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June 30, 2005

Ah, The New Music Problem...

Hi Midori,

Of course getting people to be open to contemporary music has been a longtime problem. There really isn't an infrastructure in place anymore to promote and disseminate the best new music. Of course there are many places where new music is performed and encouraged, but what I'm talking about is an eagerness to want to have the best new thing on your program.

Those mechanisms exist in other artforms - it's tough to find an audience for a new book, but if something catches a foothold it gets wide promotion. In theatre, rights to the hottest new plays are fought over by regional theatres. In visual art there's a whole web of gallery owners and curators scouting for something new that can be turned into a hot commodity.

Where is that in music? How are audiences to learn new music vocabulary and follow any sort of new music tradition if they don't hear it regularly? Let's say you found something new that you thought was sensational. You start programming it, but who else is also going to take it up? And who's going to carry the message about this great piece to a wider audience to help build demand for it?

This is a problem, by the way, that I don't think is just confined to classical music. As radio stations have corporatized their playlists and formats have become more rigid, it's more and more difficult for pop music to evolve significantly beyond whee it is.

In this time of exponentially more choice, are we less willing to be adventurous? I greatly admire your efforts to open people's ears...


Posted by mclennan at 10:23 AM

June 29, 2005

Working with the Contemporary

Dear Doug,

Greetings from Tokyo where it's pouring.

On the topic of direct interaction with the audience, I believe there are many ways in which we can foster more meaningful relationships among audiences, performers, and organizers. In order to succeed, the communication must run in both directions. It is through the sharing of experiences that people from different walks of life can bond.

I am very excited to be in the Total Experience portion of my Asian tour right now and also to be planning for the Contemporary Music Project which takes place next Spring. I am experimenting with both ideas as ways of encouraging communication beyond the normal concert setting. I would like to write about them over the next two blogs.

The Contemporary Recitals Project has a few unique challenges, among them the fact that audience members, less familiar with contemporary composers than with, say, Beethoven and Mozart, may be reluctant to invest in tickets to an all-contemporary recital. The majority of the audience will be hearing the works on the program for the first time, in some cases with little, if any, knowledge about the composers. While this may be a refreshing experience for some, most listeners would probably benefit from repeated exposure or prior knowledge about the composers or the pieces in the program.

In some quarters, contemporary music has earned a reputation for being inaccessible. I actually find this interesting and somewhat perplexing because the term “contemporary music” covers a very wide range of styles. For example, I have known people who consider all 20th century compositions‘contemporary.’ For the purpose of my project, I have decided to interpret the term 'contemporary' to mean that either the piece or the composer must be from my lifetime. I have decided to include in my recital works written after I became musically aware--in my pre-teens. In other words, the term 'contemporary' can be a personal one that changes from individual to individual.

Next spring, I am scheduled to give an all-contemporary recital in San Francisco, and, in addition to the concert itself, I will spend two extra days over the preceding three weeks involved in a series of off-site events. Coordinated in partnership with the San Francisco Performances, in my experimental project, I will work with young musicians/composers and also with potential audience members. The reason why we are working on different events and activities a few weeks ahead is to give everyone an opportunity to digest the information as there is so much more we can learn if not compacted simply into a more conventional 30-minute pre-concert presentation.

I will encourage as many young music students and composers as possible to get to know the pieces, particularly by playing the works for one another. With each playing and with each player, the tradition for the piece becomes more established. Having each work played multiple times by different individuals can be a powerful method of advocating for the health of contemporary music. I am also interested in working with young composers and gathering input from them on how they would like to see contemporary music is presented to audiences. Since they are living with the most current music on a regular basis and personally trying to arrange for it to be heard and understood, their ideas could be especially inspiring and effective. Above all, it is important for me to set the tone of partnership and the mechanism of collaboration from early in the project.

