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November 2008: PiP Goes West to Reno, Nevada
October 2007: PiP Concerts in Minnesota
November 2006: Our PiP Weekend in Maryland
November 2003: The First PiP Concert

November 2008: PiP Goes West to Reno, Nevada

by Cathy J. Chapman Walters
Director, Performing Arts Programs
University of Nevada - Reno

As a recipient of a concert sponsored by Partners in Performance, The University of Nevada, Reno Performing Arts Series hosted a sold-out recital featuring Midori and pianist Charles Abramovic and a community masterclass by Midori on November 15, 2008.  The impact of this performance in our community has yet to be fully felt, but early feedback from our audiences included statements such as “Wow, I have never heard anybody talk to me like that through an instrument. I could hear every nuance of the music as if the composer was talking to me,” or “This concert has changed how I will listen to music from now on.” Having access to this level of performance has shifted our audience members’ ears and will allow them to continue enjoying and expanding their enjoyment of chamber music.

In addition to audience growth, the Performing Arts Series experienced an increase in season ticket sales which we attribute to Midori and Charles being on the series. The patrons who joined us because of the recital will also be introduced to a wide variety of chamber music, from jazz to classical, with a little improv theatre added into the mix. We hope that their experience with the series will compel them to join us again next year.

Midori’s masterclass featured two graduate students from the University’s Orchestral Studies Program in front of an audience of approximately 85.  Gordon Tsai played a movement from the Mozart Concerto in D, and Emily Cox played a movement from the Prokofiev Concerto No. 2.  Each student received approximately 20 minutes of coaching from Midori, who brought an inspiring energy to the masterclass. The students were taken beyond technical restrictions to a level of musicality that allowed them to soar. Audience members were taken with Midori’s ability and desire to have every note serve the music and assist the musician with communicating their musical message.

With the assistance we receive from Partners in Performance, along with the proceeds from the November 15 recital, we will continue to bring a chamber music groups on the series for the 2009-2010 series and beyond.  This funding is particularly important to us as our state and university are going through difficult budget times.

October 2007: PiP Concerts in Minnesota

by Charles Danziger

As a quintessential New Yorker, I mainly thought of Minnesota as the setting for the popular Mary Tyler Moore television show. But traveling with Midori and Bob McDonald this past autumn to two rural communities in Western Minnesota as part of the Partners in Performance ("PiP") recital series opened my eyes to the wonders of this extraordinary part of the country.

Bob and I arrived in Minneapolis from New York on a Wednesday morning. We were met by Midori, who, as is typical for her, had flown through the night from Los Angeles. She appeared in a newly rented car. Despite my polite skepticism about Midori's driving abilities (it was the first time I had ever seen her behind the wheel, and she had gotten her license only recently), she navigated the roads expertly into the city.

For the rest of the day, the two musicians immediately launched into an all-day practice session at the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra Center, while I "played hooky" and explored the extraordinary Walker Art Center, housed in a shimmering building designed by the Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron.

At dinner, we satisfied Midori's cravings for pasta in a local Italian restaurant. Newly fueled by spaghetti Bolognese, we then made the three-hour trek to our first stop on the PiP tour: Fergus Falls, located in Minnesota's evocatively named "Otter Tail county."

Early the next morning, Midori and Bob began practicing at the local performance venue. It looked like a little cinema, located in the center of town, and glowed with inviting lights in the evening.

Meanwhile, I explored Fergus Falls' charming, "old world" downtown (which included a surprisingly good Mexican restaurant). True to its name, the town also had a little river running through it, although no otter tails were in sight. As I explored the few streets in the center of town, I was asked more than once where I was from, and why I was visiting. When I explained to one waitress at the local coffee shop that PiP had chosen Fergus Falls to benefit from a concert by Midori and Bob, I was met with a flush of pride.

During the day, it became clear that today was Midori's birthday (a secret that was let out both by Bob, and by an announcement on National Public Radio). We marked the occasion in low-key Midwestern fashion, with a cupcake and candle.

