Friday, December 3, 2021
Dec. 3, 2021

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Violinist to open symphony season


The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra continues to up its game, bringing in one of America’s premiere violinists, Anne Akiko Meyers, to open its 37th season.

Meyers has been a sensation ever since she debuted with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at 11 and with the New York Philharmonic at 12. Born in 1970 to a Japanese mother and an American father, Meyers graduated from The Juilliard School at the ripe age of 20, signed a contract with RCA Red Seal, started touring and has never looked back.

Since then, she has played with virtually every major orchestra around the globe, made over 32 recordings, and collaborated with artists including Chris Botti, Wynton Marsalis, Michael Bolton and the pop-opera group Il Divo.

Meyers lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and their two young girls, ages 3 and 5. When I caught up with her over the phone, Meyers had just returned from France, where she appeared with the National Orchestra of Lyon, and she was eager to talk about the piece that she will play with the Vancouver Symphony. It is Leonard Bernstein’s “Serenade” (after Plato’s “Symposium”), which he wrote for violin, strings, harp, and percussion.

“I’ve been a fan of the “Serenade” for almost two decades,” said Meyers. “I first heard the piece while driving in a rental car when I was playing a gig somewhere, and I was so struck by the music — in particular of the fourth movement, “Agathon,” which is extraordinarily beautiful. I just had to learn it, and I performed it on tour with the American Symphony Orchestra in the ’90s.”

In his “Serenade,” Bernstein explores the ideas expressed by several Greek philosophers at a dinner party about the topic of love. Over the course of five movements, the music travels from the sublime to the rowdy, because, at the end, the party is crashed by Alcibiades and a band of drunken revelers.

“It has one of those rare openings in which the violin plays unaccompanied,” remarked Meyers. “It’s very arresting from the first note, because you are speaking this dialogue to the audience. So it ascends to a super high note in the stratosphere that kicks off the party, and all the facets of love come in to play.”

The first two movements have a lot of lyrical content, although some of it can seem rather abstract at times. In sharp contrast, the third movement, named after the philosopher Erixymathus, blitzes by in about three minutes.

“The third movement is so wicked and really gnarly,” noted Meyers. “You just have to dive into the swimming pool and hope that you get out alive. There are a lot of key changes and time signature changes. But the piece contains a lot of rhythmic patterns, and the lines float above it so expressive and lyrical. And it ends with that Bernstein swagger that we all know and love.”

Bernstein’s “Serenade” just happens to be the centerpiece of Meyer’s latest recording, “The Love Album,” which features the London Symphony Orchestra and conductor Keith Lockhart. Released in September, the CD also contains 10 brand-new arrangements of love-inspired music from the world of stage and film.

“I like to create full-circle projects around a theme,” explained Meyers. “So the music in this recording is in praise of love. I discovered seven arrangers to work with, and we did most of our planning via Skype and the phone. We will have lots of copies on hand at the concert.”

Meyers plays the Vieuxtemps Guarneri del Gesu. It was made in 1741 and is considered one of the rarest of violins.

“It’s in triple-mint condition, it looks like it just left (Giuseppe) Guarneri’s workbench,” said Meyers of her violin. “It was sitting under a bed for fifty years and has been coveted by many great violinists like Menuhin, Perlman, Zukerman, and Josh Bell. It doesn’t look like a perfect specimen like a Strad violin. The scroll is beautifully asymmetrical and the F holes looked like they were carved out with a scalpel. But it projects wonderfully and has gorgeous sounds. It’s a dream to play.”

The concert will kick off with the Overture to Bernstein’s opera “Candide.” It is a vivacious number, with sparkly melodies and an engaging part for the percussion battery. It’s been a popular curtain raiser ever since it was first played on Broadway in December 1956 and should receive an energetic interpretation from Music Director Salvador Brotons, who is celebrating his 25th year with the orchestra.

Also on the program are the first and second suites from Sergei Prokofiev’s ballet “Romeo and Juliet.” Based on the play by Shakespeare, Prokofiev’s music brilliantly captures the romance and tragedy of the story. It also doesn’t shy away from clashes and turbulence. The heavy-footed “Dance of the Knights” has become so famous that it has served as walk-on music for many bands, such as The Smiths, Muse, Iron Maiden, Tears for Fears and Deep Purple.

In conjunction with the concert, the National Public Radio’s “Philosophy Talk” will discuss Plato’s “Symposium,” taping the show in front of a live audience at Skyview Concert Hall from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. prior to the Sunday performance. Yes, love is in the air in Vancouver.