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Panel discussion with violin student Leah Carl, lecturer Robert Greenberg, Midori, San Francisco Performances president Ruth Felt, Alexander String Quartet violinist Frederick Lifsitz, and composer Jeeyoung Kim.

Midori in conversation with an audience member.

Midori talking with Berkeley Symphony Orchestra board member Kathy Henschel.

Photos by Ayako Tanaka


BY RUTH FELT (President, San Francisco Performances)

In October 2004 when Midori was in San Francisco performing with the San Francisco Symphony she called and asked me to meet her for coffee one morning where she gave me detailed information on a project she had developed and would be presenting in Tokyo early in 2005. It was a recital program of all contemporary music composed after 1970 which also involved a full day workshop a week or so before the concert. I was very interested, and told her I definitely wanted to present this project in San Francisco. It became a reality in April 2006 and turned out that San Francisco Performances was the only presenter in the U.S. to present the full project as Midori envisioned it with a full day workshop for audience members and music students. What a rare and enriching experience we had.

The workshop day began with a lecture by SFP’s Music Historian-In-Residence Robert Greenberg, which put contemporary music and its tonal languages in the context of the development of Western classical music, and helped place the music of Midori’s program in that larger narrative. Bob had expected to illustrate his talk with recorded excerpts from an archival recording that Midori sent of her performance of the pieces on the program, but he and I were delighted and surprised (as was everyone in attendance) when she announced that of course she would join him on stage and play all of the excerpts he wanted live with pianist Jiayi Shi.

Later in the day, three young Bay Area violinists took part in a master class with Midori, each performing one of the pieces on the recital program. These students – from San Francisco State University, the San Francisco Conservatory, and the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra – tackled the difficult works with great aplomb. In the already intense course of performing for Midori before an audience, both the students and Midori experienced and contended with an unexpected distraction from press photographers. Two photographers had come to cover the workshop as the project had garnered national attention. They were granted permission to shoot photos of the class for brief periods from a distance and with minimal distraction, but what actually took place was photography throughout, and often very close-in, during the entire two-hour session. Amazingly, the young musicians and Midori were able to maintain the concentration required to engage in this challenging music, and the resulting photos captured the extraordinary connection between teacher and student. At the reception held at the end of the day, many in attendance remarked to me, how much they enjoyed the master class and hearing sections of each piece repeated and repeated for Midori with her insightful guidance on improving the musical phrasing and interpretations. They not only heard the difference that resulted but also really got this music in their ears.

In the afternoon I moderated a panel discussion/Q&A with Midori, Bob Greenberg, Leah Carl, one of the master class students, SFP’s composer-in-residence Jeeyoung Kim, and Fred Lifsitz, second violinist with our resident Alexander String Quartet. Many insights about repertory selection, performance challenges and rewards were shared and in replying to an inquiry from a member of the audience about availability of a recording of the contemporary program, Midori expressed her frustration about the impossibility so far of recording this music for commercial release.

I did not think it was possible to exceed the immersion experience of the all-day workshop, but Midori insisted on going forward with a private occasion at the home of one of our trustees on the Wednesday night before the Thursday recital for an invited audience of board members and donors. (It should be noted that she flew in that day after performing at Zankel Hall on Tuesday night.) So there we were in a beautiful intimate living room atop Twin Peaks with wrap around views from Golden Gate Bridge to Bay Bridge with Midori, Robert McDonald at the Steinway and Bob Greenberg. In addition to Bob’s commentary about the composers, Midori spoke at length, adding her personal insights into the music. Bob McDonald added his insights into working with Midori on this particular program and the process of selecting each work. They performed excerpts of each piece and the complete Tre pezzi per violino e pianoforte, Opus 14e by Gyögy Kurtág. Questions and answers were freely interspersed and the evening concluded with wine and hors d’oeuvres and lots of conversation.

The project culmination with the Thursday night recital was thrilling and, speaking for myself as a music lover and listener and one who experienced every aspect of the project, I can testify wholeheartedly to the illuminating and enriching impact of greater familiarity with this unfamiliar music. My response was echoed by many who also were fortunate to have participated.

Midori’s extraordinary commitment to this music was evident not only in her playing but in her intimate involvement with every detail of the entire project. It was a wonderful and satisfying collaboration and we are extremely proud to have presented it. I cannot wait until the next Midori contemporary project as we will definitely join her again – I am hoping for 07/08.