Anne Akiko Meyers is celebrated as one of the world’s premier concert violinists. She regularly performs as featured soloist with orchestras around the world, including the Boston Symphony, London’s Philharmonia Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Orchestre de Paris, and the Warsaw Philharmonic. Over the years, Meyers has collaborated with pop singing sensation, Il Divo, top jazz artists such as Chris Botti, and Wynton Marsalis. To put it simply, she is a superstar. Recently, she released a new album entitled ‘Air: The Bach Album’ which Anne performs on the ‘Ex-Napoleon/Molitor’ Stradivarius violin from 1697 and the ‘Royal Spanish’ Stradivarius violin dated 1730. Anne took some time out of her schedule to sit down with me and answer a few questions about music, her daughters, and some exciting upcoming projects.
Earlier this year, you released a new album ‘Air: The Bach Album.’ Can you tell us a bit about this album? For those who are both new to your music and old time listeners, what was your creative process?
AAM: [Laughs] Oh my god, that’s many questions within one question, that’s unfair! The Air is a really fun album and it has the A minor and E major solo violin concertos as well as the double violin concerto and three beautiful pieces including the Largo, that’s from the harpsichord concerto #6, and Air, which is from the orchestral suite #3, and the Ave Maria. It just sort of ended the album with a ‘thank you’ to Bach since he worked so much in the church writing music every week. The twist with the album is that with the double concerto, I recorded both parts on two different Stradivarius violins. I just thought it was so perfectly suitable as I recently required the ex-Molitor or Napoleon Stradivarius violin.
That was actually something I was going to ask you about this album. There are only about 150 Stradivari violins in the world and I know they are incredibly rare and expensive. But what exactly is it about these violins that make them so special?
AAM: Well, Strad made about 600 violins and I would say that there are maybe 100 that are really truly extraordinary that are also in great condition. It’s just phenomenal that these violins that are antiques are relied upon on a daily basis with modern performers. All of these violins were made over 300 years ago. I can’t think of any other profession that uses and relies so heavily on antique instruments…or antique anything, for that matter. It’s extraordinary because of the history – the provenance surrounding each violin. I mean, you just don’t know what it has survived, how many families have owned it, important celebrities, wars it has survived, wet cellars….you know, just so much history it has survived. But the tone of the violins is extraordinary. It’s like you go to hall and you can sit in the last seat, the last row of a 2500 seat hall, and you can play pianissimo – or ultra ultra quietly – on stage and it will still tickle your ears. The expression and color coming from the violin will just caress you. That kind of power – even though these violins were made at a time when they weren’t even performed in these giant concert halls – the irony involved is just amazing.
Considering these changes, do you feel that you would play a Stradivari violin differently than you would a modern violin?
AAM: Definitely. When you get a Strad, you’re getting an old shoe that is just a comfortable fit. On top of that, a lot of these violins have been hidden under beds, or in museums, or just put away for so long, that when it’s in a performer’s hands, such as mine, it just opens up so extraordinarily. It’s like you’ve just uncorked this phenomenal bottle of wine and the longer it decants, the more you can smell of the wine. It’s a similar metaphor with the violin – the more you play it, the more you break it in, the more color that comes from the violin and from the tone quality.
Another thing I noticed about Air is that it was released on Valentine’s Day. Was there a reason for that release date?
AAM: Yeah, we were thinking that Bach is so much about a reflection of life and life going full circle. I was due to have my second baby girl in March and was just thinking, “Wow, Bach had 20 children of his own, none have survived.” The Bach name hasn’t survived, which is really a great tragedy. But, there’s just so much in his music, so many layers that makes it so profound. I thought with that much showing of love of life, it was just the perfect opportunity to release it on Valentine’s Day.
You actually started playing music quite early; I believe you were about 4 years old. Do you think your own children, like your daughter Natalie, will be starting this young as well?
