM, Tuesday, December 03rd, 2002

Midori at Symphony Hall

Saturday, February 15th, 2003, we heard Midori play the Sibelius concerto with the Boston Symphony. (Part two in my "catching up on overdue c75 content" series)

The last time I heard Midori perform I was probably twelve. The music director (bitch!) at Exeter rented a van and drove a bunch of us string players down to Boston -- I think it may actually have been Cambridge; something at Harvard -- to hear her. I don't remember much about the actual performance, except that the concert master of our orchestra, Linda Chang, said she had been to summer camp for a few years with Midori, and I want to say had also attended some sort of high school with her for people who spent their time focusing on the performing arts. At any rate, it turns out they were friends, so she led the whole troupe of us through a labyrinthine set of hallways and dressing rooms behind and under the stage until we found Midori, who seemed like an intensely shy little girl, trembling at the ten or so of us. My stand partner got her autograph.

This time, she was playing with the BSO, conducted by Alan Gilbert. We had excellent seats, right in the center, about half-way back in the orchestra, so we could see her pretty well (thanks, John!) She's still tiny. I had been expecting a somewhat sterile performance, technically adept, and more emotional than, say, the recordings by the Sarah Chang set, but still a little cold. As she tore into the first movement of the Sibelius, it was clear the performance would be nothing like that. Midori had some trouble projecting above the orchestra, and actually had some difficulties with passage-work. Her intonation is generally quite good, but not always -- technically, she's far from perfect. However -- and this is particularly in contrast to what I hear live from Gil Shaham -- she seems to aim for all the right things (well, the right things for me) musically. She can count -- she takes rubato, but it makes sense, and she clicks back into the beat afterwards. She is expressive, and her playing turns deliberate when she's making a point or hitting the high point of a crucial phrase. She can put a little grit into the sound she makes, but does so without losing the core of the sound. She doesn't have a surfacey sound, without a center, and she doesn't make a nasty sound just -- well, just because. There's an edge to her sound when there needs to be, but only then -- and this is something that the Sibelius needs to have done well, or it sounds sour and off-putting. I hear so few violinists these days who make what I consider a nice sound with their priceless instruments. It's refreshing to hear someone who does, and who really seems to have a clear idea about the kinds of tone she wants, and when they're appropriate. The only violinist with a "nicer" sound is Shaham -- his one really redeeming quality -- who has a luscious glowing tone, which I can only really describe as "golden." But he seems to have far less of an idea how to use it, as though it's a gift, rather than something he's worked hard for, because that's the sound he's had in his head all along and has only been working towards being able to get out of his instrument.

Rocky was blown away by the first movement. I particularly liked the last. The BSO, as usual, had difficulty staying with Midori at times. This happens with every soloist I hear perform with them. Last time I heard Shaham, doing Beethoven, it was clearly his fault -- what the hell is he doing changing tempi like that, and not showing the beats? -- but here, it was as clearly not the soloist's problem. Gilbert has opaque beats. I'd be incapable of telling you what meter he was beating, just watching him. So, as usual, this "aristocrat" of orchestras seems like a degenerate inbred fin-de-siecle aristocrat getting by on the family name and legacy -- just slightly less so this year than previously. I do notice a lot of fresher, younger faces in the strings. There was some dead wood there last year.

I'm a little disappointed at the lack of technical perfection. For some reason -- maybe it's that we all tend to listen to records more often than we actually hear world-class musicians live -- I still expect there to be more of a vast gap between what they're capable of, technically, and what I am, or the people I played with in grad school. Clearly, Midori is better, but I see her doing the same things -- getting distracted by passagework and forgetting to continue to project -- that I would find myself doing, last time I played for my teacher. Ideally, I'd like to go hear someone with such a big name, and be blown away by technically infeasable feats, like I was when we heard Cecilia Bartoli. The sounds that came out of her mouth, the speed, her clear articulation, it was all technically inhuman, yet mated to someone who was clearly a performer -- who lived to be able to communicate, to bounce vibes off an audience that way. Failing that combination, I'd prefer someone like Midori, who gets the feelings and nuances right, even if she misses one note, and quiets way down for some of the runs. That's always better, for me, than someone who has a glorious tone but doesn't have anything to say with it. I wondered after the concert whether maybe part of what made Bartoli's such a great concert was that she was playing with a smaller group -- that was essentially chamber music, while Midori was saddled with a huge romantic orchestra who couldn't follow her as closely, and was essentially a bit of a barrier between her and the audience, even if it adds a very theatrical sense of drama. I'd love to hear her in recital, then.

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