That evening's recital was nothing short of stunning. It consisted of Dvorák, Romantic Pieces, Op.75; Franck, Sonata for Violin and Piano in A Major; Beethoven Sonata for Piano and Violin in A Major, Op. 30, No.1; and Corigliano Sonata for Violin and Piano.

The audience included fans of all ages. (I had arrived in a blazer and tie, and was clearly overdressed among the sea of plaid shirts in the audience.) Large school groups from Fargo, N.D., had bought tickets for the Fergus Falls concert. The presenter very smartly decided to add more chairs to squeeze in extra fans to the sold-out event.

It was inspirational to see an audience so entranced by the music, and to be part of an event that was unheard of in such a small town.

After the concert, Midori held a Q&A session with the children in the audience. One charming girl, who was clearly trying to figure out how much time she needed to practice violin, asked how long Midori had practiced each day as child. Another wanted to know what the name "Midori" means. There was generous time for photographs with Midori afterwards.

The executive director of the Center for the Arts in Fergus Falls, Rebecca Petersen, could not have been more welcoming. In fact, at the end of the evening, she invited us to her lovely home, where we sat around a cozy table, enjoyed some Norwegian cheese and tea, chatted with her and her husband Mark, and admired their dog.

The following morning, we piled back into the car and drove two hours to Dawson, MN. We passed silos and windmills, and stopped along the way to photograph some particularly picturesque cows.

I had thought that Fergus Falls, with its population of 13,722, was small, so imagine my surprise when we arrived at Dawson—population 1,500.

Happily, however, Dawson proved to be just as warm and welcoming, thanks largely to the graciousness of the presenter, The Dawson-Boyd Arts Association, and its director, Luanne Fondell. In fact, as we pulled up at the performance venue—the Memorial Auditorium at Dawson-Boyd High School—a teenager watched us get out of the car and, obviously aware of the evening's concert, said without hesitation: "Hi there, Midori. Welcome!"

I soon learned that Dawson has one of the oldest and most successful string programs for a city its size in the state of Minnesota.

Again, Midori and Bob spent the day practicing. I spent the afternoon riding a "corn combine" on a farm about an hour from Dawson (about the last place anyone would ever think to find me), thanks to friends who by sheerest coincidence own a farm nearby.

I returned to Dawson that evening in time for the concert.

That day turned out to be one that I will never forget. The experience of sitting atop a huge agricultural machine cutting corn in the middle of Minnesota in the afternoon, and then attending a virtuoso concert in the evening just an hour away, still seems surreal.

The concert itself was, again, spectacular—and even included an encore of "Syncopation" by Fritz Kreisler. Thirty students from Worthington traveled two hours each way to attend. The buzz in the audience was palpable.

After the recital, Midori again spent a long time greeting the audience. As a result, we got back in our car very late that night. We drove the three hours back to Minneapolis, arriving in the wee hours of the morning at a Travelodge, near the Minneapolis airport, for just a few hours sleep. (So much for any fantasies about the "glamorous" life of performers!) The next morning, Midori hopped on plane back to L.A., and Bob and I returned to NY.

Just a few days before the two concerts, a front-page feature in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune ran the headline: "How did Fergus Falls and Dawson land concerts by world-class violinist Midori? They asked."

I could answer that PiP could not have chosen more deserving recipients than these two wonderful communities.

November 2006: Our PiP Weekend in Maryland

by Charles Danziger

The weekend of November 4–5 marked another milestone in the history of Partners in Performance (PiP)—two unforgettable benefit performances by Midori and Robert McDonald in Maryland. I had the good fortune to accompany them.

After meeting in Pittsburgh (the closest major airport to our first venue), we three drove through the rolling hills of Pennsylvania and West Virginia into Maryland. It looked like autumn but felt like winter.