In addition to working with the young music students such as in a master class setting, we are setting up other events for audience members, including preview performances of works in the recital program, and a series of workshops and discussions exploring the contemporary music scene, as well as the specific works on the program. We may also hold a screening of some rare film footage. Through these different pre-concert events, audience members will gain exposure to the new music in the recital, and at the same time an introduction to young musicians who are advocating for new music.

Not all the activities will take place in a traditional concert setting. Rather, we are discussing holding a demonstration at a local music store and mounting displays in the local arts library and museum. In doing any kind of outreach, I always like to emphasize going "out to them" rather than always having "them come to us." The internet and websites can also be powerful vehicles to reach out to many people.

I initiated the Contemporary Music Project, with the same program and with several special events, last December in Japan. Audience feedback was encouraging and told us that that having opportunities to learn about and experience the works for two weeks before attending the concert was most valuable and effective in helping them to maximize the actual concert experience.

In my next blog, I will write about Total Experience, a concept that first came to my mind when I was still a college student at Gallatin-NYU. Total Experience can potentially set up numerous and varied opportunities for direct communication among many people.

Posted by at 2:16 PM

June 28, 2005

More Than making Music

Hi Midori,

I'm impressed by how hard you work to not just perform music but try to draw people in to it. Most successful musicians I know these days spend a lot of their time trying to develop audiences. Recently I visited with Wu Han and David Finckel in New York and they took me to the apartment they had bought next door where they had an amazing operation going on.

They were preparing for their Music@Menlo chamber music festival this summer by producing audio notes for each concert. David was writing and narrating the scripts, and an assistant was digitally mixing it on computer into performances by the Emerson String Quartet that they had licensed from his record company.

The deal at Menlo is that when you buy a ticket, the CD comes with it. The discs cost only a few pennies to crank out, but the expectation of the audience is that they've done their audio homework before coming to the concert. I think it must radically change the way at least some of the audience listens. Is this an innovation with a similar impact to opera supertitles? The difference between how an audience pays attention with the titles versus without them is pretty big.

There's also the Concert Companion, which had a few tests last year - handheld computers that communicate information about what you hear as the performance takes place. This sounds a bit like the equivalent of the audio gallery guide that most museums have. I love that there are now even "guerilla" museum podcast guides made by those who want to give an alternative reading of the museum. Wouldn't it be great to find ways to harness that kind of audience participation in classical music?

In pop music, some bands are now offering recordings of performances you've just heard. Come to the concert, sign up to buy at intermission, and 45 minutes after the concert you get a CD or MP3. People buy them as souvenirs (better than a T-shirt), but more than souvenirs, they serve as an ongoing connection to fans.

Lastly, I've been intrigued by the experiments some performing arts institutions have made recruiting some of their more interesting audience members to blog about the performances they see. It works like this: In return for free tickets an audience member writes a review of the performance and posts it to the organization's website right after the show. Easch show has three or four bloggers, and the hope is that after psoting their reviews they'll interact between them and those who read the blog online. These aren't professional critics, but they often have startlingly original things to say. I wonder how it would work if you tried to interact with your audience online after a concert...

There are lots of ideas like these being tried, and I think it's encouraging that artists such as you keep looking for ways to innovate. I'd love to hear more about your Total Experience project...


Posted by mclennan at 11:38 PM

On the Way to "Experiencial Experience"

Dear Doug,

You were asking about how we might get audiences more deeply involved in music. It is difficult to think of a general plan, as every individual reacts and responds uniquely to music. Each person's encounter with music is different. The first crucial step is to initiate public interest in listening to music. Presenting historical information could help spark interest, as a contextual explanation is attractive to some people. With others, focus on the artist, the human being, is more effective.

As an artist, I want to cooperate with presenters that cater to the varied audience’s range of interests and needs. My effort takes the direction of introducing new opportunities for listening which, hopefully, lead to the audience being able to have what you call an "experiencial experience."

