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Midori is one happy little superstar


MIDORI, THE 19-year-old violin genius who shines light into dark corners, is herself a night person who wakes up at 3 or 4 in the afternoon, practices deep into the night and goes to bed about 5 or 6 in the morning.

"I hate sunlight," said the laughing Midori, "and I love the moon and the stars." Not surprising for the veteran of 80 to 90 concerts a year. It's a nighttime job.

Her most recent triumphs were three weekend concerts playing the Brahms Concerto with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra before enthusiastic Meyerhoff Symphony Hall audiences. She started playing the Brahms when 10. After nine years she performsits three movements intensely well.

Friday night if she had been behind a screen where her bright saffron satin dress, weaving body, flying dark hair, intense bent-over concentration, half-closed eyes and youthful beauty were invisible, her brooding Brahms sound alone would stacked up well against today's greats of any age or maturity.

After she had dismissed sunlight in an interview last week, Midori seemed to love almost eveything else in what she easily documented is "a very happy life." She is only Midori after she dropped her last name when her parents divorced. She lives now with her mother, stepfather and young brother.

A Japanese citizen who holds a green card here, she "loves" New York, where she practices constantly in her Upper West Side duplex. She "loves" to shop for her 3-year-old brother, Ryu.

She "is very happy to be out of Juilliard," the music school which she left when 15 against adult advice in 1987. She enjoys "so much more free time" to go with her friends to the ballet, museums or opera. "I'm hooked on opera."

"I never had time for that before. It was terrible for me. Yet I'm always studying, not with anyone in particular, but I'll be studying when I'm 40 or 50."

Midori devours books -- one or two a week -- mostly British literature, Jane Austin and Co., but also modern books like Nicholas Gage's "Eleni." "I like Willa Cather and am reading 'My Antonia' now. My long-haired dachshund puppie is 'Willa.' The other one, a Westie, is 'Franz,' after Franz Joseph Hadyn."

Watching movies and television has little place in her young life. She professes to be barely aware of her press clippings though she does listen to "the extremely valuable advice" she gets from older musicians and friends her age. Their common thread is a deep interest in music. Her best girlfriend is a Harvard sophomore interning with the State Department.

The violinist likes to cook. "I made strawberry Bavarian cake last week -- my family didn't like it much, but it wasn't bad."

But most of all, "I love being on stage -- it's such a wonderful feeling, it's so contagious. I'm not at all scared and I'm doing what I love. Whatever I am playing is my favorite music. I don't notice the audience, it's dark out there and I'm just concentrating on the music.

"At home, I have 2,000 CDs and listen all the time . . . my mother thinks I'm crazy. She's wonderful -- she never pushed me when I was young. I particularly love to hear British, guitar and Romantic music -- Tchaikovsky, Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Elgar. It's not true I don't like pop . . . I don't want to be snobbish . . . but I do hate hard rock."

Before she played for the first time with the BSO Friday, Saturday and yesterday, Midori said she enjoyed the orchestra. "I heard them in Carnegie Hall a few years ago and they were great. David Zinman -- he's passionate, he knows the character of his orchestra. I've heard people say good things about him and the players."

Midori is the brilliant former child prodigy who picks her own dates and music and is steadily becoming a mature young adult. Two sparkling events focused the public on this tiny person, about 5 feet tall and about 100 pounds.

When she was 11 years old in 1982, Zubin Mehta asked her to be a surprise guest soloist in the New York Philharmonic's traditional New Year's Eve concert. A standing ovation greeted her and a major career began in earnest.

Then in July 1986 at Tanglewood in Massachusetts, Midori played Leonard Bernstein's "Serenade" with Bernstein conducting. She broke an E string, borrowed the concertmaster's violin, picked up the musical thread, broke another E string, borrowed the associate concertmaster's, finished the piece perfectly and landed the next day on the front page of the New York Times. Only she was surprised by the fuss.

Soon she's off to Granada, Spain, for a music festival. To keep up with her rigorous schedule around the world, Midori keeps in shape. "I used to be very weak -- pneumonia every winter. But here I'm healthier. I hate walking, but I exercise more. I swim, I've taken karate lessons, I do jumping jacks. I eat a lot. No sickness for 10 years."

And if the violin isn't enough, Midori confided a little secret. She's been taking voice lessons since January. "Isaac Stern [the violinist] told me all music is based on songs. He said 'sing it' before you play it.' So I sing it first, something I never thought of doing."

She sang a few bars of Brahms in a bright soprano.

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