Anne Akiko Meyers: The American Masters, E-One 7791
Three generations of mentorship, friendship and shared ideas coalesce on a new recording called The American Masters. This project is the brainchild of violinist Anne Akiko Meyers, who's been inspired by all three of the American composers featured on this recording: Samuel Barber, John Corigliano and Mason Bates. Anne describes how each of these composers were, in turn, inspired by one another.
"John was gracious to write the liner notes," Anne explains. "And he tells some very interesting stories of how Barber was just so instrumental, for lack of a better word, in mentoring John and was always available to hear his works and to make comments. He was just a very important influence for John. And John now teaches at the Juilliard School and he had this kind of young southern punk named Mason approach him and Mason ardently wanted to study with John and now the three to be on the same CD is I think just a thrill. I mean, it would be sort of like being on the same CD with Dorothy DeLay for me, I think."
Anne was just 13 when legendary teacher Dorothy Delay invited her to study in the pre-college program at Juilliard. By the time she was 18, Anne's debut album was released. It featured the Barber violin concerto. "And this latest album is my 30th album," she explains, "which also features the Barber Concerto. So there you have it. A full Barber circle."
An instrument with a very old soul brings new life to this recording of Barber's Violin Concerto. It's a 1741 Guarneri del Jesu violin. "It's in pristine condition, it has no cracks, no sound post patch, which is very standard on most violins. Ninety-nine-point-nine percent, there are no cracks at all and that has helped the sound resonate and project and be just super, super healthy. And to be able to play such textured, rich, melodious beautifully warm works such as the Barber, on a violin of that stature is just complete. You close your eyes and you just enjoy it as much as it sings."
"The second movement of the Barber is one of the most sublime movements. I think there are a lot of parallels to the Adagio for Strings, which he'd written a year earlier. And there's a section on the G string where the G string on this violin soars. It's very rich it sounds like a cello. I'm just able to sink into it and sculpt the sound. And it's just how I've always imagined it should sound."
Mason Bates composed his violin concerto for Anne in 2011. It premiered a year later, and now has been recorded for the very first time. Here's how Mason says it all came about: "Well, Anne Meyers is an old friend and just a stunning player. I've always been really touched by her two musical personalities. She has this incredibly fiery virtuosity. And it's a very intense kind of virtuosity that has lots of passion behind it. But she also has the ability to float a melody over any kind of music in a very gentle and sometimes rhapsodic way. Those two elements of her personality seem to be a great way into this concerto, which explores these two poles of her musicianship."
"I think that Mason's concerto is the most important violin concerto written in the last 50 years," Anne explains. "It's highly accessible, it's fun to play, it's challenging to play, audiences clamor to hear it, they love it and it's a dinosaur of a concerto.
"The Concerto is titled 'Archaeopteryx.' It's a prehistoric flying dinosaur. And you really do hear the dinosaur footsteps in the beginning. There's a cinematic feel to a lot of the music, too, where it's taking flight, which is just so spine-tinglingly gorgeous. The second movement, this prehistoric bird is going through swampland and yet he's writing, 'Be sensual.' I thought that was funny, to be a sensuous prehistoric dinosaur, going through mud swamps. And the last movement, I think the violin sounds closest to a synthesizer. It's just nonstop … it's like the last movement of the Barber, like a marathon to the end."
It's a suitable analogy for this album. You don't want to sprint through it, but rather spend some time with The American Masters, and savor every step along the way.