MIDORI’S 2009-2010 SEASON – THROUGH THE EYES OF HER STUDIO PIANIST AT THE UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
My name is Jiayi Shi. I work as Midori’s studio pianist at the University of Southern California (USC), where she holds the Jascha Heifetz Chair at the Thornton School of Music.
Last month, everyone in Midori’s studio returned to school after a summer of traveling, visiting families, participating in music festivals and so on. I think I can speak for all of us when I say that coming back to USC at the end of the summer almost feels like coming home. We are all ready and eager to start another exciting and, hopefully, productive school year.
Midori’s students at USC have many activities to look forward to each year, such as competitions, auditions, and performances. I usually play for the students at their lessons and also perform with them at various off-campus locations, which can include other parts of the US and Europe, when they have competitions and performances there. I am also in charge of scheduling lessons and auditions, keeping track of scores and parts for the students and Midori and coordinating outreach performances for the students, among which are monthly concerts at senior residences around LA.
Also at the core of my official responsibilities is assisting Midori in the study and rehearsal of the concertos and recital programs that she performs each season. Her repertoire for 2009-1010 includes concertos by Beethoven, Brahms, Sibelius, Szymanowski No. 1, Mendelssohn, Barber, Walton, Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich No 1 and Schnittke’s Concerto Grosso for Two Violins. Midori is also preparing five different recital programs, one of them consisting of all contemporary works. Some of the pieces for this season are from the standard violin repertoire but quite a few are fairly new to me. This means the very exciting process of learning these new pieces and rediscovering “old” pieces through rehearsing them with her. For the contemporary program, I will also travel with Midori to some cities participating in the performance of music seminar as part of the educational purpose of the contemporary music project.
Sometimes I attend conductors’ rehearsals with Midori so I can help expedite the communication process between them. I have also travelled to Lübeck (Germany) and San Francisco ahead of extended masterclasses to assist the students in learning the repertoire they will be playing for Midori, especially the contemporary or compulsory works, and to lead discussions about the repertoire.
Over the years, my responsibilities for Midori have grown quite a lot. They include compiling her annual international schedule, formatting her recital programs, booking all her international flights (and many of the domestic American flights) and hotels, getting all the visas and work permits that she needs to perform in countries on four continents.
How did I ever find such an interesting and varied position? I first met Midori after I just arrived in New York in 2002 to start my master program studies at Manhattan School of Music. She was looking for a pianist for one of her students’ lessons, and my teacher recommended me. At first, I really didn’t quite believe it and had to ask my teacher again and again “is this Prof. Goto THAT Midori?” The piece I had to play was the orchestral reduction for one of the Prokofiev violin concertos. At that time, I had never played it. But somehow my teacher thought that I had when she gave the recommendation. The two days before the lesson were the some of the most nervous moments I have ever had. The rest is history. In 2006, when Midori decided to move to Los Angeles to teach at USC, I had recently completed all my course work in the Doctoral program and decided to go with her to the West Coast.
Our studio at USC is a cozy and welcoming place. Midori has arranged a couch and bookshelves full of her favorite books that she brought from her former home in New York. On the couch is a stuffed puppy that some students gave her, which has been named Gentleman. With familiar and personal things around, the studio has become a comforting place for the students, who love to gather there, even when they are not having lessons, just to relax or have interesting discussions on many topics.
In addition to my work with Midori, I teach piano at Biola University and am finishing my doctoral studies at Manhattan School of Music in New York. In fact, the other day, Midori “reminded” me that I also have to complete a 100+ page thesis for my degree.
Of course, my own list of activities pales in comparison to Midori’s study and performance schedule. On top of her many public performances, she devotes much of her time to teaching her students here, participating in outreach activities, overseeing the administration of the USC String Department and engaging in her duties as a UN Messenger of Peace. What I find amazing is that, whatever Midori does, she devotes 100% of her energy and concentration to it.
The more one has to do – and especially when one enjoys what he or she is doing – the more one accomplishes. I think one of the reasons all of us at USC work hard and accomplish a lot is that we have such a good role model in Midori!