Virtuoso violinist Midori teams up with the RSNO for Glanert world premiere

As the RSNO’s digital season gets under way, American-Japanese violin star Midori talks to Ken Walton about performing a new piece written specially for her by the German composer Detlev Glanert

Thursday, 15th October 2020, 11:10 am
Midori PIC: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders
Midori PIC: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

Open the programme booklet of violinist Midori’s new recording of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto and the first image you see is ominously prophetic: it’s a long-distance photo of the Festival Strings Lucerne on stage during the recording session, surrounded by ranks of empty audience seats.

The date was 1 March 2020. “We were due to go to Asia on tour, but that was immediately cancelled when the Covid-19 restrictions hit,” recalls the 48-year-old American-Japanese virtuoso. “We got permission to do the recording, which wouldn’t have happened if the tour had gone ahead, and managed a single live performance in the UK, but that was to be my last solo appearance for a long while. I flew back home to my mother’s in New York.” At that point the musical world as we know it stopped.

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Fast forward seven months, and Midori has just been abroad for the first time since to perform socially distanced concerts on Palermo, the Beethoven CD has just been released, and she is in Glasgow, recording the same concerto with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and its music director Thomas Søndergård for a streamed broadcast as part of the orchestra’s ten-concert Covid-friendly digital season.

Midori’s involvement is symbolic, given her expected presence as artist in residence for the RSNO’s originally published 2020-21 season, and the fact she will still be playing, over two programmes, the intended works - the Beethoven concerto and Detlev Glanert’s Violin Concerto No 2, written especially for her and co-commissioned by the RSNO.

There’s a conscious correspondence between both concertos. “I asked Glanert to make a connection, as I wanted the possibility of including both in the same programme, but didn’t specify what that should be,” Midori explains. The result was a concerto that not only replicates Beethoven’s scoring, but takes as its creative inspiration Beethoven’s famously effusive, unsent love letter to the mysterious “Immortal Beloved”.

The result, she says, is a work “that is incredibly beautiful, very lyrical, full of drama and tension building.” What’s more, this is now likely to be the world premiere, as the intended May unveiling in Hamburg didn’t happen, and a planned Tokyo performance later this month has been postponed till 2022.

Glanert, she believes, is “a wonderful composer.”

“I was privileged to attend the premiere of his latest opera Oceane last summer in Berlin. I absolutely loved it.” Scots conductor Donald Runnicles, who directed its premiere, describes the 60-year-old composer's score as “big, grandiose and gripping.” Midori detects a “definite relationship” between the violin concerto and the opera - “like his character, they are easy-going but also very serious”.

RSNO subscribers can view the Glanert online from 15 January. The Beethoven features from this coming Friday. And if that’s not soon enough, there’s always the sprightly new Lucerne recording, released on Warner and already available.

It’s a fairly classy album, characterised largely by the unsuppressed presence of the vibrant Lucerne orchestra over which Midori’s concerto interpretation flows with wholesome flavour and unfussy sentiment. There’s a definite sense of “we’re all in it together,” which is hardly surprising given the absence of a conductor - leader Daniel Dodds is the principal conduit.

This Beethoven thrives on the impulse and spontaneity of the corporate vibe, and if that has its drawbacks - periodic imbalances and off-centre attacks - it also has rewarding merits, and the added bonus of the composer’s two loquacious Romances for violin and orchestra.

All of that was recorded in March. Since then, and through the “raw reality” that was New York lockdown in April and May, Midori’s single focus has been “to think of a time we’d be able to make music again together.” It might not yet be the live thrill she hungers for, but the time spent recently filming with the RSNO has been a welcome step in the right direction. “At least streaming reminds us that music still exists.”

Midori’s Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with the RSNO is available to view online from 23 October; the Glanert Concerto from 15 January. Tickets and information on the full RSNO Digital Season available at Midori's new Beethoven album is out now on Warner Classics

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