Midori headlines the Asheville Amadeus Festival. Photo by K. Miura.
By Pete Zamplas- Grammy-winning master violinist Midori —a young prodigy 35 years ago — will mentor three talented local teen violinists who play with her in one of her several performances in headlining the third annual Asheville Amadeus Festival that runs March 10-19.
The acclaimed 10-day festival of classical music is inspired by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-91), but spans other composers and has concerts with performers other than Midori.
Myles McKnight, shown playing with the Asheville Youth Orchestra, will play the energetic final Bach Double Concerto movement along with superstar Midori. Photo by Mike Morel.
Midori Gotō — known simply by her first name — was featured soloist on an album that won the 2014 Grammy for Best Classical Compendium. Her 10-CD set came out a year ago.
Midori burst into limelight at age 11, in accompanying the New York Philharmonic’s New Year’s Eve Gala in 1982. The Japanese-born phenom and Julliard grad is a famed virtuoso with recordings and zestful flair on stage. She plays a 283-year-old violin — a 1734 Guarnerius del Gesù ‘ex-Huberman’ — and varies between four bows. Married and now 45, she had her first child over two years ago.
She gives rising talent the spotlight. Sisters Elizabeth and Phoebe Propst of Asheville High School then North Henderson junior Myles McKnight of Fletcher take turns in that order as lead soloists, in violin duets with Midori on Saturday, March 18. They also each get a half-hour of tutoring from Midori.
The three won a judged audition a half-year ago, each with a “mature approach to the piece,” Asheville Symphony Youth Orchestra (ASYO) Manager Cara Jenkins said.
The upcoming honor is “so amazing,” said Elizabeth Propst, AHS junior and debate whiz. She recently placed 13th in a nationwide music competition at Harvard. “This definitely will be the biggest concert I’ve ever played in.”
Phoebe Popst, an AHS freshman, is the youngest of three local teens who get to play violin with Midori. Photo by Mike Morel.
McKnight is eager to “do a solo with a Grammy-winning violinist. The students are in the spotlight, and Midori is supporting us. We get to collaborate with one of the greatest musicians alive — almost like her colleagues. The thrill is we’re going to be her calling, for a week. It’ll be on our resumes forever.” So while a “daunting” challenge, such a chance is “everything I’ve worked toward since I was seven.”
Phoebe Propst foresees an “exciting opportunity to play the leading parts with her. It’s awesome. It’s incredible to get to work together.” The freshman has played violin for 11 years.
She admires Midori for putting others first. “Some soloists focus on their own music. She blends with the orchestra. She has done this for a long time. She has gone beyond technique, to telling a story.”
Her more introverted sister describes Mozart’s music as “simple and clean, very clear.” Daffy Mozart by many accounts was “definitely an immature kid, emotionally. Yet his music is so beautiful and developed.” McKnight lauds the “elegance.”
The three teens will help perform Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins (“Bach Double Concerto”), as part of a concert by about 120 ASYO youths. The concert begins at 2 p.m., in Thomas Wolfe Auditorium (TWA). A post-show reception provides milk and 5,000 Girl Scouts cookies. Tickets are $20 per adult, $10 per youth.
Elizabeth Propst sees the first movement as “more exciting than the second — which is contemplative, and beautiful” and her sister plays. “It’s more composed than the third,” which is “let it all out.”
That suits McKnight, the energetic anchor of this musical relay. “ I like fast, energetic playing,” he said. “The freedom of movement when I play does enhance my confidence — and therefore enhances my performance.” He has played at Brevard Music Center. He will “assess acoustics” of Wolfe while “tuning, while first on stage. I use that time to settle myself, to get the shakes out of my arms.”
ASO Exec. Dir. David Whitehill speaks at the LAF Critical Issues Luncheon, as fellow Amadeus Festival panelist Charlie Flynn-McIver listens. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
McKnight likes ASYO camaraderie. The political centrist said “classical musicians have broader ideas and opinions than” more typically-liberal pop musicians.” He said ASYO peers “share my passion with language learning. We have broad enough interests beyond music, to connect on many levels.”