For several years now, I've tried different ideas to build a stronger connection with the audience. While these ideas are not necessarily ground-breaking or new tactics, I list them here anyway:

· Letters to the Audience – Every season, I write a letter of greeting for the recital programs. It is up to the presenters to incorporate it or not.

· Program Notes – I write my own notes for the recital repertoire, which hopefully gives the readers insight to the player's perspective about the specific pieces. This is also left in the hands of the presenters to be printed. As some presenters have contractual obligations with their own program annotators, I don't insist on the use of my notes. However, they are all available on my website.

· Meet and Greet – I've already written about this.

· Q & A and Post-Concert Discussions – these are usually done in the context of an already-existing format with the presenters, and I am almost always happy to oblige.

· Website – most of the written materials on my website are my own words and not the work of a professional publicist.

· Audio Program Notes – A few years ago, I made an audio version of program notes with musical samples for a modern work for one of the recital programs. This included sound explanations of certain musical terms such as Twelve Tone Row. This ultimately didn’t work out, due to delays relating to copyright, and during the trial run, the CDs were not used for the purposes for which they were designed. For example, some were distributed after the performance, while others were used as a "treat" for signing up for subscription tickets for the following season. The rare few who did receive the disc in advance of the concert found it to be interesting and useful, but in the end, the CDs were way too expensive for me to produce and to wish that they can be passed out correctly. In the words of one presenter (as I was told second hand), "Yes, it was helpful, but what would have been really helpful was for you not to have programmed a modern work at all." (Sigh.)

· DVD – While the Audio Program Notes were financially disastrous for me and my morale, the DVD which I produced last year in Japan in connection to the All Contemporary Recital Program proved to be a greater success. The DVD featured interview snippets with some of the composers, sound clips, composer and artist bios, etc., and these were passed out upon request to the ticket holders free of charge. The airline ANA sponsored the project, and I was grateful.

Doug, any more ideas? I do want to stay strictly in the mainstream classical music, but I would love to hear your thoughts.

In my next entry, I will write more in detail about my project in San Francisco next spring in partnership with San Francisco Performances. And, of course, I am in Japan right now, in the midst of Total Experience concerts, another community-involving initiative.


Posted by at 5:49 PM | Comments (1)

Interview Questions from Singapore

Dear Doug,

Singapore was great – and hot! (But no rain!) Humidity was high, and the de-humidifier in my dressing room was running full-force at all times.

Along with the masterclass, I did give a recital, which was my first appearance in Singapore. The concert took place at an impressive cultural complex along Marina Bay called the Esplanade. It is a beautiful building with a shopping center and several world-class theaters, all set on the waterfront.

What struck me even before my arrival in Singapore were the interview questions I received in preparation for my concert in the country. In recent years, I have been conducting preliminary interviews with journalists via email. After sending my responses, I speak with the interviewer on the phone when possible. I have found this method to be much more thorough than the conventional 10-minute phone conversation. In writing my answers, I can give at least quadruple the amount of time and ten times the energy of a long-distance phone call. I am able to give in-depth answers to most of the questions, which I would never have a chance to do otherwise.

I had a total of four email interviews several weeks in advance of the Singapore recital. I was intrigued by the orderly manner of the questions. The recurring theme of the interviews emphasized categorization: most questions wanted me to name the best, the most famous, the most favorite, the most special, and the most memorable. It seemed that such questions were asked in an effort to elicit answers that were tangible and methodical.

When I arrived in Singapore, I was fascinated by the country’s very systematic nature, at least on the surface. There are no traffic jams, the streets are clean and litter-free, and I got a sense that "everything works." I clearly saw the connection between the type of questions I received over email and how the country felt as a whole. This was very interesting indeed.

Posted by at 1:34 PM

June 27, 2005

Master Class in Singapore

Dear Doug,

Here is a short entry with my impressions of the masterclass in Singapore.

