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Liggett left in awe of Midori

Courtesy of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra's Civic and Education program and Dr. Clyde and Helen Wu, renowned violinist Midori visited University Liggett School Dec. 11. Pictured, Midori advises Andrew Wu, after the freshman's performance of Tchaikovsky's "Violin Concerto," on the importance of sound in conveying the performer's desired message. photo by Renee Landuyt.

December 19, 2013
Leonard Bernstein once knelt in awe before her. Her being Midori, at the time a 14-year-old violinist, who had just performed Bernstein's "Serenade" at Tanglewood, breaking two E-strings on two separate violins in the process before finishing the piece on associate concertmaster Max Hobart's Guadagnini.

The next day's headline in The New York Times read, "Girl, 14, Conquers Tanglewood with 3 Violins," setting in motion a legendary career that has included various awards and recognitions, such as Japan's prestigious Suntory Music Award and classical music's Avery Fisher Prize; and multiple community-based projects and outreach education programs for inner-city children and others around the world.

On Dec. 11, Midori, now 42, extended that outreach to University Liggett School, much to the astonishment of all involved.

"I can't believe Midori has arrived at Liggett school," said Helen Wu who, along with her husband, Dr. Clyde Wu, housed Midori during her stay in Grosse Pointe and was integral in Midori's visiting Liggett. The visit was courtesy the Detroit Symphony Orchestra's Civic and Education program, of which the Wus are supporters and Liggett has an existing partnership.

"I've never seen her live; I've only seen her on TV and YouTube videos," said Emmalyn Helge, in her first year as Liggett's orchestra instructor for grades three to 12. "And she's going to be working with my students? I'm just beyond awestruck, really."

During an hour-long visit, Midori worked with the sixth-grade orchestra students and freshman Andrew Wu, all of who were preparing for their all-school holiday concert that weekend.

Midori opened the class playing three pieces from Bach on her 1734 Guarnerius del Gesú "ex-Huberman" violin, before turning the class over to the students.

Sixth graders performed, "Joy to the World," after which Midori offered suggestions to improve the music, commenting on the tightness of their bows and its effect on overall sound, as well as the importance of posture — "Just make sure that we need to have good sound and we need to prevent ourselves from getting injured, so good posture is truly essential" — and conveying the song's message.

"You want to look your part, and you want to really, really tell the message to your listener," Midori said. "It's not just about looking at the music and just playing it, but really feeling the part, being the part."

She shared a similar critique with Andrew Wu, who performed the first section of Tchaikovsky's "Violin Concerto," and forced Wu to search deeper into the sound from his violin, paying special attention to the emotion conveyed with each note and making sure the conveyance matched the desired message.

"How well are you listening to your own sound?" she asked him. "Not only just to listen, you need to ask yourself, 'Do I like this sound? Is this the sound I really want?'"

Wu, like Helge and others in attendance, was in awe of Midori, clinging to her every question, to every word of praise or encouragement she gave.

After all, he likely knew of Midori's legend, that of the 14-year-old girl who brought Bernstein to his knees with the way she played the renowned composer and conductor's "Serenade" at Tanglewood, breaking two E-strings on two separate violins before finishing the piece on a third.

"I think it's a great opportunity and an honor," Andrew Wu said. "I think it's so rare; it's a not frequent thing that all schools have this kind of program ... I learned a lot from her. So, now I know what to work on."

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