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Review: Larger-than-life Midori was just about unbelievable

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Wowee! What a treat we had in Rochester on Saturday night, with iconic Japanese violinist Midori joining the Rochester Symphony for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

The symphony offered free admission to children with adults, and I would like to send a special shout-out to the kids for their wonderful concert etiquette and manners — well done!

Before the concert began, the audience was treated to a short, tasteful video ad by Carlson Management, a generous sponsor. This was a first. While I personally found it off-putting, I understand that financial constraints make such endeavors more likely in today's world.

The concert began with two familiar works by Johannes Brahms, the Tragic Overture and Variations on a Theme of Haydn. Both were, as expected, very well done. While the first emphasized the warmth of the orchestra's strings and lower instruments in a Brahmsian brooding minor key, the second showed off more varied tone colors. The variations on the familiar theme moved in a spectrum of stately, flirty, edgy, earnest, lusty, eager and so on. The brass were a bit messy in places, but the ending was precise, dramatic and captivatingly accurate.

After intermission, the diminutive Midori entered the stage, but her petite stature belied the lioness in her, as if the physicality of her own body could hardly contain the musical expressiveness that just had to break out of her pores as naturally as breathing. In addition to this natural talent, she is also a great stage presence, knowing how to pull out the stops to thrill her audience.

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Some of her playing in Beethoven's Violin Concerto was just about unbelievable. For example, in the solo cadenza (a typically show-stopping opportunity for soloists to strut their stuff) near the end of the first movement, her playing of double stops (two notes played at the same time) was impeccable. This is a very hard thing to do, but Midori's intonation was spot on, the notes true, the sound clean yet expressive. The same was true for numerous fast runs she played at very low volume (pianissimo), another challenge on the violin.

The interchanges between orchestra and soloist were seamless; at times I wondered if perhaps the tempi (speeds) were a bit slower than I have heard them in the past, though it's difficult to remember such things. The hunting fanfare in the second movement was a bit flawed by the horns, yet the boldly galloping theme at the beginning of the third movement made you want to get up and move.

In short, this was a tremendous concert, one where the audience rewarded Midori with numerous curtain calls at the end.

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