I spent the morning after my recital working with five violin students, aged 14 to 21. Despite the surrounding streets having been closed for a parade rehearsal for Singapore’s National Day in August, all the students managed to arrive well in time and warmed-up. The repertoire consisted of several staples from the violin repertoire, from Bach's Ciaccona to Chausson’s Poème.

It was wonderful to work with such a nice group of young men. It always makes me chuckle that, regardless of their nationality, most students seem to struggle with similar issues of phrasing. Finding the coherence of a phrase, while retaining details and spontaneity within it, is a hard balance to achieve. Most of the time, it takes much experience of listening and singing, then trying the phrase many times over. Even then, one never finds the perfect solution and must simply struggle with the fact that 'getting a phrase right' is a never-ending story.

What, then, helps in learning the phrase "correctly?" This is a very difficult question because each player must find his or her own answers. There is no single answer or a way to play a phrase "right," and each individual player must find it from inside him or her. However, there are a few elements that can be helpful. For example, supporting students through the process of finding their own interpretations in music are such factors such as experience and exposure to artists of an international level. There is never "enough" exposure because the students are always eager and capable for more. Of course, the kind of exposure is also important since, in the developmental stages, all information can be taken in very rapidly. Having access to great performances, live and recorded, to various teachers and their teaching methods (when one is ready), to an environment that is artistically and musically stimulating, and a support system that encourages growth, development and further future return, all these are important components in nurturing young artists.

Thanks to the new Esplanade Cultural Center in Singapore, with its dedication to educational and outreach programs, the students there are very fortunate to have opportunities of exposure to leading artists.


Posted by at 2:06 PM | Comments (1)


Hi Midori:

I'm interested to hear about your debut in Singapore went over the weekend. They were your first-ever concerts there, no?

I was struck very much in your last post by how differently artists choose what they do from how critics or academics assess those choices. You describe a very tactile process - how one piece flows or contrasts into the next, how important your desire to perform it is, how the music feels... I think critics often approach art by thinking about how the ideas go together and considering lots of other "stuff" around the music. Quite a different thing.

Which of course makes me think about how audiences come to music. Me, I'm a tactile guy. I can't remember the words to a single song. But I feel the way harmony moves (actually kind of "see" it in my mind) and have strong feelings about where a musical line wants to go. The theoretical underpinnings of music are interesting, but in the end they seem more useful as explanations or descriptions rather than rules. After the fact. History and context are more interesting, but seem more like side alleys than central to the understanding of a piece of music.

All my circuitous way of wondering how you think about getting audiences more deeply involved in music. My inclination is to think that experiencial experiences make the deepest impression. But I've seen far too many music education efforts that botch this. Music is a thing that people have such a personal relationship with that it seems difficult to teach on a mass scale. Are music vocabulary and history essential or are they just the lure to reel them in?

You have such a personal relationship with music; I'm wondering how you try to translate that personal relationship away from the act of playing your instrument, say when you're doing your education programs?

And tell me about Singapore!


Posted by mclennan at 12:10 PM

June 24, 2005

My Responses

Dear Doug,

First, I am writing in response to your entry titled, "Of East and West..."

As you say, the East/West distinction doesn’t mean too much any more. Alternatively, one could also say that we have finally realized that the world is not so easily categorized, and, in any case, that diversity is positive. Trying to neatly frame the world in terms of “East” and “West” is simply backward, ignorant, and too broad. There are many groups within ”East ” and ”West. ” Moreover, culture is a living thing that continuously evolves, mutates, and acquires new or different characteristics. When asked to define the differences between the Japanese and American children with whom I do extensive outreach work, I respond that because there are so many variances within each group, comparing them is impossible.

You had also asked me why I thought places like Hong Kong seemed surprisingly less culturally vibrant than Japan, for example, despite the fact that the Western presence had been established there for a long time. I think that this topic is much too complex to address in a few short sentences. Perhaps you would like to arrange for a separate blog on this very topic???

