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Renowned violinist Midori to join Curtis Institute faculty

Though an established star soloist, she has been an advocate for community engagement for decades.

MidoriRead moreTimothy Greenfield-Sanders

Midori, the violinist with a much-admired career as both A-list soloist and public-service activist, will join the faculty of the Curtis Institute of Music.

She will phase in her involvement, visiting Curtis numerous times in the coming season, and taking up the post full-time at the start of the 2018-19 school year.

"I'm very much looking forward to making the move," said Midori, 45, who has been on the faculty of the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music for 14 years. She cited Curtis' approach as one appeal of the job – the "commitment Curtis has to nurturing younger musicians to prepare them not just to play the instrument, but to also become responsible citizens. It's a very comprehensive education for someone pursuing a musical career, and it's a very intriguing position."

Midori – she was born Midori Goto, but generally is known by her first name alone – says she will move to Philadelphia from the West Coast, shifting into a visiting-artist role at USC starting in 2018. She has family in New York and Japan.

She is not replacing a departing faculty member at Curtis, but is an addition to the violin roster of Shmuel Ashkenasi, Pamela Frank, Ida Kavafian, Aaron Rosand, and Arnold Steinhardt. Her responsibilities will be wide-ranging, including private lessons, chamber music coachings, studio classes, and work with the school's programs in career development and community engagement.

Her student load will be determined after next spring's auditions, a Curtis spokeswoman said.

Midori has forged a career that is perhaps unique. Born in Osaka, Japan, she studied with the Juilliard School's Dorothy DeLay in the precollege division and at the Aspen Music Festival and School, and, at age 11, made a splashy debut with the New York Philharmonic and conductor Zubin Mehta. Since her wunderkind phase, she has become a reliable soloist with top orchestras (she played the Beethoven Violin Concerto, for instance, with the Philadelphia Orchestra in November).

She became deeply involved in education, musical diplomacy, and bringing music to underserved populations long before the current fashion. She serves as a U.N. messenger of peace along with a select group that includes Jane Goodall, Malala Yousafzai, and Stevie Wonder. She established Midori and Friends, a charity that brings free music education to schoolchildren in New York and Japan, in 2002.

She does not yet know Philadelphia, she says, and has not spent a lot of time at Curtis; she led master classes there in November. But she intends to build upon Curtis programs that establish connections between its students and underserved populations. In bringing music into schools, hospitals, orphanages, senior citizen homes, and to youth orchestras in small towns, she is "trying to access those populations that might have a difficult time accessing us," she says.

Deciding what kinds of programs she might establish or enhance here will have to wait until she is able to put her ear to the ground in the community, she says.

"This has so much to do with listening. One of the most important things is to really see what is being asked for what is needed. And then also to combine that with your own ideas. It's not just about your own ideas – it's always in collaboration. That's the beauty of community engagement. When you are working with the community, you are working with a changing world. You have to be aware of what's going on, constantly evaluating."

In traditional and nontraditional concert venues, students must learn to surround their performances with talk that explains what they do and why it matters, she says.

"It's very obvious that, in any career, we can't just be responsible in that career by having extremely high skills of playing that instrument," she says. "It's not just about the skill. It's about the skill and having the interpersonal relationships, having to advocate for your art, and being conversant in various different ways to support sharing the music."