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Sunday, Aug. 1, 2004


Violin maestro with many strings toher bow

Violinist Midori Goto was only 14 when, in 1986, she played with the Boston Symphony Orchestra under the baton of the late maestro Leonard Bernstein at the annual Summer Festival at Tanglewood in rural Massachusetts. That was remarkable enough, but what made Goto world-famous was not simply that she performed at such a young age in such elevated company -- but that she played marvelously despite breaking the E string of her instrument not once, but twice.

News photo
Midori Goto

The first time it happened, she coolly and quickly passed her violin to the concertmaster, who gave her his instrument with which to carry on playing. Then, when the same thing happened again, she had to perform with yet another unfamiliar instrument, when the associate concertmaster quickly handed her his to play. Despite the double disaster, Goto finished her solo performance with barely a missed beat . . . and was rewarded with a huge ovation from the knowledgeable audience at the prestigious event.

Even before that now legendary episode, though, Goto had already been recognized as a brilliant violin virtuoso.

In 1982, when she was just 11, conductor Zubin Mehta invited the young Osaka native, who had been playing violin from a very early age, to make her professional debut as guest soloist for the New York Philharmonic's traditional New Year's Eve concert. That night, the standing ovation she received was a sure indicator of even greater things to come.

And come they did, allowing her to mark the 20th anniversary of her performing career in 2002 with a string of headlining performances, including with the New York Philharmonic at the city's famed Avery Fisher Hall with Zubin Mehta.

But music isn't the only string to Goto's bow. Away from the world's top concert halls, she is also renowned for her educational and community-based music-outreach programs. Perhaps foremost among these is Midori & Friends, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization she founded in 1992 to offer children a comprehensive musical education, including workshops and concerts to children, both to foster their artistic skills and nurture their whole character.

In fact in the 2004-2005 season, Goto says, she will spend about 30 percent of her time on the many outreach projects she has become involved with, both in the United States, where she has lived since age 10, and Japan, where she founded Music Sharing two years ago.

As part of her work with that organization, this year Goto has already visited nearly 20 schools in Tokyo, Okinawa, Kochi, Fukui, Osaka and Kanagawa prefectures to present "Lecture Concerts" in which she plays the violin, gives a talk and shares her musical experiences with elementary-school children. In November, under the umbrella of Music Sharing, she plans to branch out even further and stage similar concerts featuring traditional Japanese music.

A resident of New York City, where she lives with her two dogs Franzie (named after the Austrian composer Franz Joseph Haydn [1732-1809]) and Willa (named after the American writer Willa Cather [1873-1947], one of her favorite authors), Goto received a Bachelor's degree in Psychology and Gender studies at the Gallatin School of New York University in 2000 and is now a Master's degree candidate there.

In the current 2004-2005 season, Goto has concerts scheduled with, among others, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the National Symphony Orchestra and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra in the U.S., and with the Stockholm Philharmonic, the London Philharmonic and the Budapest Festival Orchestra in Europe. In addition, she will perform a recital at Carnegie Hall in New York, and in Tokyo and several other Japanese cities in Hokkaido, Osaka and Tochigi prefectures from December through January.

Despite the obviously taxing demands of her schedule, however, Goto found time for this exclusive interview with The Japan Times during a recent trip to Japan for her Music Sharing project.

How have your Music Sharing Lecture Concerts in Japan been this year? What do you expect the children get from their experience?

I always have a wonderful time during the Music Sharing Lecture Concerts. There is no point in mentioning the specifics, but it is a very important part of my year, every year, to come to Japan to interact with children.

When I perform before children, I do not assume beforehand what they might get from the concert. I keep performing the concert while appreciating the children's natural reactions. If I told the children my expectation of how their feelings or emotions will be touched by the music, I may restrict their natural reactions.

For me, it is such a joyous experience to spend time with children full of smiles.

What are your hopes and aims for Music Sharing's activities?

Music Sharing was started in 2002. Until then, some of the current activities were overseen by Midori & Friends' office in Tokyo. When Midori & Friends decided to discontinue activities in Japan, I formally established an NPO in Japan to continue and expand already established programs.

When I first began Midori & Friends in 1992, it was still not possible for an organization such as ours to become an NPO. Now, with our own office based in Tokyo, we are much more able, and successfully so, to challenge ourselves to explore and to expand in Japan.

For example, from this November onward we will officially begin the Traditional Japanese Music Lecture Concerts. We have worked tirelessly for the last two years to make this happen.

As with my other organizations, I hope that Music Sharing will grow into an independent, solid organization, and will remain faithful to its mission. With constant re-evaluation of its programs and activities, the possibilities for growth are infinite.

What is your purpose in expanding the Music Sharing project to include Traditional Japanese Music Lecture Concerts conducted by experts in that field?

There are various genres in music, and I hoped that children would have the opportunity to experience various kinds of music.