For now, I'm wondering if one of the keys to this question must lie in socio-political history, specifically the psychology of colonization. When ideas are enforced and controlled such as must be the case with colonies, their incorporation to the local culture must be restricted. As such, the locals often have limited access to what are considered the highest cultural forms by those in power. Could it be partly because of this that the cultural scene in a place like Hong Kong is, as you say, catching up?

Now, about the repertoire choices:

I always choose my repertoire for recitals with a few things in mind. The most important is to perform the works I want to play. While this is not a difficult criterion to adhere to, I make a point of saying this, because it's so fundamental, and I wish never to forget it. I do not play a piece because I think I should play it, but because I want to.

Beyond this and other requirements (such as program length), I like to have both contrast and coherence in the program as a whole. For example, in this current program, the Beethoven, a classic, flows nicely into the Franck Sonata--one of the most popular violin-piano works. After the intermission is Bach. The Franck was in A Major and the Bach is in A minor. Rautavaara, a living composer, comes immediately following Bach, the Father of Music. In addition, going from the regularity of the 16th notes in duple time in the last movement of the Bach, Dithyrambos entertains a jagged rhythm in 7/8. The middle section is a bit choral and hymn-like, which of course has a connection to Bach. Both the fire and passion in this three-minute piece can also be felt in the Franck. From the bombastic end of Dithyrambos, the flow continues to the mysterious opening of Szymanowski.

More contrast can be seen with the periods of the composers, which range from Baroque to the very contemporary; as well as the origins of the composers' births--from Germany, France, Finland, to Poland. In terms of textual difference, there is great variance as well, with harmonics, spiccatos, lieder-like legatos, etc.

While I explained above in very practical terms how this "Contrast and Coherence" works, my final decision is made based on how the pieces sound together. Most of the time, in trying to decide on the program, I try playing the end of each piece followed by the beginning of the next to see how they fit or contrast.

I don't usually choose repertoire specifically for the concert venue, because choosing the repertoire the way I do, there is always something for different tastes.

In terms of different audience reactions, I see this similarly to the way I spoke about cultural differences. I never know how the audiences will demonstrate their response. I could be playing the same work in the same city on consecutive nights, and the response could be like Night and Day. So, it would be safer to say that the reaction is demonstrated in various ways regardless of country.

One thing I always think about and wish for when I play a concert is that all the audience members can be in a psychological position to open their hearts fully to the music and be aware of their reactions to it. Anything that would help them to get to this point is worth trying.


Posted by at 4:02 PM

Of Content And Relationships

Hi Midori,

It's interesting that there would be resistance to an artist going out front to meet an audience after the concert. That doesn't seem like it should be such a big deal given how much people in the concert business talk about trying to connect with audiences. As far as interacting with audiences though, I think that sometimes that distance between performer and audience starts with programming. Sometimes it's not very obvious why pieces end up on a program, other than that there are certain well-established conventions that get fulfilled.

So I'm wondering how you chose the programs you're playing on this tour.

Beethoven Sonata No. 3 in E-flat for Piano and Violin, Op.12, No. 3
Franck Sonata for Violin and Piano in A
Bach Sonata No. 2 in A Minor for Solo Violin, BWV1003
Rautavaara Dythrambos
Szymanowski Nocturne and Tarantella

Did you choose the music with this part of the world or these particular audiences in mind? I'm wondering if you notice a difference in Asian audiences compared to those in America or Europe, and if so if you feel a you have a different interaction with them. I'm guessing that if the cultural frame of reference is different, it likely means your relationship is too. So I'm wondering if that affects the way you play - consciously or unconsciously. My recollection of concerts in China is that audiences there are less formal than in the West and that they feel freer to make noise and move around. Does that promote, as you say, a "more natural way of interaction"?

