The Japanese-born American violinist, Midori Gotō (Japanese:
五嶋 みどり Gotō Midori), performs under the name Midori, dropped her father's surname from her stage name after her parent's divorce in 1983, initially performing under the name Mi Dori, then deciding on the single word Midori. Her father was a successful engineer and her mother, Setsu Gotō, was a professional violinist. Setsu regularly took young Midori to her orchestra rehearsals where the toddler slept on the front seat of the auditorium when her mother rehearsed. One day Setsu heard a two-year-old Midori humming a J.S. Bach concerto that had been rehearsed two days earlier. Subsequently, Midori climbed onto the piano bench trying to reach the violin on top of the family piano. Midori would often try to touch her mother's violin, so Setsu gave Midori a 1/16 size violin on her third birthday. After the gift, Setsu began giving violin lessons to the three-year-old.
Midori gave her first public performance at the age of six, playing one of the 24 Caprices of Paganini in her native Osaka. In 1982 her mother and she moved to New York City, where Midori started violin studies with Dorothy DeLay's studios at Juilliard Pre-College and the Aspen Music Festival and School. As her audition piece, Midori performed J.S. Bach's thirteen-minute-long Chaconne, generally considered one of the most difficult solo violin pieces ever written. In 1982, conductor Zubin Mehta invited the then 11-year-old Midori to perform with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in the orchestra’s annual New Year’s Eve concert. The standing ovation that followed her debut spurred Midori to pursue a major musical career at the highest level. In the same year, she made her concert debut with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. With Zubin Mehta she would record many concertos on the Sony Classical label. In 1986 came her now legendary performance of Leonard Bernstein's Serenade at Tanglewood, during which she broke two E strings, first on her own instrument and then on concertmaster Malcolm Lowe's Stradivarius after she borrowed it. She finished the performance with associate concertmaster Max Hobart's Guadagnini, calmly thanking him afterward for allowing her to use it. Bernstein, who was also the conductor, knelt before her in awe. The next day The New York Times front page carried the headline "Girl, 14, Conquers Tanglewood with 3 Violins."
When Midori was 15, she left Juilliard Pre-College in 1987 after four years and became a full-time professional violinist. In October 1989, she celebrated her 18th birthday with her Carnegie Hall orchestral debut, playing Béla Bartók's Violin Concerto No. 2. She made her Carnegie Hall recital debut in 1991. In 1992, she formed Midori and Friends, a non-profit organization that aims to bring quality music education and opportunities to children in New York City and in Japan. The Japanese program and its activities were taken over by Midori's Tokyo-based not-for-profit organization, Music Sharing, in 2002. In 2001, with the money Midori received from winning the prestigious Avery Fisher Prize, she started another organization called Partners in Performance. In subsequent years, Midori inaugurated two additional community-based projects, the Orchestra Residencies Program in the USA, and International Community Engagement Program in Japan.
In addition to being named Artist of the Year by the Japanese government (1988) and the recipient of the 25th Suntory Music Award (1993), Midori has won the Avery Fisher Prize (2001), Musical America’s Instrumentalist of the Year award (2002), the Deutscher Schallplattenpreis (2002, 2003), the Kennedy Center Gold Medal in the Arts (2010), the Mellon Mentoring Award (2012), and the Crystal Award at the World Economic Forum, for her "20-year devotion to community engagement work worldwide" (2012). In 2007 Midori was named a United Nations Messenger of Peace. In 2012 she was elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, and awarded an honorary doctorate in music by Yale University. In 2000, Midori graduated, magna cum laude, from the Gallatin School at New York University with a degree in psychology, and earned a master's degree in psychology from New York University in 2005.
Midori is a visionary artist, activist and educator whose unique career has transcended traditional boundaries through her relentless drive to explore and build connections between music and the human experience. Never at rest, Midori brings the same dynamic innovation and expressive insight that has made her a top concert violinist to her other roles as a leading global cultural ambassador and a dedicated music educator.
A leading concert violinist for over 30 years, Midori regularly transfixes audiences around the world, bringing together graceful precision and intimate expression that allows the listening public to not just hear music but to be personally moved by it. She has performed with the world’s top orchestras including the London Symphony Orchestra, Dresden Staatskapelle, Mahler Chamber Orchestra, New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. In addition, she has collaborated with leading musicians such as Mariss Jansons, Péter Eötvös, Christoph Eschenbach, Daniele Gatti, Alan Gilbert, Susanna Mälkki, Kent Nagano, Robert Spano, James Conlon, Omer Meir Wellber and Paavo Järvi, among others.
The 2017-2018 season highlights Midori’s versatility with performances of orchestral and chamber works by such composers as Tchaikovsky, Leonard Bernstein, Paul Hindemith, Johannes Brahms, Schubert and George Enescu in Europe, Asia, North and South America. The DVD of her highly-acclaimed interpretation of J.S. Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin (BWV 1001-1006) was also released. In the recording, filmed at Köthen Castle where J.S. Bach served as Kapellmeister, Midori unites her technical and expressive mastery with her historic and emotional insight into the composer, providing the viewer with a multidimensional experience of J.S. Bach's music.
Midori not only brings a fresh perspective to established standards for violin but also ceaselessly strives to expand the repertoire, including through the creation of new works. Midori inspired Péter Eötvös to compose the violin concerto DoReMi, which she then recorded with Péter Eötvös and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France. The 2016 CD joins her diverse discography that includes sonatas by Bloch, Janáček and Dmitri Shostakovich performed with pianist Özgür Aydin, and a 2013 Grammy Award-winning recording of Paul Hindemith’s violin concerto with Christoph Eschenbach conducting the NDR Sinfonieorchester Hamburg.
In her quest to explore and expand how music is essential to people everywhere, Midori goes beyond the concert hall and recording studio to those areas where music access is most needed. In 2017, Midori celebrates the 25th anniversary of the activities of two of her non-profit organizations: Midori & Friends, which brings high-quality music education to New York City school children, and MUSIC SHARING, a Japan-based program that provides access to both western classical and Japanese music traditions through innovative events, activities, instruction and presentations in local schools, institutions and hospitals. Her Partners in Performance organization, founded in 2003, promotes interest in classical music outside of major urban centers across the USA, while her Orchestra Residencies Program, begun in 2004, encourages young musicians to develop a life-long and multifaceted engagement with the performing arts, helping to ensure that the classical scene will continue vibrantly for years to come.
Midori also brings her activism to a global level. MUSIC SHARING’s International Community Engagement Program promotes intercultural exchange by enabling young musicians from around the world to come together and present community performances for audiences with limited exposure to classical music. The program’s ensembles have performed in Myanmar, Bangladesh, Laos, Mongolia, Indonesia, Cambodia, Nepal, Vietnam and Japan, and the 2017-2018 group will head to India as well as return to Japan.
Midori also regularly speaks as an expert on cultural diplomacy, most recently at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C. She has been honored for her international activism: in 2007, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon named Midori a Messenger of Peace, and in 2012 she received the Crystal Award from the World Economic Forum in Davos.
The same vision that motivates Midori’s activism – discovering and strengthening the bonds between people and music – also guides her educational approach. She is Distinguished Professor and Jascha Heifetz Chair at the University of Southern California's Thornton School of Music, working one-on-one with her violin students. Previous to her current faculty position at USC's Thornton School of Music, she was on the faculty at the Manhattan School of Music. Midori has also served as a board member of the American String Teachers Association. Among her wide-ranging activities and appearances, in 2013 Midori was invited to the University of Oxford as Humanitas Visiting Professor in Classical Music and Music Education. From the 2018-2019 school year, she joins the renowned violin faculty roster at the Curtis Institute of Music, bringing her musical expertise as an active top-level performer to her studio and her experience as an activist to the school’s community engagement programs. Prior to taking up this position, Midori will visit Curtis to present master-classes, work with students on community building, and contribute to the school’s Artist-Citizen courses. Until May 2018, Midori will also continue as a Distinguished Professor of Violin and the Jascha Heifetz Chair holder at the USC’s Thornton School of Music. After moving to Curtis, she will continue her involvement at USC through a visiting artist role. Midori is also an honorary professor at Beijing’s Central Conservatory of Music, a guest professor at both Soai University in Osaka and the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, and a distinguished visiting artist at the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University.
In 2004, Midori joined the ranks of published authors with the release in Germany of a memoir titled Einfach Midori (Simply Midori), for the publisher Henschel Verlag. It was updated and reissued in German-speaking territories in 2012.
Midori resides in Los Angeles, California.Her brother Ryu and her stepfather Makoto Kaneshiro (a former violin assistant of DeLay's who is Ryu's father) are both violinists. She plays on the 1734 Guarnerius del Gesù "ex-Huberman" violin. Her bows are made by Dominique Peccatte (two) and by François Peccatte (one).