Anne Akiko Meyers fell in love with music at a very early age and was lauded as a child prodigy after her debut with a community orchestra at just seven years old. She’d go on to perform with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the New York Philharmonic with Zubin Mehta. As a teen, Meyers launched into a busy touring and recording schedule, making her first album at London’s Abbey Road Studios. Today, Meyers continues to tour around the world with her 1741 “ex-Vieuxtemps” Guarneri del Gesù, which she’s had on lifetime loan since 2012 (an anonymous buyer purchased it for an undisclosed amount, reportedly over $16 million).
We caught up with Meyers to learn more about her historic instrument and her interesting relationship with it. Here she shares what she loves most about it and how it has influenced her as a performer, and vice versa.
—Heather K. Scott
“It’s got power and range, and I feel like it covers the most extreme dimensions of color. Like dark and white chocolate, or the feeling of both the earth and sky in one small instrument.”
Tell us about your instrument and bow.
My primary instrument is the “ex-Vieuxtemps” Guarneri del Gesù, dated 1741. It’s in triple-mint condition with no cracks nor a standard soundpost patch. It looks as if it was delivered from Guarneri’s workbench yesterday.
I swoon over Francois Xavier Tourte bows and love playing on a Tourte that was previously owned by Adolf Busch and Aaron Rosand. Mr. Rosand supposedly used this one for his many recordings.
What did you play previously? And how does your current instrument compare?
I previously performed on the “ex-Molitor” Stradivari, dated 1697, and the “Royal Spanish” Stradivari, dated 1730. They found new homes several years ago.
The ex-Vieuxtemps is exceptionally well suited to my style of sculpting the sound from the violin. The Strads were much lighter in playability, meaning richness. There’s such a power, grit, and core to this instrument that is really quite remarkable.
What gift does your instrument bring to your playing that cannot be found in any other instrument?
This violin has an extraordinary palette of color and strength. And with it, I feel like I’ll never be overpowered by the orchestra—even when playing triple pianissimo.
What do you know about its history?
It belonged to 19th-century Belgian violinist and composer Henri Vieuxtemps, who was so in love with the instrument, he wanted to be buried with it. There is a photo from his funeral in 1881, where the violin was carried behind his hearse and what looks like most of Belgium in attendance to honor him. The great Eugene Ysaÿe, who was also his student, carried the violin at his funeral. Ysaÿe coveted it and performed on it for a while but unfortunately wasn’t able to afford the violin.
It made its way to Ian Stoutzker of Britain, who preserved and took care of it for over 50 years. He was a close friend of Yehudi Menuhin, and loaned the violin to him for some concerts. Menuhin wrote him a letter saying that if he had to choose between rescuing the Vieuxtemps or his own violin (the 1714 “ex-Soil” Stradivari) from a fire, he would hands-down run after the Vieuxtemps.
Have you thought about the people who have handled it before you? And do those people resonate in your instrument or in your performances with the instrument?
Vieuxtemps and Ysaÿe were both among the greatest violinists in history, and I really do feel the soul of the violin and how these incredible historic figures infused their souls into the instrument to create a unique and very personal chemistry with this living, breathing piece of wood.
I think they absolutely resonate within this violin. Although I still haven’t performed Vieuxtemps’ violin concertos or Ysaÿe on it!
How did you come into possession of this instrument?
It was given to me on lifetime loan. I don’t own it, but I wish I did.
What drew you to this instrument?
It was nearly impossible to not be attracted to it. It’s like Kryptonite! It’s got power and range, and I feel like it covers the most extreme dimensions of color. Like dark and white chocolate, or the feeling of both the earth and sky in one small instrument.
Describe its temperament.
It is very deep, wise, and flexible. Its core is warm and all-encompassing.
If you were to liken your instrument to a personality, does anyone specific come to mind?
Luciano Pavarotti meets James Earl Jones meets Ella Fitzgerald meets Toshiro Mifune.
Does your instrument sound better in certain settings?
I’m not sure if it’s the instrument or me, but this violin seems to prefer warm-sounding environments where the hall has a lot of burnished wood and a similar air temperature and flow backstage and onstage.
What are your instrument’s strengths and limitations?
I can’t think of any limitations. It’s a daring, bold, and innovative violin. It loves playing a very diverse repertoire and [it] feels like the sound is in hi-def or 3D surround sound. This instrument will hopefully live on for many more centuries.
If given the ability, what would your instrument say to you if the two of you sat down for tea?
Please pass something stronger my way . . . . Like a fine whiskey.