Posted by mclennan at 12:07 AM

June 23, 2005

Meet and Greet

Dear Doug,

This is my last morning in Hong Kong. I will respond to your note the next time I log on, but today, I want to share with you my thoughts about last night’s post-concert experience. Oh yes, just in case you are wondering what I’m doing at my computer in the morning, writing to you rather than enjoying a walk by Kowloon Bay, it’s because it is raining. Today, it is a soft, gentle rain, which reminds me of a wonderful summer afternoon spent under a tent in the woods.

After last night’s performance, I went out to the lobby area of the Cultural Centre to greet members of the audience. It always gives me great pleasure to chat with my audiences, and last night was no exception. People were warm and generous, and while some were shy and others less so, I appreciated being able to converse with them, or simply to respond to a request for an autograph.

One of the (many) issues we face in the classical music business is that of the created distance between performers and audiences. Many of us feel that this is unnecessary and is distancing potential music lovers. While others feel the need for that distance believing that the arts (and music)* deserve respect and should prevent themselves from becoming “ordinary” and therefore “mundane.” I do agree that there are ways of respecting tradition and supporting the preservation of “high art forms,” but I do not think that this means music should not be popular. I have also encountered an attitude that if one makes oneself too available, one is selling oneself too cheaply. “Value” or “worth” therefore declines as does respect towards the artist and his or her artistry. From a marketing point of view, some believed that an artist needed an element of mystery. Particularly in classical music, the sense that it must be distinguished from pop culture may contribute to classical musicians appearing a bit aloof. I will not make further comments here, but feel free to read between my lines.

I certainly do feel that music is a great privilege bestowed on those who have had the opportunity to experience it. This is not to say that music is elitist or so specialized that it only concerns a particular group of people. Rather, I feel that music is a wonderful—almost miraculous—mechanism to externalize and to communicate our entire range of psyche in an aesthetically pleasing, socially acceptable, and emotionally supporting manner. It is only “almost miraculous” because music was created by humans and not by super-humans. Essentially, the arts enable one to commune with oneself (emotionally, physically, and experientially) and with each other. Ultimately, music exists within the soul of individuals and, when unlocked, only continues to enrich us in our awareness of being.

I did go off on a tangent, but going back to the post-concert greeting, and the issue of a gap between performers and audiences, I stand on the side of advocating for “humanizing” the concert experience. I believe this is important because anything that enables performers and audiences to interact and encourages listeners to be receptive is beneficial. “Meet and Greet” is not the only way in which performers and audiences can interact. It is only one of many, and I look forward to exploring other possibilities.

I have to mention some obstacles I encounter when trying to have direct contact with audiences, such as by going out to say “hello” after performances. The resistance frequently comes from concert organizers, who cite one or more of the following:

We only want you to meet the sponsors because they are very supportive and very special. They will not wait for you to come to the reception unless you come immediately after the concert;

We have never done a “Meet and Greet” before;

We don’t have the staff to handle it. I have to consult the security officer;

There are going to be too many people;

You MUST be exhausted;

We do not have a way of letting people know that you will be coming out to the lobby; not everyone will get to meet you, and those who find out about it later will complain.

While some artists do formal signing sessions of their CDs after performances, I prefer to do this informally. I like to chat, answer questions, listen to the listeners’ points of view, etc. Signing autographs and taking photos are fine, too, but it is the “human touch” that is welcomed and appreciated.

Doug, how do you think artists and organizers both in the East and the West can work together to promote a more natural way of interaction? This issue crosses cultural boundaries; we need to put our heads together.


* Although as a musician I often say "music" but I believe that many of these points apply to the arts in general. Therefore, I use the two words interchangeably.

Posted by at 12:03 PM | Comments (2)

June 22, 2005

Of East And West...

Hi Midori,

I wonder if this east/west distinction means much anymore. Not that there aren't differences, but they don't seem to be reliable differences. It seems more and more difficult to make cultural generalizations that hold up.

When I lived in China about ten years ago, the biggest Chinese pop star was a guy who sounded like Elvis. On the streets of Beijing you could buy the latest bootlegged Western pop. In the conservatory where I taught, Western classical music was the language and the students were more familiar with it than they were with traditional Chinese music.

