What was it about the ’80s that made so many gifted people treat their gifts as licenses to snarl? We got Mike Tyson’s brawls outside the ring. We got Sean Penn. And always there was John McEnroe. Will we remember him best for his backhand or his back talk? So here’s to Midori. We first met her as a pint-size prodigy from Osaka, Japan, briskly mastering the tangles of Bartók’s Second Violin Concerto. (“You weren’t aware this was a young person playing,” says conductor Leonard Slatkin of the first time he heard her.) Now she’s 18, a five-year veteran of the international concert circuit and, in the words of critic Peter G. Davis, “the violinist of the moment.” Yet while the world of classical music has always had its prima donnas, Midori keeps the virtue in virtuoso. Her rare musical gift is joined to a refreshing grace and aplomb. They were all displayed during her now legendary 1986 performance at Tanglewood with Leonard Bernstein and the Boston Symphony. While she was performing the wild finale of Bernstein’s Serenade, her E string snapped. Midori didn’t smash her violin. She calmly borrowed the concertmaster’s. When that popped its E string, too, she simply borrowed another. On with the show.
With the same felicity she brings to Mendelssohn, the 5’2″ Midori has weathered the stress of performances at the Reagan White House and on The Tonight Show, as well as whatever strains attended her parents’ divorce eight years ago. She now lives in Manhattan with her mother—who was her first violin teacher—her stepfather and a new baby brother. A senior at the Professional Children’s School, she takes homework on the road and often travels alone. Her major vice is window shopping, her major indulgence Indian food. “I don’t always have to be listening to music to be with the music,” she says. Her talent is still deepening. At 10, she was a prodigy. Now she’s a promise fulfilled. On with the show.