Over the Rainbow with Anne Akiko Meyers

violinist Anne Akiko Meyers
violinist Anne Akiko Meyers

 

Earlier in the week, I had the pleasure of accompanying violinist Anne Akiko Meyers in the Samuel Barber Violin Concerto. Meyers performed with the Williamsburg Symphonia, a chamber orchestra based in Williamburg, Virginia. You can hear her interpretation of the Barber on this recording, released in 2000. (She is accompanied by conductor Christopher Seaman and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Listen to the second movement here).

Anne Akiko Meyers’ family joined her in Virginia. As an encore, she performed a solo rendition of When You Wish upon a Star as a softly soothing lullaby for her two young daughters in the audience. The song, first heard in Disney’s 1940 film, Pinocchio, was included in a recording Meyers just released last month called Serenade: The Love Album. (Listen to excerpts here, here, and here).

Here is another small gem from an earlier CD (Smile, released in 2009). Anne Akiko Meyers and pianist Anton Nel perform Makoto Ozone’s arrangement of the Harold Arlen ballad, Over the Rainbow at WGBH studios in Boston:

New Electronic Sound Worlds

composer, Mason Bates
composer Mason Bates

Violinist Anne Akiko Meyers will join the Richmond Symphony in March to perform a brand new violin concerto by Mason Bates. Born in 1977, Bates, who happens to be a Richmond native, is currently composer in residence with the Chicago Symphony. The Violin Concerto, written for Meyers, was recently premiered by the Pittsburgh Symphony. Learn more about the concerto here and here.

One of the most interesting aspects of Bates’s music is the way he uses the new, electronic sounds of the twenty-first century. Composers have always been inspired by the sounds around them. In the Classical period inspiration came from the sounds of nature…bird songs and brooks. With the industrial revolution the orchestra got louder and more dissonant. In Bates’s music we hear the influence of Techno, Ambient, film scores, John Adams and more, all mixed together in a shimmering sonic stew. This is the musical vocabulary we hear around us every day.

Listen to Mason Bates’s The B-Sides for Orchestra and Electronica, written in 2009. You’ll see Bates, who has developed a second career as a dance club DJ, hunched over a laptop and drum pad in the percussion section. Also notice the use of a broom and the sound it creates. The piece is in five movements. The third movement features samples of NASA radio transmissions from the 1965 Gemini IV space flight. In the final movement, the earthy thud of a Techno beat propels us through a series of almost cinematic musical adventures. Don’t worry about what the piece is “about” on the first listening. Just enjoy the colors, rhythm and flow and see where the music takes you. Here is a live performance with Leonard Slatkin and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra:

  1. Broom of the System (0:13)
  2. Aerosol Melody (Hanalei) (4:22)
  3. Gemini in the Solar Wind (8:47)
  4. Temescal Noir (14:56)
  5. Warehouse Medicine (17:43)

Now that you’ve heard The B-Sides, here is Mason Bates’s description of the piece. He has some interesting additional thoughts in this interview. Bates talks about the use of electronic sounds in the orchestra here.

[typography font=”Cantarell” size=”28″ size_format=”px”]Michael Gordon’s “Industry”[/typography]

Mason Bates joins a long line of composers who have been inspired by electronic sounds. Karlheinz Stockhausen influenced the development of electronic music in the twentieth century. Here is his “Studie II” (Elektronische Musik) (1954). Edgar Varese’s Poème électronique (1958) was written for the Philips Pavilion at the Brussels World’s Fair. American composer George Crumb’s string quartet, Black Angels (1970), uses a variety of new, amplified sounds as well as percussive instrument tapping and bow scraping.

Here is Industry (1992), a piece for solo cello by Michael Gordon (b. 1956). The use of distortion draws upon techniques associated with rock music. Listen to the way the piece gradually develops out of a repetitive opening motive:

Here is what Michael Gordon says about the piece:

[quote]When I wrote Industry in 1992, I was thinking about the Industrial Revolution, technology, how instruments are tools and how Industry has crept up on us and is all of a sudden overwhelming. I had this vision of a 100-foot cello made out of steel suspended from the sky, a cello the size of a football field, and, in the piece, the cello becomes a hugely distorted sound. I wrote this piece for Maya Beyser, and it was an incredible process. I would fax her the music and she’d play it to me over the phone. We did this maybe ten times, trying things out. She was constantly teaching me about the cello, and I was making her play things that were really awkward and dark.[/quote]

[typography font=”Cantarell” size=”28″ size_format=”px”]What do you think?[/typography]

What experience do you have as you listen to this new music? How do these sounds reflect our modern world? What impact will electronic sounds and pop influences have in the future? In an age of computers and the prospect of increasing artificial intelligence, are electronic sounds somehow less “human” or are they a natural extension of the orchestra, as Mason Bates suggests? If you feel inspired, share your thoughts in the thread below.

"Air: The Bach Album" by Anne Akiko Meyers

On Valentine’s Day this past February, violinist Anne Akiko Meyers released her newest CD, “Air” The Bach Album, featuring Bach’s A minor and E major Concertos, as well as the “Double” Concerto, accompanied by Steven Mercurio and the English Chamber Orchestra.  This recording, which I highly recommend, debuted at #1 on the Billboard Charts and has been a best seller on iTunes and Amazon.  It follows on the heels of other excellent Bach violin concerto discs by Hilary HahnJulia Fischer and Elmar Oliveira that have come out over the last ten years.

This CD will be especially enjoyable for Suzuki violin students of all levels and their parents.  Dr. Suzuki returns to the music of Bach throughout his repertoire, starting with the three Minuets in Book 1.  Suzuki includes the first movement of the Concerto for Two Violins, Strings and Continuo in D minor (BWV 1043), known as the “Bach Double” in Book 4. The rhythm of the first “Twinkle” Variation is actually identical to the opening rhythm of the “Double” Concerto.  Later, the entire Concerto No. 1 in A minor (BWV 1041) is found in Suzuki Book 7. Even the youngest child who is not close to studying these pieces will benefit from hearing this recording regularly.

Meyers recorded both parts of the “Double” Concerto in two different locations using two different Stradivarius violins.  While this isn’t the first time a violinist has recorded both parts, as you can hear in this clip of Jascha Heifetz, it may be the first time different violins have been used by the same player.  Meyers talks about the two violins, Bach’s music, and the process of making the recording in an interview on NPR’s All Things Considered, in this interview from Violinist.com and here:

Three smaller works round out the CD.  They are transcriptions of the “Air” from Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major (BWV 1068), the “Largo” from Concerto for Harpsichord in F minor (BWV 1056) and the Bach/Gounod Ave Maria which is based on Prelude No. 1 from Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier.  Here is a clip of Meyers playing the “Air” in a recital performance:

Anne Akiko Meyers dedicates the CD to her 96 year old grandmother and to the legendary luthier, Rene Morel who died late last year.  I was lucky enough to have Morel adjust my own violin, and I couldn’t help but think of his special gifts as I listened to the richness of the two Strads featured on the CD.

Next month I’ll post some older performances of this music, as well as some background.  For now, enjoy the wildly exhilarating last movement of the A minor concerto from Meyers’s CD: