The composer Robert Schumann’s Violin Concerto in D Minor is the last orchestral composition he wrote before his death in 1856 at the age of 46. Within a couple months of sharing it with his friend for whom it was written, the violinist Joseph Joachim, Schumann attempted suicide and was later institutionalized. Confidants received Schumann’s final work with skepticism that grew to a kind of shame over their low regard for its quality.
The concerto was interred in the depths of the Prussian State Library in Berlin on the condition that it not be performed for 100 years after Schumann’s death. In a 2014 piece, National Public Radio’s Nina Totenberg described how a descendant of Joachim’s, who was also a violinist, tracked down the piece and sought to play it. Her actions came after séance in which she was supposedly directed by a Ouija board to seek out an unpublished violin piece by Schumann, according to NPR.
Nazi Germany, which had control of the library at the time, dictated that a German play the concerto’s debut in 1937, more than 80 years after it was written, and so Joachim’s descendant was denied the chance to be the piece’s debut performer, according to NPR. Additional performances followed in the United States and Britain, but the long-buried piece struggled to gain traction alongside more popular concerti. Its status has continued to change and evolve over the decades, with the piece becoming increasingly popular.
“So now it’s being brought out and performed more and more by certain internationally renowned soloists that find a lot of value in the piece,” said John Zoltek, the music director and conductor for the Glacier Symphony. “It’s just a different type of expression from a composer who is pretty significant, historically, in the early part of the 19th century.”
One such internationally renowned soloist is Midori Goto, a violinist of such renown that she is widely known only as Midori. Next month, Midori will perform Schumann’s violin concerto alongside the Glacier Symphony in McClaren Hall, the new concert hall and performance space inside Flathead Valley Community College’s Wachholz College Center. The symphony will also perform the 20th century Italian composer Respighi’s The Fountains and Pines of Rome, which Zoltek called impressionistic works evocative of the physical locations that inspired them and the emotional sensation of visiting those locations.
The performance comes during the symphony’s 40th season, and also during Midori’s 40th season as a professional performer. Zoltek said that the quality of the concert hall has given the symphony confidence, that has been bolstered by growing ticket sales. McClaren Hall is a major departure from the high school auditoriums that the symphony relied upon in the past. The symphony is now at a place artistically, and in terms of venue, to where it can accommodate someone like Midori, he said. If the audience response to Midori’s performance is strong enough the symphony will see it as a signal that it can do more performances in the same vein, according to Zoltek.
“It’s a big deal for us. It’s the first time we’ve really brought anybody of that international renown to work with us. We’ve had wonderful soloists, but this is a stellar level. This is an internationally recognized person with a professional track record of 40 years playing with some of the greatest orchestras in the world.”
Midori’s career as a concert violinist stretches back to 1982 when she made her professional debut playing alongside the New York Philharmonic at the age of 11. She has gone on to collaborate with major musical figures, including Leonard Bernstein, Christoph Eschenbach and Yo-Yo Ma. She completed a master’s degree in psychology in 2005, and has founded multiple nonprofits, and has worked toward providing musical opportunities for youth, including those with emotional disorders and physical disabilities. Considered a humanitarian, Midori has also served as a United Nations Messenger of Peace.
Midori said her 40th season has been a particularly busy one because she is also taking on performances that had been postponed during the pandemic. She said she has always been fascinated by Schumann’s work. Prior to this performance season the last time she played this Schumann violin concerto was in February 2020 shortly before lockdown policies went into place.
“To play this piece is always such an amazing experience, and the contrast of moods and emotions that one goes through, it is just a unique experience. I enjoy, of course, practicing it, as well as performing it. Getting it prepared for a performance is just as inspiring as it is to perform,” Midori said.
The piece comes in three movements, and Midori described them in reverse order, saying that the final movement’s rhythm is strongly influenced by the 19th century Polish “polonaise” style of dance music. “The second movement is not long, but it’s absolutely beautiful,” Midori said. “The first movement, it’s powerful, it’s energetic, it’s lyrical, and it’s really a fantastic work.”
For Glacier Symphony violinist and concertmaster Ali Schultz Levesque, the chance to play alongside Midori will be a reunion of sorts decades in the making. Levesque, at the age of 19, was able to meet Midori and then participate in a master class with her at the Lawrence University Conservatory of Music 20 years ago.
“I will never forget just being struck by how compassionate, kind, articulate, and strong she was. Just a phenomenal teacher.” Levesque said, adding that she still recalls her own nerves over playing in front of Midori.
Those nerves were met “with such great kindness” from Midori, she said. Midori signed her copy of Bach’s solo works, and Levesque has held onto the autographed music to this day. Midori and her career are especially important to Levesque, because like Midori, she also has a master’s in psychology. Levesque, a Stevensville resident, said that she has a clinical practice. For Levesque, Midori’s background in psychology, and efforts to destigmatize mental illness, makes the selection of Schumann’s once misunderstood concerto even more significant.
“Midori is a violinist who can play literally anything, who has recorded everything, who has won Grammys,” Levesque said. “Bach, Beethoven, these are the major repertoire. She can do it all by memory. But she chooses to do this piece.”
Tickets for the April 8 performance can be purchased at wachholzcenter.org.
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