World-famous Violinist Anne Akiko Meyers discusses with Music Designer Janica Quach how she came to own one of the world’s most expensive musical instruments, just what inspires her, and what her plans are for the future.
Janica Quach: I couldn’t help but ask this first. You recently purchased the “Ex-Molitor” Stradivarius for that record $3.6 million. I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about the process that you went through in deciding to purchase the violin; how it came about?
Anne Akiko Meyers: For the last five years I have been playing on a 1730 Stradivarius called “The Royal Spanish.” It actually belonged to the king of Spain at one time. An artist, especially an instrumentalist, is forever searching for the right instrument because it is their voice. I’ve had violins, Stradavari and Guarneri del Gesù, an incredible kind of diet of these incredible Italian Cremonese instruments, but have always had to rely on a foundation or a donor patron to allow me to perform on these violins. The problem with that is I would have to return the violin. A violin to me is very much like a living entity; it has a soul of its own and its own unique personality. Each violin is very, very unique, and as you change as an artist, you need an instrument that can grow with you. I wasn’t looking for a violin; I was in New York City for concerts and I went to my luthier who normally makes adjustments and things like that to my violin, and he told me about this violin and I tried it and was blown away by its purity of sound. It’s just the complete opposite of “The Royal Spanish.” “The Royal Spanish” is a kind of dusky and throaty kind of sound and “The Ex-Napoleon/Molitor” is very clean and pristine and pure, just like the instrument itself. I was so excited by this violin, but it was at auction and the danger was that I did not have much time with it alone, whereas in a private sale, I could try out a violin for some time, a month or two, before deciding to buy it. But I had one evening with it, in Chicago, with about an hour before that to get used to it and I played it in concert and fell even deeper in love with it. So, we made the decision to just go for it and try and purchase it. I didn’t realize that we had broken any world records until it happened! I think that I was just incredibly fortunate with everything. Timing is of the essence. That this violin was available and that is has the kind of sound that can project in a hall for a soloist, and that it was in such mint condition for being over 300 years old; the provenance on the violin is extraordinary. It is amazing when you think of all the people that have owned it; from Napoleon to to Juliette Récamier to the Molitor family. It’s like, “Wow! It made through all those hands and now it’s here, today, in my hands!”
JQ: That’s an amazing story!
AM: It’s a journey to find the right sound all the time and to put yourself into its soul and vice versa, because the violin changes extraordinarily with the overtones that come out of it, the more you play it. So when you see an incredible violin in a museum, behind glass, that’s almost a surefire way of suffocating it. It’s absolutely killing it. It’s wonderful that everyone can see it, but you can’t even hear it! So I thought that this would be such an extraordinary opportunity to be able to share it with the world because I have an incredibly intense schedule and it’s kind of like the best scenario for a violin to be on the road, travelling around the world.
JQ: Can you explain your musical style and what impacts your creative process when preparing for either recording an album or preparing for a concert?
AM: I have always been attracted to music that is undervalued and underplayed. New music that is written just for me also is really fun. With the recording of Seasons… dreams…, I kind of took the concept from Smile one step further and found a wide variety of music that wasn’t Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Besides Vivaldi, what kind of music is out there that covers our seasons? I ended up asking three composers to kind of fill in the blanks, with the Japanese piece “Sakura Sakura,” which means cherry blossoms, and that’s in the spring area, and Jeff Tyzik’s “Autumn in New York,” which is a beautiful arrangement of that song, and “Tenderly/Autumn Leaves” which I’ve just always had a mad crush on, and Rich DeRosa, who works very closely with Wynton Marsalis, wrote an incredibly beautiful arrangement of those pieces. But the anchor of the album is the Beethoven “Spring” sonata. Under one vast umbrella, I have everything from Wagner to Beethoven and Vernon Duke to Schnittke.
JQ: Have you encountered any difficulty in branching out from classical music like your performances with Chris Botti and Wynton Marsalis? Was this something you wanted to do but had to pay your classical music dues in order to branch out?
AM: I would like to work with current musicians and groups and it just fascinated me to have Wynton Marsalis rewrite the cadenzas for the Mozart concerto, which ended up being ultra-classical cadenzas but there is no jazz in there whatsoever (laughing). But yeah, I just loved working with Chris and Il Divo and you realize that all these guys are amazing artists who are communicating and showing and sharing their artistry with the world as well, and that’s exactly what I am trying to do.
JQ: Do you have a favorite performance memory?
AM: Every performance is so completely different and there’s just been so many different experiences of craziness, like outdoor concerts with a bee landing on my nose or playing out on a rocking ferry in the middle of winter in Australia’s harbor and almost losing my bow out to sea like 10 times (laughing). There are just so many different episodes; you just don’t know what is going to happen. It always keeps you on your toes.
JQ: You’ve spoken a lot about Wynton Marsalis. Are there other any other musicians that inspire you?
AM: I really love the standards. I think it’s an incredibly rich part of history, where these three-minute songs that came from American musicals can resonate so deeply with people, myself included. Everything from “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” to “Smile” and “Autumn in New York” or “Summertime,” these were all written in the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s. I have a dream to basically play a whole concert of this with an orchestra with myself almost feeling like a chanteuse. I can imagine playing with The Jazz Orchestra of Lincoln Center, for instance. The violin very much ends up like a singer’s palette. You feel the lyrics and you feel the grace that that music carried. Jazz and the blues are genres that I just absolutely am cuckoo for.
JQ: What can we expect to hear from you in the future?
AM: We’re in the very beginning stages of sketching out the next possible CD, but I’m very project based, and it just really excites me to almost put the pieces of a puzzle together and come up with an idea and then think, “Oh, my gosh! Which composer can write something to make this recording or this concert really come alive?” And that process is so exciting and thrilling. And it’s music that will hopefully stay around for a really long time.
JQ: Thank you so much for your time today. Seasons… dreams… is just lovely; we have been listening to it around the office.
AM: Thank you very much. I appreciate that!
– Submitted by Janica Quach, Music Design