At the end of the review, hear the entire, unedited interview!!!!
“Smile” – Anne Akiko Meyers
Anne Akiko Meyers is one of the elite violinists in the world, she always has been. She played with her first orchestra at the age of 7. She was featured twice on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and the Emmy Awards Show at the age of 11. She made her debut with the New York Philharmonic at age 12. At 23, she was awarded the prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant, the only artist to be the sole recipient of this annual award. Today, she performs around the globe as a featured soloist and recitalist with the most recognized names in classical music and has performed for dignitaries including the Emperor and Empress of Japan.
Okay, those are the Wikipedia facts, but what does this latest record, Smile, her debut on the Koch record label, have to offer the hungry ear? Meyers’ immense talent is on vivid display in what turns out to be an evocative buffet of scrumptious food for the ear.
So many classical records tend to be perfect in their approach; a fact that I find both pleasant and cumbersome. While admiring and respecting the precise attention to detail, I can’t help but find much of it rigid and dense at times. This release is very voracious and full of adventure, with a thread of emotionality that winds through every note. With pieces like the title cut, written by Charlie Chaplin, and the sensuous “Milonga En Re, ‘Tango’,” this record is constantly changing shape and swooning with feel and passion. In the latter song, Meyers uses a technique known as a spiccato stroke, which is basically a dropping of the bow across the strings. This technique creates a loose feel that screams with style and a smoky sensuality. I had a chance to discuss the technique with Meyers, and she explained, “You have to, actually, just drop your bow like it’s a marble dropping on the ground.” When I asked her if she had more room for free expression with songs like this, she said with a devilish laugh, “Definitely, the naughtier the better.” I also talked with her about composer Astor Piazzola and his tango pieces. “You really get the sense that you’re in a smoky tango café when you’re listening to these tangos, and with a scotch in hand. [There’s] a lot of tenderness inside the pieces too.”
The centerpiece of the disc, Franz Schubert’s “Fantasy in C Major,” is a 25 minute plus journey inside every emotion that the human soul holds. This is a composition that goes from a melancholy stroll to a brisk and spry gallop. Filled with peaks and valleys of musical wonderment, this really is the perfect classical composition performed with exquisite precision here by Meyers.
Another stand out track on the disc is “Haru No Umi (Sea In Spring).” Originally written by Michio Miyagi for the koto, the national instrument of Japan, it took some brilliant musicianship and modification to bring the song to life. She explains, “We had the piano technician tape down the strings in the piano, and that was so cool. Because a koto is basically like a harp that you place on the floor, it doesn’t have so much of a resonant quality to it. We basically had to cut the sound of this gorgeous Steinway down, and the result I think was spectacular, it really sounded like a koto.” She also explained how she used different bow speeds to gain more of a whistling sound out of her violin, and the result is stunning.
Smile is both inventive and traditional, as Anne Akiko Meyers strives to break the mold of the robotic classical player. Closing out the disc with the traditional Japanese song “Kojo No Tsuki,” and an American classic, “Somewhere Over The Rainbow,” we are reminded of Meyers’ heritage as well as her background as one of the best in her field. She has taken Smile and made it one of the most complete and rounded classical records I’ve ever heard.
Make sure to listen to my complete conversation with Anne Akiko Meyers as we discuss her upcoming work with Wynton Marsalis, her views on playing to a tape, what’s on her iPod, and the most memorable moment of her career.
I would like to thank Max Horowitz for being amazing and making it all happen…..again.