Spotlight: Midori and Her Dog; Mirelli Freni, World's Oldest Teenager; Itzhak Perlman and Israel

Classic Arts News   Spotlight: Midori and Her Dog; Mirelli Freni, World's Oldest Teenager; Itzhak Perlman and Israel
What the stars are up to onstage and off.

Artists, it seems, find inspiration in the strangest things. While she's on tour, violinist Midori draws strength from the unique, unforgettable snore of her dog Franzie. "I think of it frequently on the road," Midori says in her online journal. "It is so calming and peaceful. I listen to it in my imagination, and I, too am calm. Then, the music starts to flow and take over. Out I go on the stage." Midori will no doubt be thinking of Franzie a lot during April as she travels around the United States with pianist Robert McDonald, performing a program of works by Bach, Mozart, Ravel, and Szymanowski. While she's on the road, by the way, Midori's mom is taking care of Franzie.

Earlier this month, Midori devoted some of her time to charity. On April 2, she performed at the Johann-a-thon, a 12-hour Bach celebration organized by students and faculty at New York's Manhattan School of Music to benefit the organization Classical Action: Performing Arts Against AIDS. On April 6, she took part in a gala New York benefit for Midori & Friends.

Violinist Leila Josefowicz, a former child prodigy and fashion model, says she's found happiness and a new artistic direction after a long period of anguish and depression. "I'm so much more centered than a few years back, more stable," the Canadian native, who now resides on Manhattan's Upper West Side, told the London Telegraph. "I sometimes think all artists need to have their hearts broken to become real—I have more self-understanding, and that comes out in my playing." Josefowicz, 27, attributes some of her difficulties to her divorce from conductor Kristian J‹rvi (son of conductor Neeme J‹rvi and brother of conductor Paavo J‹rvi) and to the aftereffects of being thrust into the spotlight as a child. Josefowicz performed her first concerto at age 8, debuted at Carnegie Hall at 16 and signed her first major record deal while still in her teens. At 20, she became a part-time model for Chanel.

Despite her runway-model looks, Josefowicz refuses to engage in the kind of cheesecake marketing that's brought fame to such performers as Vanessa Mae. Josefowicz also disdains crossover projects. Instead, she says she now draws inspiration from her close associations with some of today's top composers, among them John Harbison, Oliver Knussen, and John Adams (who introduced her to her current love interest, a composer she declines to identify). Her newest album, a two-CD set on the Warner Classics label, features world premieres of music by Esa-Pekka Salonen and Californian Mark Grey, as well as works by Beethoven, Brahms, and Ravel.

Plšcido Domingo runs opera companies in Los Angeles and Washington, directs a highly regarded singing competition, conducts, and still manages to find time to sing. In a recent profile in Opera News, the tenor says he gets his remarkable stamina from his parents, who ran and performed in their own zarzuela company. "I have never seen harder work than what my parents did in that company," Domingo says. "I have a big admiration for them. Their example has stayed with me."

Despite speculation that he will soon retire from the stage, the 64-year-old Domingo shows no sign of slowing down. He recently said he expects to perform for another five years and he continues to add roles to his vast repertory. Earlier this month, Domingo won critical acclaim for his performances in the Lyric Opera of Chicago's production of Die Walk‹re and he has spent considerable time in the studio recording Tristan und Isolde for EMI.

One job Domingo says he doesn't want is the top post at New York's Metropolitan Opera. He was rumored to be a candidate for the general manager's position (which went to Peter Gelb of Sony Classical) while he was appearing at the Met, which made for some awkward moments. "It was a very strange feeling to be singing there at the Met and conducting there while all these rumors were going on, and having people backstage asking me all kinds of questions about what was going on, " Domingo says. "I have been at the Met now—this is my 37th season—so this is a place that I love. But this is not the time. I don't know if it ever will be the right time, but it certainly is not the right time now."

One of the great prima donnas of the 20th century can now lay claim to the title World's Oldest Teenager. Soprano Mirella Freni, 70, recently portrayed the youthful Joan of Arc in the Tchaikovsky's rarely staged The Maid of Orleans at the Washington National Opera. The critics were uniformly impressed: the New York Times said she is "still a powerful singer" while Baltimore Sun of Baltimore described her as "remarkable."

Freni, a beloved figure to opera fanatics, celebrates 50 years on the opera stage this year. 2005 also marks the 40th anniversary of her Metropolitan Opera debut—Freni first appeared at the Met as MimÐ in La bohme on Sept. 29, 1965, during the company's final season in its old house. The Met will honor Freni at a gala concert on May 15. The next afternoon, she will meet fans at the Metropolitan Opera Shop in Lincoln Center.

At a time when many artists are shunning Israel for political reasons, Itzhak Perlman's support for his homeland remains rock solid, the violin virtuoso tells the Jerusalem Post. "For me, coming to Israel is an axiom, not a question," says Perlman, who just completed a week-long series of concerts with the Israel Philharmonic, part of the run-up to his 60th birthday celebration in August. "Bringing top musicians here is tough work. So I'm here to help. When I'm here there's one less guest musician to care about." Some prominent musicians, notably Daniel Barenboim and Zubin Mehta, recently signed an open letter criticizing Israel for its policies toward the Palestinians, but Perlman says his politics are his own business. "I keep it a private matter. In public, I will always support the Israeli cause. This country has enough critics from the outside. It doesn't need any more coming from the inside."

Perlman also says he is determined to continue his second career as a conductor, despite decidedly mixed reviews for his efforts from the podium. "Sure, it's nicer to read good reviews," he says. "But all I care about when I perform is making a good presentation of the music."

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