march 2012

Anne Akiko Meyers at age 20: ‘The violin and I are like one unit.’ (Photo: Stan Malinowski)

Anne Akiko Meyers: Perspective and Retrospective

From her youth to the making of ‘Air’ to a new child on the way…

‘You Really Have To Believe In Yourself’

The 20-year-old artist, interviewed by Anthony DeBartolo in 1991 for Exeter Chicago magazine

You turned pro at the age of sixteen?

Yeah, that's when I was signed by a management firm.

So basically, you've been on the road for the past four years. How's that going?

I have 50 to 60 concerts a year now. Just about one a week. My whole life revolves around the violin. Everything that I see, that I hear, that I am, is drawn directly into my instrument. I try to release that while I'm on stage. The violin and I are like one unit. There are a lot of difficulties in traveling. It's very, very lonely. You have to become your own best friend. You have to constantly draw a lot out of yourself, as well as other people, because you're always looking for inspiration.

You told me your job was 99 percent frustration, 1 percent joy. Why so?

A lot of the frustration is due to dealing with so many types of people, and attempting to get to know them very quickly. You have one rehearsal, maybe play for the conductor, and then play a concert the next night, not knowing the orchestra members, not really becoming familiarized with anything. It's just too quick, everything is too fast. All the while, you're constantly being judged. The people out in the audience, they've likely never heard of you. You have to show them who you are. At every concert, I feel like a gymnast at the Olympic games going for the gold. Every single concert. It's really stressful.

Anne Akiko Meyers at New York City’s Rubin Museum of Art, January 30, 2011, performs Fritz Kreisler’s ‘Liebeslied,’ or ‘Love’s Sorrow’ with Reiko Uchida on piano.

Last night during your outdoor Grant Park Symphony performance here in Chicago, there was a helicopter, hovering only a few hundred feet above the audience. I noticed you took a few quick takes at it while playing. You appeared almost amused. What was going on?

It was during the slowest, softest part (of Vieuxtemps' Violin Concerto No.5), where I'm playing all by myself. It was really funny because one of the guys in the orchestra played with me and the Oregon Symphony a while ago, and during our first night, a person in the audience had a heart attack right at the beginning of the piece. I kept on playing, the conductor kept on going. So we both looked up at the helicopter and started to laugh. Like, here we go again. But the guy that had the heart attack was okay, so it worked out.

Whom do you really love to play?

I really love 20th century composers--such as the Samuel Barber concerto. It's fantastic, but it's not played too often. That's what I recorded on my first disc. I also like the Prokofiev concertos. But it seems audiences demand more traditional, romantic works such as Tchaikovsky, Brahms. It's just very predictable music. I like playing the traditional masters, but I prefer to play more modern composers.

Can you relate to them more?

I relate to the passion of the traditional masters. But with the modern composers, the passions are more complex. The traditional masters tend to explain a story like a picture, going from one scene to the next. With the modern composers, there's more psychology involved. There's a lot of different shadings with which you can work.

You spoke about the loneliness of constantly being on tour. How do you keep replenishing yourself?

Being around the right people. Having a great family supporting me. I call them all the time, right after I finish playing. I have a sister who feeds me a lot of humor, who keeps making me laugh. I think you have to laugh at a lot of the BS that goes on in the business.

Tell me about it.

There's a lot of politics involved, even the politics of daily living. Meeting people on the run and traveling by yourself, you really have to have a good sense of who you are. You have to really believe in yourself.

What about the sexual politics? You're an attractive 20-year old woman traveling alone and conductors have a lot of power. They hit on you a lot?

Oh, yeah.

From Air: The Bach Album, Anne Akiko Meyers performs Bach/Gounod’s ‘Ave Maria’ on the 1697 ex-Napoleon/Molitor Stradivarius violin. At New York City’s Rubin Museum of Art, with Reiko Uchida on piano. January 30, 2011.

How do you deal with that?

I just slam the door in their faces. They may ask you out for lunch, or they might, you know. I can see right away what's going on. You just really have to be extremely firm. If they try anything more, then it's time to take the next flight out of town.

Ever take that next flight?

No. I haven't had that experience yet, and I hope I never do.

‘Being open and appreciating your heritage and traditions is paramount…’

From The Tatcha Blog, June 13, 2011

By all accounts you were a child prodigy with the violin and have since gone on to touch so many people around the world through your breathtaking performances. Can you share a little about your evolution and inspirations as an artist?

