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By Shauna Farnell

One of the world’s most highly respected and acclaimed violinists, Midori returns to Colorado this weekend to perform with the National Repertory Orchestra (NRO) for two special performances in Breckenridge (July 22) and Denver (July 23). The Japanese-born musician who moved to the U.S. and made her debut with the New York Philharmonic at age 11 will be performing the piece that largely made her famous – Leonard Bernstein’s “Serenade.”

Midori by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

Midori by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

Midori was only 14 years old when she first performed this piece with Bernstein himself in 1986 at the renowned Tanglewood Music Festival. In the fifth movement, young Midori broke the E string on her violin. After she was handed a different violin – larger than her own, which was suited to her small frame – she played on, undaunted. Somehow, after a few moments, the E string on the borrowed violin suddenly snapped. The riveting concerto continued as she was handed yet another instrument. Again unfazed, she melted back into the final movement flawlessly, without interruption.

The performance made the cover of the following day’s New York Times, the headline: “Girl, 14, Conquers Tanglewood with 3 Violins.” The author described Midori’s performance as “heroic,” detailing the hugs and kisses from the concertmasters whose instruments she’d borrowed as well as the “stomping, whistling ovation” from the audience, the orchestra and Bernstein himself.

However, for Midori, “Serenade,” which will be conducted on July 22 and 23 by NRO Music Director Michael Stern, holds profound substance beyond the excitement and accolades of that legendary performance.

“It has a very, very, special place, in my heart, this piece,” Midori told the NRO in a recent online interview. “It’s not what many people think in terms of why it’s so meaningful to me. To be playing this with Michael is so full of wonderful and poignant memories of Isaac Stern and Leonard Bernstein.”

Isaac Stern, a preeminent violinist who won six Grammy Awards as well as the Presidential Medal of Freedom before he passed away in 2001, was Michael Stern’s father as well as Midori’s beloved teacher. He was deeply involved in Midori’s teenage debut at Tanglewood and her preparation for “Serenade,” a piece he had originally commissioned and premiered with Bernstein.

“Mr. Stern was there all the way, through all the steps, working with me months before the performance through all the rehearsals at Tanglewood, and of course, at the performance,” Midori recalls. “I was fortunate enough to have many, many coaching lessons from Mr. Stern. Mr. Stern is the mentor that I always think of.”

She points out that July 21 is Isaac Stern’s birthday. His memory and influence, as well as that of Bernstein, who passed away in 1990, will be particularly momentous during these performances.

“Mr. Stern would have been 103 years old this year. We missed out very much on being able to give him more of a celebration in 2020 during his 100th. I miss him dearly and think about him often, even more often when I’m working on this piece,” she says. “I learned so much through this piece, way beyond what music is about. I learned a lot of life lessons.”

The upcoming concerts will mark Midori’s second with the NRO. She made her debut in Breckenridge in 2021, performing a concerto for two violins with an NRO violin fellow. The experience was reminiscent of the musician’s own developmental years.

“The NRO is really one-of-a-kind, especially for young players. Of course, it’s about the music. It’s about people coming together from all over the country, in fact, all over the world. They’re brought together because of music, because of the desire to learn this music, because of this special opportunity to make music together and learn from each other,” she says. “One forms special bonds. These extremely important friendships are formed. These are friendships that will go all the way through the ends of their careers. To have this concentrated time to be guided by somebody like Michael Stern, it makes one summer extremely special for young people.”


July 22: Midori Serenade – Breckenridge. Midori returns to the Riverwalk Center in Breckenridge at 6 p.m., Saturday, July 22 to perform with the National Repertory Orchestra (NRO) and Conductor Michael Stern. Tickets are $5-$55.

July 23: CPR Classical Presents Midori Serenade – Denver, a Kathie and Michael Massey Memorial Concert: Midori performs with the NRO and Conductor Michael Stern at 3 p.m. Sunday, July 23 in Gates Concert Hall at the Newman Center for Performing Arts in Denver. Tickets are $5-$85.

The program for both performances includes Leonard Bernstein’s “Serenade (after Plato’s Symposium),” Samuel Barber’s “Medea’s Dance of Vengeance, Iván Enrique Rodríguez’s “Luminis” and Maurice Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé, Suite No. 2.

Photo: Midori by Nigel Parry