TGN’s Zach Carstensen talks with Midori

Photo courtesy Lois Greenfield

Photo courtesy Lois Greenfield

Zach Carstensen : How were you introduced to the violin?

ZC: Your professional career began at a young age – you were 12 when you performed with the New York Philharmonic – what was it like being a classical music star while you are also entering your formative, teenage years?

M: When a youngster is under scrutiny from the media, they can fall into the trap of starting to believe what is said about them (whether the stories are true or not). Feeling the gaze of others is especially tough on any naturally self-conscious teenager as he or she finds their place in the world. Strong relationships with family and friends kept me from ever losing sight of my true self; they kept my ego in check while also providing support and encouragement during the challenging times.

ZC: Your educational background is in areas unrelated to classical music – Psychology and Gender Studies – what was the impetus for this?

M: I had always wanted to go to college to broaden my horizons, so I knew that I was not going to major in music when I enrolled at NYU’s Gallatin School. Initially, I had assumed that I would pursue areas more obviously related the arts, but after taking an introductory course in psychology as an undergraduate, I was captivated by the subject and decided to pursue it more seriously, eventually earning a Master’s degree in 2005.

I came upon gender studies in a similar way: I love going to plays and the theater, and I had enrolled in a course that happened to be a study of plays from the perspective of gender. Initially, I was just interested in reading the plays, but as the course progressed I became intrigued, and took on gender studies as a second concentration.

ZC: Does this background impact how you view performing or how you perceive your audience?

M: The influence of my college experiences turns up in all realms of my life, including performing and teaching. I believe that the whole of my experiences and knowledge is reflected in my playing and musical interpretations, though not necessarily in a concrete or traceable way. I certainly can’t formally psychoanalyze each audience, but I would say that my educational background abstractly affects my concert methodology.


: When you perform, what senses, other than hearing, do you use?

M: In performance, I use any and all sensory means within my power; hearing, certainly, but also sight, touch, and perception of the general energy of the concert. Awareness – of both the audience and other musicians – is crucial.

ZC: One of your passions is education and outreach to underserved communities and regions of the country.  Do you think it is getting easier for people to experience classical music and live classical performance?

M: This is exactly what I hope is happening. Through my community engagement projects and as a UN Messenger of Peace, my main interest is to bring about social awareness and unity among people through music. Everyone should have the opportunity to know the joy of music; the experience of great music is not limited to concert halls or big cities, nor is it only for those who can afford to purchase tickets. These days, presenters are leaning towards offering various informal music events in addition to their regular concerts, efforts which will hopefully broaden the affordability of concert attendance and re-engage the general public with the classical genre.

ZC: One of the programs you started is the Orchestra Residencies Program which pairs you up with a local youth orchestra that has ties to a local professional orchestra.  For you, what has been the most rewarding aspect of this program?

M: I love the flurry of activity and excitement that a residency brings. The kids, orchestra staff, and professional musicians are so enthusiastic about the project, and we achieve some wonderful things together in just a few days’ time. Young musicians bring a very different perspective to the music, and playing with them never fails to teach me something too.

ZC: What has the response been like from the youth orchestras and professional orchestras you have worked with because of this program?

M: In general, the responses have been outstanding. The youth orchestra has a chance to be the shining star of the community, and the young musicians often say that this is the hardest they’ve ever worked in rehearsals – but always with a smile! We have also seen increased collaborations between the youth and adult orchestras beyond ORP, including side-by-side concerts and even additional residency-type projects with other guest artists. To have this mentorship experience is so valuable for the younger generation, in that they realize the importance of orchestral playing for the future.


: Are you looking forward to your upcoming performance with the Seattle Symphony?

M: Of course! It has been some years since I have played with the Symphony, and it has been about five since my recital here in Seattle. I always enjoy visiting the city.

ZC: You will be playing three pieces during your visit to Seattle – J.S. Bach’s Violin Concerto Nr. 2; Schnittke’s Sonata for Violin and Chamber Orchestra; and Schubert’s Rondo in A Major – how do these pieces relate to one another?

M: Schnittke had an intense, almost reverent admiration for Bach. That influence is quite evident when their music appears alongside each other in the program, as it is here.  Schubert never wrote a concerto for solo instrument and orchestra, the Rondo in A Major is the closest form.  We all recognize Bach as the master of the German Baroque style, and Schubert was considered the authority of the German Lieder

, or songs, in the Romantic era.  Schnittke reveals the impact of both in his polystylistic work.

ZC: What do you hope Seattle audiences take away from your performance of these three pieces?

M: It is my simple hope that the audience will hear and be affected in a meaningful way by the message of the music.

ZC: Thank you.

Midori performs this Thursday-Sunday (June 18-20) with the Seattle Symphony.  More information on the concert can be found here.


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