My life began with my mother feeding me and playing David Oistrakh's Beethoven violin concerto. I think this connection of nourishment/food with music helped set my brain up for a lot of music in my later life. When I was seven years old, I studied with Alice and Eleanore Schoenfeld at the Colburn School of Performing Arts in Los Angeles, and they taught me the importance of chamber music and sharing thoughts, ideas with my classmates. This was truly inspiring and I feel this core to this day when I perform. Making music is such a collaborative effort, chamber music enforced my love of the violin repertoire and how important it is to listen to one another when playing. My studies continued with Dorothy DeLay and Masao Kawasaki at the Juilliard School, and helped shape the musician I am today. It is incredibly important to share music with my audiences, no matter what form it comes in (jazz, blues, rock, classical, opera). Expanding my audience is important to me as most people come away so surprised that they had one of the best, most memorable listening experiences of their lives at a classical concert.

The stories you've shared in interviews about your family's support are so touching. Your mother is Japanese and your father is American.  How has your multicultural heritage influenced your artistry?

I love Japan and spent many summers there as a child. I love the different cultural traditions and have played a lot of music by Japanese composers. I also love that I was raised in America and have also played many American composers music. My point is, I don't think your nationality influences your choices but being open and appreciating your heritage and traditions is paramount to all individuals. This is what makes each of us so entirely unique.

Anne Akiko Meyers demonstrates her $3.6 million Stradivarius violin on Countdown with Keith Olberman on MSNBC. She plays Gershwin’s ‘Summertime.’

An amazingly talented violinist needs a worthy instrument to bring to life. Can you tell us about your famous Molitor Stradivarius violin and what it means to you to have such an exquisite, historic instrument?

The history and provenance of the ex-Molitor/Napoleon Stradivarius, dated 1697, is incredible. Just think of all the wars big and small it has survived, the different temperatures, the handling by so many people. That it has survived over 300 years but is such a necessary part of my day, just boggles my mind. Also, knowing that it once was played and belonged to everybody from France's legendary beauty, Juliette Recamier, to Bonaparte Napoleon, to Count Joseph Molitor (who was a general in Napoleon's Army) to violinist, Elmar Oliveira and is now in my hands, is quite something else. It will be interesting to see who plays it next.


‘Now I Get Hungry Every Time I Play’

From NPR's All Things Considered
February 6, 2012

On the Bach 'Double Concerto':
It's one of the most fascinating compositions written, and it fascinated me that many people were so curious to hear how two violins that I suddenly acquired, how they would sound together. So I came up with the brilliant idea of recording both parts, the first in London with the Royal Chamber Orchestra, and the second part in New York, on stage with earphones (listening through earphones), several months later.

I played the first part on the Napoleon/Molitor Strad, dated 1697, and recorded that section in London. Then I did the second violin part on the Royal Spanish violin, dated 1730, also by Strad. I chose those parts for each voice, being that the Royal Spanish has a more masculine tone to it, and "Molly," I call her, is really this pure, beautiful, crystalline voice, and I thought that would be so suitable for the first violin part. The violin on the first part is the higher register of the Double Concerto, and the lower bass notes are on the Royal Spanish.

Performing with the Angel Ensemble of California, 11-year-old Anne Akiko Meyers appears on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. ‘I still haven't forgiven my mother for putting me on national TV wearing long knee socks,’ Ms. Meyers says with a laugh. ‘It was very exciting and Johnny was very generous.’

On her childhood:
Meyers' mother is Japanese and her father is American; she was born in San Diego and studied at the Colburn School of Performing Arts in Los Angeles. She was four years old when she began playing violin.

"There's a story that my mother played a lot of music for me when she was pregnant with me. She played the recording of the Beethoven Violin Concerto with David Oistrakh once I was born," Meyers says, "and especially when she fed me, so I would associate the pleasure of food and eating with music. Now I get hungry every time I play."

At 11 she appeared with the Angel Ensemble of California on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson: "I still haven't forgiven my mother for putting me on national TV wearing long knee socks. It was very exciting and Johnny was very generous."


‘The Guiding Light in Bach's Writing Is the Pulse’

Excerpts from an interview with Laurie Niles posted at, on February 15, 2012

Anne Akiko Meyers, whose recent recordings include Seasons...Dreams and Smile, does own two Stradivaris. About a year ago she acquired the 1697 "ex-Molitar/Napoleon" Strad (for a record price of $3.6 million). She has owned the 1730 "Royal Spanish" Strad since about 2006. At this point, she's planning to keep them both.

