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Café Concert: Ryu Goto

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VIDEO: Ryu Goto Plays Kreisler and Ÿsaye in the WQXR Café

Ryu Goto opened his Café Concert with Fritz Kreisler's Liebesleid (Love's Sorrow), a bittersweet waltz that evokes a kind of aristocratic grace from another era. But Goto is hardly a violinist stuck in the past.

As he launched into his second piece, Ÿsaye’s Sonata No. 6, he seemed to adopt a martial arts-like stance in his posture – a byproduct his years of training towards a black belt in karate. “It’s probably influenced by karate,” the 23-year-old violinist acknowledged. While avoiding finger injuries, Goto said karate has provided him with a necessary sense of balance and "mental maintenance."

Having a well-rounded childhood was key for an artist who hails from a kind of classical royalty. The son of two violinists, Goto was born in New York and began playing at age three. His teachers included violinists Yoko Takebe (the mother of Alan Gilbert), Cho-Liang Lin, and his own mother, who remains an active presence in his career. His sister is Midori, the celebrated violinist who rose to child stardom in the 1980s.

Goto’s burgeoning solo career has been carefully groomed both in the U.S. and Asia, and he has been particularly active in Japan, his family’s homeland. Yet he didn’t follow the straight-and-narrow path of a child prodigy either. Instead of entering a conservatory, he studied physics at Harvard University, where he took on a full slate of extracurricular activities, including golf, lacrosse and guitar (he told one interviewer that he developed a freer style of playing by watching Jimi Hendrix).

Goto admits that “my mother was much more liberal with my education like that than with my sister." At the same time, the younger Goto said he learned from watching his sister and “what it means to be a professional, what it means to be a violinist."

“I got the impression that being a musician isn’t the be all and end all,” he continued. “But she’s gone above and beyond that kind of categorization. She’s become almost something more – a humanist kind of thing.” Goto alludes to his sister’s involvement with nonprofit organizations including her own Midori and Friends, a nonprofit organization providing concerts for underprivileged and hospitalized children.

In 2010 Goto launched the Ryu Goto Excellence In Music Award, an annual $1000 scholarship for high school-age musicians in New York City. The program is administered with the New York City Department of Education.

Does Goto ever hope to combine his background in physics with music? “I was a very bad student so I probably wouldn’t be qualified to talk about physics,” he said, laughing. But he has put his love of karate to professional use. The composer Tan Dun enlisted him as a soloist in his Martial Arts Trilogy, a multimedia work with orchestra. Last summer he gave the piece's New York premiere at Lincoln Center’s Damrosch Park.

“It certainly helped that I have an image ready for this piece,” he said of his training, adding, “I love the movies and I’ve done karate forever.”

Video: Amy Pearl; Sound: Edward Haber; Text: Brian Wise