The year 1741 has a special significance for Anne Akiko Meyers. It both signifies a birth and death that the world-class violinist is inextricably tied to at this time in her internationally celebrated career in classical music.
It was the year a finely crafted violin was constructed by Italian luthier Giuseppe Guarneri. Its vaunted reputation as a superbly made instrument was then made by its 19th century owner, Belgian composer Henri Vieuxtemps. The maker’s and original owner’s names have become synonymous with this violin, called the Vieuxtemps Guarneri. Known for its rich and enormous tone due to its sturdy construction, it is considered the finest violin ever made.
Over its 273-year existence, the well-preserved violin has been played by such legendary masters as the late Yehudi Menuhin, Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman. Before 2012, it’s been mostly stored, of all places, under a bed for half a century. Luckily, its new owner (a Londoner who remains anonymous) paid more that $16 million, and instead of the precious violin being ignominiously stashed away, the owner has instead loaned it to Meyers to use.
And we’re all the richer for it. Honolulu audiences will be able to experience Meyers and the violin in concert when she appears as a special guest with the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of guest conductor Junichi Hirokami, on April 5 and 6. Meyers and the orchestra will perform Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2, as part of a program that will include works by Khachaturian and Strauss.
The violin has already made a number of public appearances, the widest being in its commercial recording debut with the English Chamber Orchestra. Meyers’ latest album features the compositions of Antonio Vivaldi — who died in 1741 — and features the always popular Four Seasons, as well as his Triple Concerto, where Meyers performs all three solo parts.
She said by phone that “great care is taken with the Vieuxtemps, and with strict security measures. I’ve played all kinds of violins since I was 11, but it’s a honor to play this particular instrument for the rest of my life.
“Every violin needs special care, taking into consideration traveling with an antique instrument, the daily wear-and-tear of playing it, changes in airplane air pressure and climate,” she said. “I’ve had the Vieuxtemps for a year-and-a-half now, and it’s an extraordinary instrument in its history and provenance. The condition of the violin is like none other. It has a definitive range of color, depth and diminuendo of sound. I love to perform with it. It helps greatly in the expressivity of the music and it speaks to me as an artist.
“It’s essentially my heart and voice, with a wide palette of color at my disposal.”
Meyers and her Vieuxtemps Guaneri will be put to the test with the Prokofiev piece she’ll be performing with the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra. “It was his second piece (in G minor, Op. 63), and it’s really, incredibly difficult to play, with all these technical changes. It premiered in Madrid in 1935 and it’s very coloristic, very Spanish, evoking the lively play of castanets in the third and last movement.”
Although Meyers said she enjoys doing the occasional “diverse, off-the-grid project, playing with the likes of Il Divo, Chris Botti and Wynton Marsalis,” she looks forward to working with contemporary composers like Mason Bates of San Francisco. She’s already performed his Violin Concerto with conductor Leonard Slatkin and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (click here for video) and she’ll reprise it with Slatkin, this time with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, next month, right after her time in the islands.
Meyers and Slatkin, with the London Symphony Orchestra, will record Bates’ composition as part of her next album, which will also include the Barber Violin Concerto and John Corigliano’s “Lullaby for Natalie,” written expressly for Meyers in honor of then-new baby daughter.
“When the opportunity arose, I was so excited to record a new concerto, and I wanted it to be Mason’s. Also, with the Barber concerto, I recorded that on my debut album when I was 18, so it’ll be nice to come a full 360 degrees with it.”
Go to hawaiisymphonyorchestra.org for more information.