The first concert, at Garrett Lakes Arts Festival in McHenry, Maryland, was in an intimate and leafy college setting. Midori and Bob used the music teacher's room as their dressing room. The Executive Director, Lucinda Williams (who herself is an accomplished musician), could not have been more gracious and welcoming.

After practicing for most of the day, Midori and Bob gave a stellar performance. The program began with their duet of Beethoven's youthfully light Sonata in E-flat Major, Opus 12, No. 3. Midori then delivered a dazzling performance of Johann Sebastian Bach's Sonata in C Major BWV 1005, a piece at the pinnacle of solo literature for the solo violin. Following a brief intermission, the musicians returned as an inspiring duo in Claude Debussy's 1916 Sonata for Violin and Piano and the Violin and Piano Sonata in E-flat Major, Op. 18 by Richard Strauss.

Midori and Bob stayed for the reception following the concert, which included the best apple cider I have ever tasted. At dinner afterwards, a number of locals stopped at our table to say what an extraordinary experience the concert had been.

Early the next morning, we continued our journey, with Bob again behind the wheel of our trusty rental car. We drove through ski territory (including a town named, one hopes not prophetically, "Accident.") After about 2.5 hours, we arrived at our next destination: the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts in Hagerstown, Maryland. As we entered the town and noticed the beautifully maintained homes and charming local streets, Bob announced: "I like this town!"

We pulled up to the Museum, located along a stunning lake, and were immediately met by the museum's Director, Joe Ruzicka, whom I had known when we both worked at The Museum of Modern Art in New York (he on the art history side, and I as a lawyer). Throughout the next 12 hours, Joe and his staff were extremely professional and accommodating (not to mention providing delicious banana bread in the dressing room.)

Shortly before the concert, Midori graciously agreed to meet for an informal discussion with twenty-four top students who had been nominated for a chance to meet her by local high school and college music departments. In the intimate setting of the Museum's library, Midori went around the room and enthusiastically asked each student about his or her school and musical interests. She then fielded questions about musical technique and composition, and about her influences, motivation and drive. She encouraged them to continue developing their love for music, regardless of their future career choices.

The concert itself, set in the heart of the Museum, was splendid. A Museum trustee had donated tickets for young music students to attend. Joe explained that the concert was in honor of the Museum's 75th anniversary and its long-time dedication to chamber music—and said that it was the most extraordinary musical event that the Museum had ever presented. All proceeds from the concert were allocated to the Museum's endowment and dedicated to supporting the Museum's free Sunday afternoon concerts.

Following the concert, Midori and Bob greeted the audience at a reception. Before you knew it, we were back in the rental car, heading towards Baltimore, from where Midori took the last flight back to L.A. and Bob and I took a late-night Amtrak back to New York. Since there was no time for dinner, we were grateful for the last crumbs of banana bread and the few canapes I had stolen from the reception.

In the best PiP tradition, the two benefit concerts not only raised funds for ongoing concert series at these deserving venues, but also created lasting memories for everyone involved. The weekend also showed what a diverse and wonderful place Maryland is.

November 2003: The First PiP Concert

by Charles Danziger

The first concert to launch Midori's extraordinary new foundation, "Partners in Performance" (affectionately known as "PiP"), took place on Sunday, November 2, 2003, in Plymouth, New Hampshire. The purpose of PiP is to bring top-flight performers of chamber music and recitals to under-served venues in the U.S. that would not normally have the funds, stature, or connections to attract such talent. Plymouth, New Hampshire was delighted to have been chosen.

Midori (and, we hope, other performers in the future) donated her services, and the money from ticket sales will be used to sponsor further classical music events. Friends of the Arts in Plymouth, like the next two presenters on the PiP tour (The Chandler Center for the Arts in Randolph, Vermont, and Algonquin Arts in Manasquan, New Jersey), had been selected because of their impressive record of promoting the arts and serving the local community.

