interview with Anne Akiko Meyers: Smile

February 16, 2009, 3:05 PM ·

Anne Akiko Meyers is on an independent streak – and an independent record label.

It's been about a year since we last spoke with Anne, a veteran violinist of the concert stage who was awarded an Avery Fisher Career Grant at age 23. These days, she's taking the bull by the horns.

Anne Akiko Meyers
© Anthony Parmelee

"When you take control of projects – whether it's commissioning and working with composers, or coming up with a CD project -- it's very challenging, yet it's so incredibly rewarding," Meyer said. "In the end, it's like you are creating your own child."

Meyer's new "baby" is called "Smile," released earlier this month on Koch International Classics. The album is named after the Charlie Chaplin song from his 1936 movie, "Modern Times." Anne has made it her own with a version that's slow and sultry, with the violin floating its melody over the piano, resisting yet following its changes.

The original music had no words; "the lyrics were actually added almost 20 years later," Anne said. "When you see the lyrics for the song, they're so perfect."

The rest of the album ranges from Franz Schubert to Arvo Pärt, from Astor Piazzolla to several arrangements of Japanese songs.

"Fantasy and folklore is the theme of the album, tied up by the greatest songwriters of all time," Anne said.

"I love fantasies, and there are three fantasies in the recording," Anne said. Many will recognize Schubert "Fantasy in C Major," a recital favorite that Anne plays with a flair that wouldn't be possible without the complete rhythmic certitude between Anne and pianist Akira Eguchi, particularly in the busy and intricate "Allegretto" section.

The second fantasy is a premiere recording of Olivier Messiaen's "Fantaisie," which "he wrote for his first wife and was only just discovered or published two years ago." Then there's the Arvo Pärt fantasy, Spiegel im Spiegel (Mirror in Mirror), which is "almost like the ringing of bells; you reach 'A' 17 times. It feels like you are coming home to 'A,' or yourself everytime."

Toward the end of the album are two Japanese pieces, which "are songs that almost every Japanese person hums or sings and knows since they were a child," Anne said. "'Moonlight Over the Ruined Castle' was written by a composer who died tragically, when he was only 23 years old, and this is one of the most popular songs in Japan," Anne said. "I arranged it from a previous recording that I did of it for Salut d'amour, in collaboration with another composer who is living in Japan now. I just found that it was so much more effective to play it as a solo violin piece."

The song tells the story of a castle, once glorious, that now stands in decay; yet the moonlight still shines over it, as ever. "You feel this nostalgic sentimentality to the music that's very haunting," Anne said.

The other Japanese piece, called "Haru no Umi," ("Sea in Spring") was written by the prolific Japanese composer Michio Miyagi, a blind koto player.

"He originally wrote the song for the shakuhachi," Anne said. For the recording, a sound engineer taped down the piano strings so that it would sound like a koto.

"It was a tricky thing to handle, especially on a gorgeous Steinway," Anne said. But it had the desired effect. "It gave the piano a very plucky tone quality. The strings don't vibrate, or resonate, (the sound) just ends, it just goes 'puh, puh, puh.' It's almost like a harp, but with your hand stuck on the harp."

"The piano sounds eerily like a koto, and I really tried to make my violin sound like a shakuhachi," Anne said.

A recording that the composer made of the piece in the 1930s was extremely popular, "actually I'm dying to get my hands on this recording," Anne said. "He was touring with a French female violinist -- who played it with him, and it sold millions of copies in the '30s."

Anne ends the CD on a familiar note, with "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," written by Harold Arlen. "It's from an era of hope and tenderness – and simple beauty," Anne said. "I had a Japanese jazz pianist, Makoto Ozone, arrange it so the chords are jazzy for the piano. It's music that affects me so deeply. It's like being a singer; you can directly affect people with emotion because it comes from such a deep place."

The music was just one part of making this CD for Meyers. "A friend of mine photographed me for the cover, and I was involved with every aspect of the making of the album," Meyers said. "It's different than working with a large company. The large company always has major backing behind it, but you're more of a puppet than a spirit to be reckoned with."

If you look on the CD cover, Meyers is posing with her violin, the 1730 "Royal Spanish" Stradivarius, once owned by the king of Spain, which she has owned for several years.

Anne also chose an unusual venue to launch her new recording earlier this month, Le Poisson Rouge, a club in New York. On the day of the launch party "there was snow and sleet – it was nasty! And yet it was really well-attended. This club downtown is a very cool, multi-media venue, and I think it's the way that a lot of classical music will be listened to in the future," Ann said. "You can discuss things, talk to the audience. It has a much more intimate feel. When I was on stage I was thinking, 'Forget Carnegie Hall, this is the place to be.' I prefer to go to a recital in a smaller venue, rather than a 2,000-seat or 3,000-seat center. It's ironic, because the violin was built for smaller rooms, for salons. For me, I felt like I was going back in time, and yet, everyone thought I was being so radical by playing at a club." In fact New York Times critic Steve Smith said in a review of the small recital that "the club itself cooperated, proving surprisingly well suited to unamplified playing."

"Actually, this is how violin music and intimate chamber recitals should be listened to," Anne said. "It's almost like the audience is on stage with you, and so it's a much more interactive feeling, plus the 2 drink minimum. That can’t be beat!"

Anne is not finished blazing new trails, in the near future she'll be collaborating with Wynton Marsalis, who has promised to rewrite the cadenzas for Mozart's G-major Concerto for Anne.

"He's recorded a lot of classical music – that was the start of his incredible career," Anne said. "I've been friendly with him for a long time, and I just thought, I need something snazzy, with soul. I love jazz, and I love all kinds of music, and if there's a way of being interactive with different mediums, I'm all for it. Who better than Wynton Marsalis? So it was just a matter of asking; he loved the idea. I'll be playing that with the Utah Symphony this summer, and we're working on some other places where I'll be playing it."

She'll also continue with a busy touring schedule, including playing the Bernstein Serenade next month and master classes at the University of Texas in Austin, with a recital there, and also a recital in New York.

"The Internet has changed everyone's lives – the over-bombardment of stimulus," Anne said, "so when you come to a place where it's still, it speaks to you clearly."

If you take control of your career, "there's always going to be somebody who believes in your spirit," Anne said. "I feel like I've reached a really good place now, where it is really about the music. To be in charge of your own destiny is really motivational. It's a growing process, and it helps you to realize that it's all a journey."


February 17, 2009 at 01:38 AM ·

I see on Oct 9th she is playing with the symphony orchestra I started in Stamford, Ct. She should come to St. Louis and play with the orchestra I'm running now to make it a grand duo. The St. Louis Civic Orchestra.

Her new album sounds interesting.

February 20, 2009 at 03:16 PM ·

Baby got back!  Check out that fiddle...Anne is beautiful too ;-)

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