As mass culture in the US fragments, one could make similar observations. Is there any such thing as "mainstream" music anymore? Certainly it isn't classical. And there isn't really any music we all listen to now the Top 40 is dead...

But you're in Hong Kong now. I've always wondered why such a big city, such a beautiful city and in so many ways one of Asia's major hubs, seems so underdeveloped when it comes to the arts. Shanghai or Tokyo seem to have much more going on. I know there are ambitious plans to build a major cultural center, but it seems like catch up. Any ideas why?


Posted by mclennan at 9:54 PM

West Meets East

Dear Doug,

I've been here in Asia since last Sunday evening. The 16-hour flight from New York to Hong Kong is a hazard to one's health, for the most part, but what awaits on the other side is just fabulous. I was most impressed, on my arrival, by the huge raindrops and the explosive lightning and thunder. Their sounds resonate deep in my bones. They also reminded me of the short stories of Somerset Maugham which vividly kindled my teenage imagination of the tremendous rainfalls in this part of the world.

Last night was our first recital on the tour, in Macau--a short 55-minute ride away from Hong Kong by jet boat. Tonight, we play again, in Hong Kong, which, although geographically close to Macau is in fact quite different. The air - and as a result, the atmosphere-at-large - feels distinct in each place. This, coupled with an interview question I encountered, "How do you feel about bringing Western music back with you to Asia?" started me thinking about the East/West topic.

Doug, you spent some time teaching in China. What are your thoughts?

East meets West or, as is the case here in Asia, West meets East, is a fascinating study of cultural evolution. In particular with music and music students, the question also encompasses that of natural versus nurtured musicality. Sometimes I also think that it's not so simple to categorize the two (meaning East and West) with such clarity within a culture. Perhaps, at least in my own experience, rather than East meets West or West meets East, it is more a question of East converges with West.

However, in Hong Kong and Macau, some of the distinctiveness of East and West is still apparent. At least on the surface, the British influences are clear in Hong Kong, and the Portuguese in Macau. For example, street signs and public announcements (like "Ladies and Gentlemen, please remember to turn off your mobile phones"), appear in English and Chinese in Hong Kong and in Portuguese, Chinese, and English in Macau. I would say that the existence of the West is seemingly much more seamless in Japan, which is where I grew up.

To be reminded that Japan was completely closed (at least officially) to the West and its influences for over 250 years until 1854, and at what lightning speed some elements of the Western culture have become part of Japanese society is absolutely breathtaking. More to the point, in my case, I grew up thinking (and feeling) that music was Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, even Stravinsky, Bartok, and Prokofiev. There was classical music, which was “music,” and then everything else bulked together in one. All other genres of music were exotic and mysterious including jazz and Traditional Japanese music. For me, a Schubert lieder was much more "normal" and "understandable" than the infamous Japanese song "Sakura, Sakura."

So, in this sense, I do not feel at all that I'm bringing "back" a piece of Western culture to Asia. I am simply playing the type of music, which was always a part of my life.

Some might say but that I grew up in the West. Of course. I did. The West which was in Osaka, Japan.

Did you know that music became a part of mandatory education in Japan in 1872? And that this education was heavily invested in Western music? Music class is still given to all elementary school children in Japan although the number of hours per week is decreasing. I was pleased to learn that Hong Kong’s educational system also requires the inclusion of music education in the schools. To know that the existence of music, both Eastern and Western, is being encouraged by the authorities is, to say the least, more than motivating for me.

Another interesting point is that Japan is still one of the busiest markets for classical music despite the fact that both Hong Kong and Macau must have had a longer and more consistent Western influence over the years. In Hong Kong and Macau, the "popularity" and "availability" of classical music is not as apparent.

I shall continue with more of my thoughts in the next coming days. Is culture inherent?


