Midori (Wiki) took Strathmore’s stage on Sunday for the Washington Performing Arts Society. Her silk dress smacked of 1930s conservatism: blue chintz pattern and apron collar. She’d forgotten her sheet music, and sent pianist, Robert McDonald, to fetch it. I held my breath, ready for her bowmanship to blow back the folks in the upper tier and smash that dowdy image.
First pitch: Schumann.
We expected a great deal from this show. Not just because Midori made her first recording at 14, but because the Ambassador of Japan and his wife took a promenade box. This should have been D.C.-concert-going at its best…(Editor’s Note: in the Maryland suburbs)
She made a fierce start on the Mit leidenschaftlichem Ausdruck. Bent almost double, she wrung her tones out of her Guarneri del Gesu. But, by the Lebhaft, something went missing — passion. I was willing to blame the dulcet-mannered Schumann (so I forgave the Ambassador for nodding off, while his wife nodded in knowing rhapsody). Onto Beethoven’s G Major Sonata.
A mocking flirtation of trills pitched back and forth from violin to piano. A little pum-pum-pum you’d find from Mozart. Still, McDonald has played with her since she was 18, so I waited for the chemistry to come to crisis. His stately chords built mild sentiment backing her long drawings of the bow, but the scherzo only crested to high-blossoming.
But here, after the intermission, lay the true test: How would Midori play John Cage? His Six Melodies skirt harmony — thwarting expectation — like a good Catholic girl on a first date. The audience couldn’t hack it. Rather, all they did was hack.
You’d think that McDonald’s perfectly struck off-kilter peddle points inflamed their bronchials. Or that the highest-high bowing of Midori’s, wrapping the listener in light, left them out in the cold. Coughs of belligerence clouded Cage – unabashed. Break through that fog, and a blessed space was revealed.
Silver blobs of mercury could have thrived there: A zone cooler, clearer than an Yves Tanguy painting. The sixth melody burgeoned with inquisitive expectoration — real chords chopped off.
Clod-like coughs — an eruption of toxic spores – broke out as the sixth ended. Applause belatedly bloomed. (And I mourned the passing of Peabody’s CAGE music ensemble that cultivated Cage and more daring exploits in contemporary music in its hothouse of Griswold Hall.)
Later, a friend asked: “Was she at least an impressive violinist, if not an inspired interpreter?” The proof would come from her Enescu. Georges Enescu, himself a fine violinist, called Paris and Bucharest home. His Violin Sonata in A Minor delivers one thing: Romanian rhapsodie.
McDonald hunkered down for serious playfulness, like a racehorse breaking out of the gate of Cage’s gamuts. But Midori played it too close to the chest. We only got a flash of biting pizzicato, a cat yowl right on the bridge. But what we needed was one more flash…one more whine. McDonald was the one to trot out the thunderclaps.
Midori is no gypsy, but she may be a technician. For Romanian done right, I bet Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg could ace it. Back in Jan. ’08, she rocked Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto with the BSO. Unlike Midori, Nadja takes risks. She dares to be personal.
Washington Performing Arts Society offers a Saturday double-header on Nov. 15. At 2pm, you get pianist Daria Rabotkina. At 4pm, violinist Vadim Repin takes on Beethoven, Stravinsky and Debussy. Click here for the info.
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