"Since I acquired 'Molly,' or the 'ex-Molitor/Napolean' Strad, a lot of people were asking what the differences were between the tone of the two Strads that I own. They really wanted to hear them in concert together," said Anne, when we spoke over the phone. "I started to think of what composition would be suitable for this, and then we started to think about Bach, and I thought, how ideal, to record the Bach Double, and to do both parts, which no one has done on two different violins. So it was a very novel idea, on a piece that has been played so much."

Anne Akiko Meyers performs 'Spiegel im Spiegel' (‘Mirror in Mirror’) by Arvo Pärt from 'Smile' at New York City’s Rubin Museum of Art, with Reiko Uchida on piano. January 30, 2011.

So which fiddle stars in which role?

"It was a very easy choice for me, deciding which violin went to which part, because the 'Royal' has a little more masculine kind of sound and is a dark--tall, dark and handsome man!" she laughed. "The first violin part has so much in the upper register; it really captures the sonorities and overtones in Molly so exquisitely. I really wanted to make sure that it sounded like two different people, too. After I recorded it, I later found the Heifetz recording. I think that the big mistake there was that he was using the same violin, and he also sounded exactly identical in both parts."

Anne said she definitely thinks of "Molly" in the feminine. "She's very responsive, but she's also very pure. And I think there's this cleanliness in the sound that carries over so exquisitely with Bach and Mozart."

In preparation for making an all-Bach album, Anne said she "bathed her soul in Bach," studying authentic ornamentation, tempi and dynamics.

Anne Akiko Meyers performs Debussy’s ‘Claire de Lune’ at SPACE, in Evanston, IL. Reiko Uchida on piano.

If you strip down all the practices that have evolved around Bach and focus on Bach's manuscript, or the urtext, there's actually a lot of room for interpretation.

"I've studied Bach's markings and realized that there are no dynamics and no tempi markings, and every edition is different," Anne said. "I went back to the Henle edition and realized a lot of people were playing wrong notes, and wrong slurs, which make up the articulations. When you take all these things away, it takes the intimidation away. Nobody truly knows how it sounded back when he composed these pieces--in a coffee shop! He played the violin concertos in a coffee shop, weekly. That was his getaway. After fathering 20 children, I really don't blame him!"

So what to go by?

"The guiding light in Bach's writing is the pulse," Anne said. "It's all set to dances. Basically, if you can dance to the music, you're on the right path. It has to have a lot of energy, and there's always a forward moving propulsion to his phrases. There's just many layers to his compositional style; but that's what makes it so fun to play."

"A lot of people try to intellectualize Bach, and that's a big problem--you're looking for a kind of scientific structure to guide you to perform Bach," Anne said. "When you strip that away and you look at the actual music and how it makes you feel, it's just a very profound music, and very original in its style. You can easily speak, and let it breathe."

‘The guiding light in Bach's writing is the pulse. It's all set to dances. Basically, if you can dance to the music, you're on the right path. It has to have a lot of energy, and there's always a forward moving propulsion to his phrases.’

Here's another bit of news from Anne: she is expecting her second daughter, due to arrive in early March.

Anne's daughter, Natalie, is 19 months old, and she said she's really enjoyed traveling with her whole family when she performs.

"It's so enriching to be able to do what I really love and then travel with my family and do it together," Anne said. "For decades, I was traveling by myself--every lonely hotel room and symphony orchestra around the globe! It was great, but so different now. Your priorities completely shift. I feel so thankful, to be able to laugh every single day with something that my daughter does. She loves music so much--she has a little 1/100-size violin," Anne laughed, "She loves to bang the heck out of! It's super adorable. I highly recommend having children and continuing with your concertizing as much as ever.

"Sleep schedules and things like that just go out the window, unfortunately," Anne said. "You have to be very adaptable, very flexible. It's like being a musician--you just never know what's going to be thrown at you, and so it just builds experience."

Anne Akiko Meyers, with Reiko Uchida on piano, performs ‘Autumn in New York.’ Written by Vernon Duke in 1934 for the Broadway musical Thumbs Up!, the first of many recorded versions was by Billie Holiday in 1945. Ms. Meyers features the tune on her 2010 album, Seasons…dreams. This performance was filmed at New York’s Le Poisson Rouge.

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