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FIRST STRING <br> VIOLINIST MIDORI WILL SHOW THE BPO HOW SHE HAS PLAYED HER WAY TO CENTER STAGE IN THE MUSICAL WORLD

Amid a barrage of flashbulbs, Leonard Bernstein fell to his knees and hugged the 14-year-old violinist. The picture made the front page of the New York Times.

What's this all about?

It's just one of many anecdotes illustrating the remarkable poise and composure of violinist Midori, who will be in Buffalo next weekend for two performances of the Elgar Violin Concerto with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and Music Director JoAnn Falletta.

In this case, it was a concert at the Boston Symphony Orchestra's summer home, Tanglewood, when Midori was soloist in Bernstein's "Serenade," with the composer conducting.

During the performance she broke the E string on her violin. Calmly she walked over to the concertmaster, requisitioned his violin, and continued.

Later the impossible happened. She snapped another E string. This time she invaded the second violin section and borrowed another fiddle, still completely unflapped, and finished the performance to a deafening ovation and Bernstein's dramatic tribute.

Midori's artistic accomplishments would warrant the label "superstar." But in most other respects, she is a person of quiet, private introspection and has never fit that mold.

Candor and honesty seem to be prime traits. She is a rarity in that she still selects all the engagements she will play strictly on her own. That means that when you see Midori playing the Elgar Concerto with the BPO next weekend, she will be out there on the Kleinhans stage because she wants to be there, and not for financial reasons.

At age 29 (she turns 30 on Thursday1 0/2 5), when many talented artists might just be gaining some recognition, Midori is looking forward to the 20th anniversary of her concert debut.

It was conductor Zubin Mehta who had been so impressed with the 10-year-old violinist's prodigious talent that he invited her to be a surprise guest soloist at the New York Philharmonic's 1981 New Year's Eve concert.

The same poise she demonstrated while breaking two violin strings at age 14 was evident even in her earlier years.

She was born in Osaka, Japan, in 1971 as Midori Goto, and made her public debut at age 6 playing one of the fiendishly difficult Paganini Caprices for solo violin. Two years later she sent a tape to the Juilliard School's famed pedagogue Dorothy Delay, and presto, she was in Juilliard's pre-college division.

A couple of years after that, faced with her parents' impending divorce, she displayed remarkable independence and resourcefulness for a pre-teen. She dropped the last name Goto and struck out on her own, living alone in New York.

Since then she's been just Midori, and has created enough anecdotes to fill a book.

When The Buffalo News recently tracked Midori down by phone in Frankfurt, Germany, and asked her about the Elgar work she will play in Buffalo, her response brought to mind the old adage that if one could accurately describe music with words, we wouldn't need the music.

"I love the Elgar Violin Concerto," Midori said. "In fact, I love almost all of Elgar's music.

"But if you ask me what exactly it is about Elgar that appeals to me, I wouldn't be able to tell you."

This problem of describing music in words obviously applies to top level performing musicians as well as ardent music lovers and, yes, professional writers on the subject.

So there!

Midori wasn't much more enlightening when she tried to expand on her first thoughts.

"I've played the Violin Concerto for many years," she explained, "first as a student, but I'm rather new at performing it in public. Nonetheless, it feels like it's very much inside me."

At any rate, Midori will play the big, rich, romantic Elgar Violin Concerto with the BPO in Kleinhans Music Hall at 8 p.m. Saturday and at 2:30 p.m. next Sunday, with preconcert talks an hour prior to each performance. Falletta will open the concerts by conducting "The White Peacock" by Charles Tomlinson Griffes, Ravel's "Rapsodie Espagnole" and the Suite No. 2 from Manuel de Falla's ballet "The Three Cornered Hat."

And the chances are strong that Midori's playing will eloquently answer the question of her fondness for Elgar, where words had failed her during the interview.

There is also a private side of Midori's life which doesn't get much publicity, but consumes almost as much of her energy as concertizing.

Nine years ago she founded an educational program called Midori & Friends.

"We do mostly general music for kids from kindergarten through grade three," Midori said. "What we try to give them is just basic musical knowledge, to nurture them through music so that it becomes a natural and enjoyable part of their lives.

"We've expanded quite a lot recently, the point that we now have about 130 of these free classes every week in the New York City area, exploring the ways music is used in different cultures. We also do community concerts for children and their families."

In addition to this, Midori's voracious mind is still devouring more formal education.

"Just last year I got a bachelor's degree," she said, "and am now pursuing graduate studies. I've got to the point that I now only have one credit and my master's thesis to do, and that's it, I'm finished."

Asked how she finds time for advanced academic work, with all the other things in her life, Midori was unequivocal.

"I make time!" was the emphatic reply.

In the even more private area of home life, Midori takes great pleasure from her two dogs, Willa, a West Highland white terrier, and Franzie, a long-haired dachshund.

"I named the Terrier after one of my favorite authors, Willa Cather," Midori explained.

"And I named the dachshund Franzie for no particular reason. But so many people kept asking why, that I had to make up an answer. So I said the dog was named after Franz Josef Haydn, because I think, of all the great composers, his birthday was closest to the dog's."

e-mail: htrotter@buffnews.com