Midori and the Orchestra Residency: Unique Commitment from a Star Soloist

Roughly two years ago, I wrote about my experience observing a couple of days of a Midori Orchestra Residency in Great Falls, Montana. Well, I just had another experience--shorter, to be sure--and I cannot resist writing about it again.
Midori is unique, in the true definition of that word, among star soloists. Her dedication to education and to young musicians goes beyond doing the obligatory, or even "somewhat" more than the obligatory. It infuses her being; it has become a major part of her career and her life.

One aspect (and only one aspect) of this devotion is the two-times-a-year residencies that she offers to small American orchestras. To qualify, an orchestra must either operate a youth orchestra or have a very close relationship with one. The residency is almost a full week long, and it includes performing a concert with the professional orchestra (often used as a gala fund raiser) as well as working with young people for the week--all for a fee astonishingly lower than her normal single performance fee. In fact, I would guess that, given expenses, she at best breaks even on the week.

But what's even more generous than her financial sacrifice is the way she gives of herself: fully and passionately. In addition to working with the youth orchestra as a whole, she'll coach strings and chamber groups, work with public schools, meet with and work with whomever the community wishes in order to help them explore improving their music education programs.

If the orchestra and youth orchestra are separate organizations, one requirement of her residency is that during her week there, the two staffs will hold a joint meeting. It was this meeting, in Elgin, Illinois, that I was privileged to participate in. I jointly moderated a two-hour brainstorming session with the staffs of the Elgin Symphony Orchestra and the Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra. For those staffs to be able to pick the brain of Midori--who has now had five years of experience with this residency program, and much deeper and longer experience in music education overall--was a gift to them that will, as the cliché goes, keep on giving.

It was particularly gratifying to see the shackles of traditional thinking come off, and the shackles of "turf." Within fifteen minutes, an outsider who didn't personally know the people would not have been able to identify from the content who worked for the youth orchestra and who for the professional orchestra.  It was a meeting about new ideas, new thinking, new directions. And there was shockingly little in the way of pointing out obstacles or barriers to accomplishment. That could come later with analysis, and probably needs to, but this was a creative think tank on how two organizations can combine their efforts to benefit each other--and to benefit the young musicians of the youth orchestra, who represent the future for all of us.

In the end, the two staffs agreed that a task force consisting of perhaps six people--three from each staff, maybe with some members rotating depending on the topic--should meet every four to six weeks to take ideas into the next stage and bring them to reality.

What was most gratifying about this experience was seeing the staffs of two organizations come together in a "safe space" to be creative and fresh without first worrying about the practicality of their ideas--and to see Midori, with her unique perspective, inject her experience and thoughts into the conversation and help keep that conversation focused. The two staffs were wonderful in their energy and outlook: They clearly brought to this residency an extraordinarily healthy relationship with each other. And as I sat there, I tried to think of another star soloist who would spend a full week in places like Great Falls or Elgin, working with youngsters, giving master classes, coaching and performing with them, virtually donating the week to the community and performing with the professional orchestra, and spending two hours participating in a meeting (most artists hate meetings). Candidly, I could not think of another. If this sounds like a love letter, I suppose it is!

October 24, 2008 12:58 PM | | Comments (2)



This is a great post highlighting a fabulous artist and commitment to young musicians. Thank you for bringing our attention to this residency program yet again!


Yes, I am totally impressed with not only her abilities as an artist, but also her twist of an education - going back to school to work in Psych. etc. I believe she has a solid focus on what she wants to accomplish with growing artists as a reflection of all she went through to become one herself.

I was extremely lucky to attend a concert on a whim in London when she had a recital at Barbicon. I lucked out with a 3rd row center seat. It was the most incredible concert experience I have ever had. She never beat the violin. It was almost as if she was letting the violin play her. That's not poetics or over romanticizing the experience. I learned a lot about writing from that performance.

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