Midori, the Japanese violinist who goes by only her first name, comes to Seattle on a fairly regular basis, sometime in recital and sometimes with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra. She played the first of four concerts Thursday night at Benaroya Hall.
The program was a curious one in that the violinist played three works with a much reduced orchestra in the first half, then abandoned the stage in order for the orchestra and its music director Gerard Schwarz to tackle the formidable Fifth Symphony of Prokofiev in the second half. I doubt if many would complain. There was Bach to begin — his Second Violin Concerto — and Schubert’s charming and fluent Rondo in A to conclude. In the middle was Schnittke’s First Violin Sonata arranged for violin and chamber orchestra.
In some ways Midori’s program was a perfect example of her interests and musicianship. The Bach was handsome and intelligent and articulate with serious nods to the period in which it was written. She has a honeyed tone but she didn’t approach the music all gussied up with romantic aspirations. She has become a player of great restraint and taste, and that showed in her reading. The Schubert was remarkable for its cool buoyancy and limpid beauty;. She lent it a kind of simplicity in which Schubert could run merrily down the path, letting his ideas go wherever they wanted. Her facile technique and sense of refinement and nuance held her in good stead. Midori has been something of a champion of Schnittke. It is not hard to discern the reasons why in listening to her rapt attention to the details of his sonata. She can be edgy and restless, as the Schnittke sometimes demands, but she is also warm and on occasion, luxurious.
The violinist, now approaching 40, has been famous most of her life. She has devised an interesting career for herself, playing not only the standard repertory but also modern music. She becomes a keen advocate for whatever she plays.. She is also deeply involved in matters of musical education for the young to which her foundation, Midori and Friends, is devoted. She is also involved in music programs aimed at audiences that wouldn’t otherwise have much contact with art music.
The Prokofiev was not an anti-climax . The orchestra has been playing at the top of its form in recent weeks, and Thursday was not an exception. The symphony is a sprawling statement of the human spirit which the SSO realized. Schwarz led in a vigorous, dynamic way that conveyed all the varied emotions Prokofiev wrote into the piece. There is much that suggests the composer’s ballet score “Romeo and Juliet.” Schwarz made those connections powerful and direct, with brilliant expositions of color, harmony, texture and rhythm. Tenderness was juxtaposed with huge climaxes, even humor. Special note to principal clarinet Christopher Sereque for his multiple solos.