Anne Akiko Meyers, Serenade: The Love Album, 2015
You're planning a dinner party, and the conversation is more important than the cuisine. So who would be on your guest list?
On her latest recording, The Love Album, violinist Anne Akiko Meyers plays host to seven ancient Greek Philosophers who gather for a raucous evening to extrapolate on the meaning of love. That's the setting for Leonard Bernstein's Serenade. "I really wanted to showcase the serenade and celebrate Leonard Bernstein's 100th birthday that's going to be coming up, and also to celebrate my parents' 50th wedding anniversary by having this album that's based on love and all its dimensions," Anne explains. "It starts with the Serenade, which is, in my opinion, one of the most undervalued and underplayed concert works. And it's based on Plato's Symposium, which is this raucous dinner party where seven philosophers are all discussing and praising the god of love, Eros. And it comes in five movements and it has a very arresting opening in which the violin is essentially naked. It's just naked violin in the start. And it then it goes up to this high, high stratospheric A-note where the orchestra and the violin all come together and it's like a collective tsunami. And then it opens up this whole dinner party about love.
"It's a very complex work and it's incredibly challenging for the soloist," Anne continues. "I think it mirrors a lot of Leonard Bernstein's own inner conflict that he was feeling at the time about his sexuality. He went to this book to look for answers, and he's a very probing, thoughtful artist.
"But the Serenade has so many moments of tenderness, of really expressiveness, lyricism, virtuosity and jazz," Anne notes. "There's a swagger the only way Leonard Bernstein could write, you know, was with this really charming jazzy swagger in the last movement."
Anne says for her, this work has been a journey of discovery for more than two decades. "It's constantly revealing itself to me because just like any artist, you're changing and developing and it's really like reading a wonderful, beautiful book," she says. "You just find out new things that you discover, and I think there's just such a power and there are some moments of sadness, of loneliness that I recently felt like he was trying to convey. Especially like in the fourth movement. It's almost like you had this feeling of someone just stroking your head and saying, 'It's going to be OK.' It's music that definitely grows with you, and I really look forward to playing it many, many more times."
Anne has paired these seven philosophers with seven arrangers who have re-worked 10 memorable songs from the American Songbook and classic films. One of her all-time favorites is Sammy Fain's "I'll be Seeing You," arranged on this recording by Brad Dechter. "It's music that really speaks about the afterlife," Anne says, "and you know it was so popular in the '40s after the end of World War II. … A lot of people were missing each other, and this song came on the radio regularly. And I also heard it actually at the Academy Awards when Queen Latifah sang it, and it stayed with me. It just stayed in my heart and memory to see all these people who've passed away, these great legends, these great contributors to society. And this simple, sublime music playing in the background, I was like … wow. Just stunning. I need that music. I need that in my life."
Angela Morley re-worked the famous love theme from Ennio Morricone's Cinema Paradiso, a film that's close to Anne's heart. "I think for most people, when you hear movie music you actually don't think about the scene it was connected to," Anne says. "You just listen to the music and you're moved, emotionally, by its beauty, and that's what you remember. It's your own memories, it's your own ideas of what happened maybe during your life, during that time the music came into your world. And I was really moved like most people by the movie Cinema Paradiso, and I gave that as a present to my then-boyfriend who is now the father of my two children, and my life partner, and my husband. We watched it together I remember being incredibly sick at my parents' house in St. Louis. And yet we put this movie on and it's like, 'Ahhhh.' You know? It was so meaningful at the time."
And then there's a funky new arrangement of Gershwin's "Summertime" from Porgy and Bess. "I just couldn't stop smiling when I practiced that one," Anne admits. "I was like, 'Wow I love this!' It's got this honky-tonk kind of element to it it's really kind of bad ass. And I loved that. It's so much fun to play and I also got my own rhythm section with that piece, which was a first. So I just love Brad Dechter for giving me that opportunity, for sure."
In case you're wondering, Anne Akiko Meyers is fully expressing this music on the newest love of her life: "I'm now playing on the Guarneri del Gesu, the ex-Vieuxtemps that was made in 1741, and I always just kind of chuckle thinking like, 'Wow. It's playing tangos and 'Wish Upon a Star' and 'Gabriel's Oboe' and all this beautiful music from the 20th century and the 21st century, and yet it just resonates. Its power and its beauty come to life with this music. So I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to let it purr, you know, and let it sing as much as possible."