Posted by at 3:13 AM | Comments (2)

June 20, 2005

...Midori in Asia

is a two-week blog (June 22-July 3) conversation between violinist Midori and ArtsJournal editor Douglas McLennan while Midori is on tour performing and teaching in Asia...
About Midori's Tour
In the last two weeks of June, I will be hopping around in Asia--Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, and Japan. In addition to recitals in five cities, I will be working with young violinists in Singapore, with music industry/music management students in two Japanese universities, and with school children and youth orchestras exploring musical imagination.

My collaboration with the university students is part of an on-going project called Total Experience, which I initiated in 2002, during my 20th anniversary year.

My objective was to challenge the generic concert presentation style by working closely with presenters to create a concert that would be a personal experience for all involved: the audience, performers, presenters, and local community. Another objective was to engage as many as possible of the senses of those taking part in the hope that the memory of the theme-related activities would remain in their minds for a long time afterwards.

My recital is only one of many activities where the theme is alive. This year's theme, "Wa," means a wheel or a circle. How will the students come up with ideas for all of us to experience "Wa?" I eagerly await their input.

My work with school children and youth orchestras is part of Music Sharing, an organization formerly known as Midori and Friends Tokyo Office, which changed names, developed new programs and was granted non-profit status by the Japanese government in 2002. This year, Music Sharing has chosen the theme "imagination." I am amazed and inspired by children's imagination in how they respond to music and musicians. Our interaction gives me great pleasure.

Posted by mclennan at 12:38 PM

We'll post press stories about Midori's tour as they are published...

Posted by mclennan at 9:57 AM

Midori's official website
Macau Cultural Center
Hong Kong
Midori and Friends

Posted by mclennan at 9:51 AM


first picked up the violin at the age of four in Osaka, studying and practicing with her mother, Setsu Goto, herself an accomplished violinist. At the age of six Midori made her concert debut in Osaka, and three years later came to The Juilliard School in New York to study with Dorothy Delay. When she was eleven, she made her debut with the New York Philharmonic under the baton of Zubin Mehta... ...In 1990 she made her Carnegie Hall debut, which was recorded and issued as a live recording to wide acclaim. In 1991 she was back at Carnegie for the concert hall's historic 100th Anniversary concert, which was recorded and broadcast around the world. That year she also set up the first of her non-profit organizations, Midori & Friends, to promote music education in New York City; she later added Music Sharing in Japan and Partners in Performance in North America. Midori devotes a significant part of her schedule each year to all her organizations, working to bring music to outlying communities and to children in particular. In the mid-90s, she entered New York University, ultimately graduating magna cum laude with a degree in psychology and gender studies. She completes her Master's Degree, also in psychology, in May 2005. In 2001 Midori was awarded the prestigious Avery Fisher Prize, and in 2002 was named Instrumentalist of the Year by Musical America. Besides performing worldwide and actively participating in outreach projects through her foundations, she is on the violin faculties of two music schools: the Manhattan School of Music, and Thornton School of Music at USC, where she holds the Jascha Heifetz Chair. midori2[1].gif

Posted by mclennan at 9:47 AM

Midori's two weeks in Asia

6/21 Macau (recital)
6/22 Hong Kong (recital)
6/24 Singapore (recital)
6/25 Singapore (master class)
6/28 Niigata University (Total Experience)
6/30 Showa Music College (Total Experience)
7/1 Music Sharing Lecture Concerts (two school concerts)
7/3 Tokyo - Music Sharing Special Concert (public concert with selected youth orchestras)

On the non-concert days, there are rehearsals, meetings, etc., etc.

Posted by mclennan at 9:43 AM

Midori in Asia

This blog officially begins on Wednesday, June 22. During the next two weeks Midori and I will be talking about her tour of Asia, where she's not only performing concerts, but working with students and audiences. So check back Wednesday for the start of our dialogue, and join in.

Posted by mclennan at 9:33 AM | Comments (2)