Violinist Anne Akiko Meyers Celebrates the American Masters
Anne Akiko Meyers made news last year when an anonymous donor gifted her the lifetime use of one of the world’s great violins, the ‘Ex-Vieuxtemps’ Guarneri del Gesu, crafted in 1741. This year she’s in the news again for putting her Guarneri to excellent use in the service of exceptional works by American composers in an album called The American Masters. This album features world premiere recordings of the Violin Concerto by Mason Bates and Lullaby for Natalie by John Corigliano. Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto (1939), an established classic, rounds out the disc. For the record, Anne made her first recording of the Barber 26 years ago, in 1988.
As it happens, Anne Akiko Meyers lives in Austin, TX, the same city I call home in the winter months. We met here one fine fall day to talk about The American Masters.
At the age of 37, Mason Bates (photo: right) has become one of the foremost American composers of his generation; for several years, he has been a composer in residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO), which recently recorded his remarkable orchestral piece Alternative Energy under the direction of music director Riccardo Muti. A recent report on programming by American orchestras had Bates in second place in terms of performances, right behind John Adams.
Bates’ new Violin Concerto, which is sure to boost his reputation, owes its existence primarily to Anne Akiko Meyers. Some years ago Anne asked Bates to write some new cadenzas for the Beethoven Violin Concerto. He obliged and the conversation then turned to the composition of a new violin concerto. Bates had yet to write a concerto for any instrument but Anne convinced him that he needed to write one for her. She ended up co-commissioning the work with the Pittsburgh Symphony. She also persuaded maestro Leonard Slatkin to conduct the premiere.
Anne is more than pleased with the result:
It is an incredible work, one of the most important works created in the past 50 years. And audiences love it. Wherever I have played it, whether in Chicago, Detroit, Nashville or Richmond, audiences respond with tremendous enthusiasm. It is cinematic, very difficult. with hardly any rest for the soloist, but Mason also took great care not to cover the soloist. He is known for using electronica in his works, but not in this one. But he simulates electronica. Mason has said that ‘the orchestra is the world’s largest synthesizer’ and especially in the last movement the violin simulates a synthesizer.
Mason also likes to attach stories to his pieces. In the case of the Violin Concerto, it is a story about a prehistoric creature that is part dinosaur and part bird. This creature can be heard, as Mason puts it, “in the sometimes frenetic, sometimes sweetly singing solo part.”
Incidentally, since writing the Violin Concerto for me in 2012 he has also written a suite for violin and piano, which I premiered at the Aspen Festival. The titles are the names of alcoholic beverages – and I really relate well to that! It is called Pousse-Café. (ed. Note: it literally means “coffee-pusher”, or an alcoholic drink taken after coffee with a meal)
The Corigliano (photo: right) “Lullaby” was commissioned by Ms. Meyer’s husband Jason for their baby daughter, Natalie. It is a lovely piece and, according to Anne, young Natalie still insists on hearing it before she goes to sleep every night.
Anne Akiko Meyers plays everything on this CD with warmth and commitment, and with a commanding technique. Leonard Slatkin is in complete control on the podium and the London Symphony plays superbly. The recording engineers have outdone themselves. The balance is ideal and every detail in the music and every different instrumental timbre is captured with the most natural presence.
More American music coming soon from Anne; she’ll be recording the BernsteinSerenade with Keith Lockhart and the London Symphony. For more on Anne Akiko Meyers visit her website at www.anneakikomeyers.com.
The American Masters: The American Masters – Barber & Bates: Violin Concertos – Corigliano: Lullaby for Natalie. Anne Akiko Meyers, London Symphony Orchestra & Leonard Slatkin. eOne 7791.
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