Although I myself am as far from a musician as one can imagine (I'm actually an arts lawyer in New York City), I was delighted when Midori asked me to be one of four trustees of PiP, the seed money for which came from the prize money she won as part of her Avery Fisher Prize two years ago.

At 7:45 am on October 31 (an inhumanly early hour for late-sleeping Manhattanites like me), seven of us—including, of course, Midori—piled into a rented car on New York's Upper West Side and made the six-hour trek to the leafy town of Plymouth. We were fueled by coffee and doughnuts, navigated by Midori's assistant Kelly Gehrs, and masterfully driven by a brilliant advisor to Midori on all things musical, Marcos Klorman. Another trusted trustee, Evelyn Velleman, had come all the way from London to join us, and Midori's press agent, Kathryn King, and her daughter, completed our merry band. During the car ride, we discussed the future of PiP, and especially how best to expand the organization by reaching out to other artists, performing art centers, and funders.

On the way to Plymouth, we stopped at New Hampshire's discount shopping outlets (which is, after all, also a part of American culture). Our car nearly bursting with the fruits of this little detour, we finally arrived at our destination: the "Common Man Inn," a rambling wooden hotel near the concert hall. I realized that we had truly landed in the countryside when I saw the chandeliers made of antlers and the fireplaces in the rooms. The Inn was, in fact, a recently converted popsicle factory.

That evening, our hosts in Plymouth graciously arranged a delicious dinner in honor of Midori and PiP at a home the likes of which I had never seen. We approached it through a series of small country roads and, as in a modern-day Hansel and Gretel, we arrived to find a path illuminated with bright white lights that guided us to the house. Nestled in the dark woods and built and inhabited by an architect, the house had all the fantasy and playfulness of the Spanish architect Gaudi, with a little Walt Disney thrown in: multi-level floors, a spiraling staircase, and cozy cave-like rooms.

The other dinner party guests, all members of the local community, shared Midori's vision of supporting the arts in parts of the country that are literally and figuratively cut off. They also each had their own intriguing stories of how they had "landed" in Plymouth: one was a die-hard skier from Austria who had fallen in love with the beautiful New Hampshire mountains; another was a video artist from Boston who was inspired by nature; and a third was a transplanted Brooklynite who was a devoted hiker. The latter told me that, for safety reasons, she carries a loaded gun during night-walks (this was New Hampshire, after all—the state with the motto "Live Free or Die."). Each new acquaintance was equally charming and welcoming, and by the end of the evening—as I dipped into my second helping of chocolate cake and fresh fruit—I thought to myself that country living has its distinct advantages.

The following day, Midori rose at dawn (as usual) to prepare for the concert, while the rest of us lazily enjoyed our leisurely Sunday brunch. When we finally arrived at the concert hall, a young boy in the atrium was playing his violin to entertain the audience before the real concert began. As we milled about, the excitement of the day's event was palpable: a performance by the likes of Midori at this venue was, quite simply, unheard of.

Finally, the concert began, and Midori and her accompanist, the gifted pianist Charles Abramovic (who had flown up especially from Philadelphia), did not disappoint us. The first piece, the Paganini/Liszt La Campanella was, even to my untrained ears, fiendishly complicated and revealed Midori's virtuosity. It was, I thought, akin to the double-black diamond ski slopes located just a few miles away. We were riveted to our seats as Midori went on to play sonatas by Brahms, Bach, and Saint-Saens. The concert ended with an encore—Le Printemps (Spring) by Milhaud—that gave us all hope for the time of year when the leaves would once again come to the New Hampshire trees. The hushed audience was enthralled not only by the performance, but also by the unusual gift of music they had been chosen to receive.

Afterwards, as I put on my coat and began to contemplate the long ride back to New York, I was approached by a gentleman whom I remembered from the night before. He was a young music teacher in Plymouth (although his Italian accent suggested more distant roots.) He declared that this was the best concert he had ever attended, and that it would leave a lasting impression on his students. His parting words to me were: "New Hampshire is filled with trees, but PiP has brought us oxygen."