AAM: Well, I started physically when I was about 4, but my mother played a lot of music for me when she was pregnant with me. I really do think that there is a deep resonance with babies’ brains and how, you might not just be playing the violin, but to even feel the vibrations of music when you’re pregnant. Natalie, my first born, it was just unbelievable because every day I would start with my scales, and after she was born, as I would play my scales, she immediately looked at me like, “I know those scales!” I was like “Wow, that is just so wild.” She is now two years old and just loves holding a violin and cello. I definitely am going to start her on violin lessons now because she just shows such a love for it. I think it is incredibly important for mothers to be able to play music for their children.
That’s amazing. I do know that to appreciate classical music, it really does require a lot of active and critical thinking. For people who don’t have much experience with listening to classical music, do you have any advice on how to listen to or appreciate it?
AAM: No, everybody is a critic and I think that when – especially when I’m so deeply involved in music – sometimes it is just so nice to listen to it passively and not criticize every little thing. When I’m driving, I have the radio set to every classical station – whether it’s on Sirius XM or locally on NPR – and that way I’m listening to it passively and it relaxes me. I think that there is no correct way to listen to music, especially classical music. You just turn it on! Putting it on, I think that’s the first step to just enjoying it. I think that’s the most important thing, that you actually enjoy it.
Do you feel the knowledge of Chamber music is an important ingredient in expanding your palette as a musician?
AAM: Definitely, I am very thankful to my teachers, Alice and Elenore Schonfeld in Los Angeles, who found it a very important part of my training. To be seven years old and put suddenly into a trio or quartet was just awesome because the kids were also my age. So, you have somebody to actually practice and play with and you’re creating something together without even realizing how much its bringing you together.
I noticed that you’re actually giving away a very special bow via your FB page.
AAM: Well, I just have a bunch of these Arcus bows and I started to feel a little guilty for not using all of them. I just thought that this would be the prefect opportunity to give away one bow to, hopefully, a violinist. A lot of people have entered the contest who aren’t professional violinists, but in order to use the bow a lot – which I would really prefer – it has to go to somebody who is studying seriously and can appreciate the bow. The Arcus is a little different to use than most bows because it is a carbon fiber bow. Because it’s carbon fiber it is extremely light. So, to use this bow and appreciate all of its uniqueness, you have to really be able to control your bow arm greatly.
Is speed one of the primary advantages this bow would give to a violin player, because of its light weight?
AAM: Absolutely. It’s unreal; its just like rapid fire. The staccato just flies off, it’s like it does it for itself. It’s amazing. It’s like a chopped salad, a Ginsu knife; here I come!
Do you have any favorite Asian or Asian-American composers or musicians?
AAM: I’ve actually worked with Ryuichi Sakamoto. He was very enamored with the classical genre, so we played ‘Smile’ together for the tsunami benefit in New York. I’ve played a lot of music by Toru Takemitsu, as well as Somei Satoh. I just really adore that music so much. Takemitsu has done so many film scores that are so eerie and cool. There is a spatial quality to his music that is extraordinary. You really feel like you’re walking through a Japanese garden when you play his music, because it’s just so scientific. I just commissioned [Somei Satoh] to write another violin/piano piece which I’m eagerly awaiting right now. I also asked Makoto Ozone, who is a phenomenal jazz pianist, to arrange ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ which I recorded on the ‘Smile’ album. He was just amazing, I’ve always just drooled to have an arrangement of ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow.’ I asked him and he just jotted it down on some music paper and now I play it all the time. He’s just such a huge talent.
Finally, what can people expect from your upcoming tour dates? Are there any surprises?
AAM: Right now I’m thick in the middle of working on a new concerto by this young composer named Mason Bates. But, actually, for this concerto he will not be using any electronica, he decided to forgo against it. I’m going to be premièring it with the Pittsburgh Symphony in December and then taking it to Nashville in the spring. It’s really…a very difficult piece and I’m just in the middle of trying to figure it out. It’s like putting a two million piece puzzle together. Right before that, in December, I’ll be playing at Carnegie Hall in New York and I’ll be playing the [Samuel] Barber violin concerto which I would say is one of my signature pieces that I absolutely just love, love, love to play. I’m really looking forward to playing that with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. So I’ll be basically leading the orchestra in through this gnarly third movement. That will be a lot of fun – December 1st!
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