It is not that I've chosen traditional Japanese music because I have the event in Japan. Rather, I started the Lecture Concerts with Western classical music, and then extended the genres to traditional Japanese music. I would like to broaden the music genres further in the future.

When I think about myself, I grew up with only a little exposure to traditional Japanese music. Now I am quite enjoying learning about that music myself. I feel happy to have a chance to learn the music.

The ways of performing Western classical music and traditional Japanese music are different. The musical works are different. But they share something. I think they are the same in terms of coming out of people's hearts.

2002 was the 20th anniversary of the start of your performing career. What kind of music would you like to play now, and what sort of musical experiences would you like to give your audiences?

I share myself completely with the music and the audience, and that way there's a chance of giving a full experience to each listener, both in musical form and, especially, in content.

We cannot predict how people's feelings or emotions will be touched by music, or what [those feelings or emotions] will be, but they will definitely have an effect.

I hope I will play straight from the heart.

How do you feel the challenges and difficulties of interpreting music have changed in the last 20 years?

The basic attitude to play straight from the heart has never changed. I try not to miss my reactions to the music at each moment. The reactions lead to my interpretation, and I think it is very important that I play on the reactions.

You have played together with many renowned musicians. What inspiration have you drawn from these experiences?

I am lucky to have played with renowned musicians. Through the experiences, of course, I learned about music itself. Also, I learned how the character of performers is reflected in the music flowing out of them.

Well-known, or not, everyone is influenced by everyone else. For that matter, I am inspired by life.

Are there any concerts or recitals you especially remember?

No, not especially.

How long do you usually spend playing and practicing violin?

It depends. Playing violin is not a hobby for me, and therefore the length of practice depends on the result. I have to practice till it is perfectly done.

One day, I may not play at all, and the other days I play for a very long time -- sometimes staying up all night. On average, I probably practice about four to five hours a day.

I practice till I can present myself in the music. When you are playing while thinking about artistic expression and suchlike, you need more practice.

This is the same as learning languages. Your language is not natural enough if you are speaking while thinking about things, such as grammar. You have to practice till you are able to say what you want to say without thinking.

Just like that, it is not perfectly done if you are playing violin while thinking about things such as what you have to do or what you do not have to do. Ideas should come out of the inside of you. I have to practice until I can do that.

Does living in New York have a special bearing on your life and career?

I moved to New York when I was 10 years old, and I've been living there since then. I do not think that I have to live in New York for my whole life, but I have no reason to move out of New York at the moment. That is why I am living in the city. Naturally, I know the city very well. In New York, new things happen all the time, and now I am used to living in that environment.

How have your studies of psychology at New York University affected your musical activities?

I studied for the nourishment of the intellect and not for the benefit of my musical career. However, having been at the Gallatin School of New York University has shaped my thinking and therefore has had a tremendous impact upon me as a person. And, as a result, anything experienced deeply affects me and thereby comes out in my music.

Have you noticed any changes in the audiences at your concerts since Sept. 11, 2001?

Perhaps we have all changed, and perhaps that is only natural. In history, there have always been atrocities of enormous magnitude, and we have always lived on after them.

We each respond differently to experiences, and how we demonstrate our reactions is different, as well. After Sept. 11, I know that something changed, but cannot say how. We will keep changing as we move toward the future.

Music itself has not changed. It was there from a long, long time ago. The power and effects of music on people differ among individuals. But I've met some people who said they had been healed by music after those incidents.

What do you regard as the main features, aims and challenges of your recitals in Japan for December and January?

The recital tour this winter in Japan will be the first since the 20th Anniversary tour of 2002. There are two different programs, both of which excite me.

In one program there is a commissioned work by an American composer, Michael Hersch, which is titled "The Wreckage of Flowers" after the poems and prose of [1980 Nobel Prize-winning Polish writer] Czeslaw Milosz. In another program, the repertoire consists only of works written in the last 25 years.

Basically, I've selected my favorite pieces for the programs. I pay attention to contrast and coherence when I select pieces for a program. I have played musical works by contemporary composers before, but along with the works of such composers as Beethoven and Brahms. Hence a feature of the recital this time is that one program is comprised only of works composed after 1981.

It is always interesting to tackle recital programs because they offer us, the performers, an opportunity to explore diverse styles within one evening or afternoon.

Do you have anything in particular in mind for the future?

At the moment, I am busy doing my current projects, and I feel satisfied with that.

I like to see people coming together and communicating. I'm not saying that I want to promote communication among people through music, but I hope people will connect with each other through the context of music. I hope music will become a "starting point" for bringing people together.

Finally, what do you do to relax?

I have two dogs at home and I play with them. I read books, too, and I do cooking. Cooking is not a hobby, but I enjoy it.

Interview by YOKO HANI, staff writer

For more information about the "Midori Goto & Robert McDonald Duo Recital" series in December 2004 and January 2005 in Japan, contact Sym Co., Ltd. at (03) 3262-8582.

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