Violinist Meyers offers two premieres at Community Arts recital

Written by Greg Stepanich on 19 June 2014.

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Anne Akiko Meyers. (Photo by Molina Visuals)

It’s a one-off recital during a time when South Florida is beginning to swelter and all the snowbirds have gone home, but violinist Anne Akiko Meyers’s appearance tonight will include two new pieces of music that she’ll be championing all this year.

Meyers, a native of Southern California, came to prominence at age 11 with two appearances on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show (she passed on a third appearance, and regrets it to this day), and trained with the finest violin pedagogues of the time, including Josef Gingold, Felix Galimir and Dorothy DeLay. She soloed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at age 12, the New York Philharmonic at age 13, and since then enjoyed a career that has taken her to appearances in the world’s major concert halls, and to a discography that includes more than 30 recordings.

Meyers will give the second concert in the Community Arts summer series, which runs through Aug. 14 at the Coral Gables United Church of Christ. She’s appearing with pianist Max Levinson for a program that includes sonatas by Mozart (K. 377) and Ravel (No. 2 in G) and two pieces by Piazzolla (Milonga Angel and Oblivion). The new works are by Mason Bates (Suite for Solo Violin), and Japanese composer Somei Satoh (Sange).

Meyers, 44, premiered Bates’ Violin Concerto in 2012 with the Pittsburgh Symphony. She has just recorded it with the London Symphony, and that disc will be released sometime later this year, she said.

“I’ve been a friend of Mason’s for many years, and our friendship originated when I asked him to rewrite the cadenzas of the Beethoven Violin Concerto,” Meyers said, and that led her to commission Bates to write his own concerto for her. “I always thought his music was incredibly powerful, and textured, and rhythmically forward-thinking. … During this whole process … of his first instrumental concerto, I thought it would be so great to have him write something for violin and piano, or something for violin and electronics, whatever comes to his mind.”

Bates was happy to take up the challenge, and Meyers says he has written something exceptional.

“The piece is really like you’re jumping in a fast Ferrari going 180 miles an hour,” she said, laughing. “Brace yourself, try to keep your hat on, stay sane, and not count … Being that this is the first time we’re going to be playing it, I’m sure there are going to be some bugs on the windshield.”

Meyers enjoys working with the composers as they create new pieces — “I want them to know I’m available 24-7 to help them with anything that will help the piece grow for future generations,” she said — and adds that not until this past April, when she played the Bates concerto with the Chicago Symphony, did the work reach its final form.

“It’s always such an incredible process, to be part of a new work, because it’s very experimental, and very challenging, and thrilling all at the same time. Because you never know what’s going to happen, and you never know how it’s going to sound and feel to the composer until afterward, and they can work out the issues that might have arisen during the performances,” she said.

Meyers said Bates’s Suite for Solo Violin — which is actually for violin and piano; “you’ll have to ask him why he called it that” — has many finger-twisting tricky passages “that I hope I’ll survive.”

And while the suite doesn’t use electronics, some of it still evokes that world. “It’s definitely not electronica-sounding, but there is a flavor of it being a DJ; almost every bar has a different time signature … it’s soundbite-y, and really quick and fast-footed … It’s like when a DJ scratches a record,” Meyers said.

Satoh, whose Violin Concerto was recorded by Meyers and the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra in 1999, is a very different kind of composer, she said.

“He writes very meditative pieces, it’s music that is almost slower than your heartbeat. It takes an incredible amount of control,” she said. “I always feel that I’m trying to tap into my inner Buddhist priest.”

That’s not such a stretch for Meyers, whose mother is Japanese, and who says she’s “very attracted too that aesthetic. It’s super beautiful, and I really love traditional Japanese antiques, I worship Japanese food -- I eat sushi at least once a week. With my mother being from Tokyo, it’s definitely something I embrace.”

Satoh is a good exemplar of the Japanese aesthetic Meyers loves, in which meaning is offered by suggestion or absence of anything specific.

“In Satoh’s music, the silences are almost more important than the notes,” she said, adding that Sange refers to flowers strewn at the temples when people make prayers. “It’s really for important for him, as he’s explained to me several times — he was almost at death’s door several years ago, and he was left with the strong impression of his heart almost going to flat-line. And that’s what you feel with the piece, too; he wants to make sure that the slower it is, the more you can feel, the more you can understand.”

Another work on the program, Ravel’s Violin Sonata No. 2, absorbs the language of jazz in a profound and not facile way. In the second movement (called Blues), the violin enters with a theme that swoops and slides up to blue notes in almost-vocal fashion.

“He really felt that the violin and the piano were just totally incompatible,” said Meyers, who lives with her husband and two children in Austin, Texas. “And so he wanted to emphasize that with the sonata, which is so cool. The violin is almost supposed to sound like a saxophone or a banjo. It’s one of my favorite sonatas to perform.”

With the Mozart (“a perfect way to open a program”) and the Piazzolla (“it’s music that strikes your soul”), Meyers’s recital covers ground from the late 18th century to the current year. The new music is especially important to her.

“I really love to have dynamic, interesting repertoire that speaks from the soul … I love to have as much contemporary music as I can, whether it be a premiere or just a piece that people haven’t heard of much and put my own stamp on it. And then go to the foundation, the pillars of classical music and delve in there, too,” she said. “The old and the new: that juxtaposition is just so refreshing to me.”

That meeting of old and new extends to Meyers’s instrument, which she received on lifetime loan after it was bought by an anonymous buyer for about $16 million last year. Her violin is the 1741 “ex-Vieuxtemps” Guarneri del Gesu, which in addition to the Belgian virtuoso whose name it bears has been played by Yehudi Menuin and Itzhak Perlman, among other fingerboard luminaries. Meyers points out that the violin has suffered essentially no damage over the centuries since it emerged from Guarneri’s Cremonese shop.

“There isn’t any soundpost patch, or crack, or anything,” she said. “In traveling around with it, I take great precautions in making sure that it will be carried to the next generation intact, in pristine condition.”

Anne Akiko Meyers and pianist Max Levinson perform at 8 p.m. today at the Coral Gables United Church of Christ. Meyers will also conduct a free-admission master class at the church at 10 a.m. the following morning. Tickets for the concert range from $30 to $50; call (305) 448-7421, ext. 153, or visit www.communityartsprogram.org.