Middle and high school string students from across Buncombe County will converge to hear youths perform with Midori in two free concerts March 17. The first is at T.C Roberson Friday, 10 a.m., the other at 12:30 p.m. in Erwin High School.
Midori’s main concert will be the festival finale on Sunday, March 19 at 3 p.m. in Thomas Wolfe Auditorium. She plays with the Chamber Chorus of Asheville Symphony Orchestra (ASO). Daniel Meyer conducts. Four pieces include Mozart’s Symphony no. 25, K, 385 Haffner. A 32-foot stage extension puts musicians closer to the audience to greatly boost acoustics even for extra, on-stage seating behind the orchestra, ASO Exec. Dir. David Whitehill noted. Tickets are $28-93 per adult, and $15 or $35 per youth.
There are two festival-related plays. Intriguing “The Other Mozart” is Sylvio Milo as Wolfgang’s elder sister Maria Anna “Nannerl” Mozart. She had to stop touring at age 18 and marry, per Austrian custom then. Milo wrote and acts in this drama, in an 18-foot gown. The show is March 15-16 at 8 p.m., in Diana Wortham Theatre (DWT).
Stephen Temperley’s comedy “Souvenir: A Fantasia on the Life of Florence Foster Jenkins” runs in N.C. Stage Co. March 15-April 2. This true story depicts an eccentric soprano in the Thirties. She did not realize how awfully she sang, NCSC co-founder and Artistic Dir. Charlie Flynn-McIver said. He noted “it takes a really good singer, to sing off-key,” and in the show to briefly sing spot-on to reveal how Florence imagines hearing her singing voice. He said though perhaps looney, “her drive and passion was there.”
Comedy and music sound out on opening night March 11, with Victor Borge-like antics of violin-piano duo of “Igudesman & Joo: And Now Mozart.” Shows are in Diana Wortham Theatre, at 3 and 8 p.m.
Flynn-McIver, Whitehill and and DWT Managing Dir. John Ellis talked about the festival as panelists of Leadership Asheville Forum’s Critical Issues Luncheon Feb. 22 at the Country Club of Asheville.
They touted musical variety, such as ASO on the new family EP entitled Mozartistic, backing “kid-hop” witty rap of Grammy winner Secret Agent 23 Skidoo (Joel Sullivan) with Mozart snippets. The EP release party is March 19, 2:30 p.m. in the Orange Peel club.
The festival’s free kickoff is Friday, March 10 at 7 p.m. in Highland Brewing.
Hendersonville’s Christopher Tavernier plays with ASO for the first time, in the festival March 15. This is by virtue of winning its Young Artist Competition last year. “It’s going to be a great experience,” he said. He will play a Mendelssohn piece he calls “energetic, light, happy.” He praises the festival for “ promoting music among younger kids.”
Sisters Elizabeth and Phoebe Propst. Photo by Susan Propst.
The pianist also won Hendersonville Symphony Orchestra’s youth competition, with violinist McKnight runner-up. He said McKnight has steadily “developed. He’s quite brilliant.” McKnight admires Tavernier’s “coolness,” and blend of “confidence” with “humility.”
Education is pivotal to Amadeus Fest. Midori spreads her joy for music to youths, expanding education to those in urban and rural areas. She chairs SoCal’s strings department. She founded non-profit Midori & Friends in 1992 in New York City. She is behind Partners in Performance, also Music Sharing in Japan.
“It is great to see a community coming together, to support its young musicians,” she stated. Asheville is merely one of two cities she chose for this year, in her Orchestra Residencies Program of week-long residencies with smaller-budgeted American youth orchestras.
On March 16, Midori will play Mozart music for a pre-K children sing-along at 11 a.m. in West Asheville Library, and later coach ASYO musicians in a master class at 4 p.m. in First Baptist’s Academy for the Arts.
Midori will speak out in forums March 15 and 17, such as on collaborations. As Whitehill put it, the aim is to “tie the arts together.”Ellis said “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
For more on festival events, check http://ashevillesymphony.org/asheville-amadeus/. For more on Midori, check http://www.gotomidori.com.