One thing that all fans of classical music might agree on is that little is as thrilling as hearing a youthful musician playing to a standard of technique and artistic mastery more commonly associated with a player two or three times her age. There may be an element of democracy in the perception of talent, but when it came to a barely teen-aged Midori, the public opinion was beyond clear. With one of her earliest performances in the United States being with the New York Philharmonic at its New Year’s Eye gala at the age of 11, reputation already preceded the violinist taking the Tanglewood stage for Leonard Bernstein’s annual Serge and Olga Koussevitzky Memorial Concert with the Boston Symphony in 1986. On technical merit alone, the New York Times reported afterward, Midori, then 14, had already won over the night with a near-flawless performance of the first four movements of Bernstein’s Serenade from memory. But during the fifth and final movement, she really showed her mettle. When her E string (the thinnest on the violin) snapped, with but a moment’s pause to affix her chin rest to the concertmaster’s instrument she carried on unfazed with the larger violin—until the E string snapped again. She again turned to the orchestra and received the acting associate concertmaster’s violin with haste, not even switching the chin rest until a moment’s respite in her part arrived. Having finished the night on three very different violins—a difference made imperceptible to the listener by her Herculean musicianship—she received due congratulations from the audience, the two BSO musicians, and an awestruck and grateful Bernstein. (The composer-conductor led the New York Philharmonic on a tour with Glenn Dicterow playing the work a week later, including a stop at Ravinia that marked the work’s last performance at the festival. It will be featured anew under the bow of Joshua Bell in Ravinia’s Bernstein centennial celebration next summer, curated and led by the maestro’s protégée Marin Alsop.)
The following year, Pinchas Zukerman made his last tour with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra to Ravinia even more of a can’t-miss event with the introduction to Chicago of that same young virtuoso, whom he had heartily supported from the podium even before her Bernstein heroics. Midori announced herself at Ravinia on September 11, 1987, with Mendelssohn’s spirited concerto, as well as one of Bach’s duo concertos with Zukerman on the other solo part—the Chicago Tribune reflected on the event as “a remarkable discovery.” Midori retook Ravinia’s Pavilion stage the following summer to perform Sibelius with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and that fall she helped inaugurate a concert series in what’s known today as Bennett Gordon Hall, where she has since returned as a faculty member of Ravinia’s Steans Music Institute.