Anne Akiko Meyers ~ On the Ex-Vieuxtemps Guarneri del Gesu and Related Things: Violinist extraordinaire Anne Akiko Meyers is busy with many wonderful projects for us to look forward to, including some more premieres of a violin concerto composed for her by Mason Bates (which made its world premiere this past December in Pittsburgh w/Leonard Slatkin conducting) as well as a new CD that is in the works (she couldn’t tell me what’s on it, sadly, we’ll have to wait patiently), but the latest news is that she has recently been awarded lifetime usage of a Guarneri del Gesu from 1741 that was previously owned by Henri Vieuxtemps, and she is very excited to bring this instrument to the concert hall for the public to hear, and plans to use for not only the Bates Concerto premieres but also pieces like the Barber Concerto, of which a few minutes can be heard on the promo (with the Guarneri).
Anne had a few minutes to talk about this and about other things via Skype.
CM: Can you talk to us about this latest rare violin acquisition?
Anne: Yeah, recently, I was awarded lifetime use of one of the most iconic violins ever created, the Ex-Vieuxtemps Guarneri del Gesu, dated 1741!
CM: Vieuxtemps was the owner?
Anne: After Paganini, he was the greatest virtuoso violinist that existed in the 19th Century, and he was a Belgian concert violinist-composer. It’s really quite extraordinary to see. I saw this incredible photograph of his funeral, and everyone from Belgium was at the funeral! He was the biggest rockstar of his day. The violin was carried on a pillow by Ysaÿe.
CM: Another Belgian violinist-composer!
Anne: Yeah, another incredible violinist! And this violin has been coveted by everyone from Ysaÿe to Menuhin, and so many other people that haven’t been able to afford it.
CM: So, a lot of famous hands have touched this violin!
Anne: Yes, and what’s really extraordinarily unique about this violin is that it has nary a crack or any damage in it! Every violin ever made has a soundpost crack, and this doesn’t. It’s like it was just made yesterday! And that’s why every violin maker and luthier around the world consider this violin like their muse.
CM: So it’s like the perfectly preserved instrument!
Anne: Perfectly preserved, and like the tonal qualities of it are just something out of this world. The health of it makes the sound so unlike anything else.
CM: Are you going to be using this on tour with you, and then you have to give it back to the sponsor?
Anne: My sponsor and I negotiated a contract so that I’d never have to worry about performing on it throughout my career. My sponsor is particular about it’s preservation though (naturally) and it being brought to places it shouldn’t-like high humidity or super dry places…
I mean, just the preservation of something like this is such a great big responsibility on my part! I’m just another messenger bringing it to the next generation. That it survived since 1741 without a crack in it ever, I’m not going to be the first to mark it.
‘Vieuxtemps’ Guarneri Del Gesu Returns To The Concert Stage…
CM: Can you talk about the Mason Bates Violin Concerto that you have been premiering?
Anne: I’m going to be playing it in Nashville in a couple of weeks again! It’s in 3 movements, but it’s connected throughout the 3 movements, so there’s really hardly a break for me and the part, and it’s just a constant dialogue for the orchestra, and some very rhythmically beautiful and kind of jazzy lyrical sections that really transport you to another world! And it’s really about a dinosaur with a very complicated name for the first movement! But this kind of prehistoric animal that takes flight…
CM: Not a Pterodactyl?
anneakikoandmason1Anne: Not a Pterodactyl! [both laugh]
It was just such an incredible process to work with Mason too, and he did a lot of the communicating via Skype–I’d play a lot of the section for him, and then he’d revise and he’s still revising the part. He was revising the part up until concert time in Pittsburgh, so, it’s very much a work in progress.
CM: Having been a songwriter, I know that second thoughts are part of the territory.
Anne: Almost every concerto that’s been written in history has been revised at some time whether it was at the time of premiere or several years after…
CM: Alternate movements, too! And Mason Bates–When I think of him, I can’t help but think of beat elements or rhythmic elements. Are there of any of those in this piece?
Anne: There’s a lot of rhythm!
CM: But no turntables!
Anne: No turntables, no!
CM: I saw him do that at the YouTube Symphony concert!
Anne: No, there’s no electronica, or electric violins, but he made a very interesting statement in that he thinks the orchestra is the world’s biggest synth! It’s really true! Like the opening! It’s very creative! The sounds he gets from the orchestra, it sounds like a synthesizer! Because they’re plucking the string or hooking the bows a certain way, it’s really interesting that way.
CM: Are you going to be recording the concerto?
Anne: We’re looking at that option right now. It’s a very big part for the orchestra, so, to book an orchestra, it’s going to be a very expensive recording.
CM: Would you do a kickstarter, maybe? [laughs] I’d help you promote it! I’ve been doing this on here for other musicians.
Anne: We might be able to record it possibly this year, but we’ll see!
Interview for the Pittsburgh Symphony YouTube channel w/Anne and Mason discussing the Violin Concerto
CM: The Bach Air Album was a great standout last year, and you recorded the Double Concerto by yourself on overdubs. What is the difference between doing that and performing it with a live duet partner?
Anne: Well, to do a duet with another soloist, you’re working off of each other in real time. We had to record the first part in London, and then the second part in New York, several months after the first part was edited. And that was unique in itself! I’ve worked with some rock people where you do everything over headphones, and that’s what I had to do with the second part! I had to wear sound proof headphones and just play to myself, and that was a little trickier because it’s already set, and you don’t have as much freedom, but you have to be very flexible when you are just playing off the track.
It’s more of a challenge for me as I had to learn both parts and really make both parts very convincing, and I really wanted to showcase the two violins (the Molitor and the Royal Spanish), and their own separate strengths and sound qualities, and wanted to capture those as much as possible. That’s why I chose the Molly for the register, for the first violin part, because it really showcases the upper register, and the Royal Spanish is the darker instrument and it captures the 2nd violin part or the bass tones more. That wasn’t explained so much in the program notes, but that was what my goal was in the recording.
CM: The other thing I’m curious about is the part you play when you do this live–Do you play the first of those 2 parts between you and the other violinist? They’re kind of like an equal solo.
Anne: It’s definitely equal, there’s no disadvantage being second or first!
CM: But when you’ve played it before, you’ve been the 2nd violinist?
Anne: I’ve been both.
CM: I always assumed the star violinist always played the first solo…
Anne: It’s really a matter of preference, because there’s so much going on within both parts, it’s not a competition. First doesn’t mean that’s superior at all. It’s like watching a tennis match, you have to have two players. Is one better than the other? It depends! The strategy within the game changes with how they play off of each other.