By Greg Cahill | From the July-August 2022 issue of Strings magazine
It started with verse. Virtuoso violinist Anne Akiko Meyers’ latest album, Shining Night (Avie), is based on a poem by the late American writer James Agee and describes a man going on a walk and thinking back over his life. “That scenario inspired this collection of pieces that metaphorically begins in the morning and explores the vast musical history through Baroque, Romantic, popular, and current genres,” she notes. “The common themes throughout the music reflect on one’s relationship with nature, love, and poetry.”
In keeping with the stunningly beautiful album’s starry theme, Shining Night was released on May 7—International Astronomy Day. “When I visited Wyoming recently, my family and I went stargazing,” Meyers explains. “Looking at the night sky helped me think about the vastness of the universe and the precious time we have in it—a very humbling experience. It brought a smile to my face when we saw the International Space Station whiz by!”
The music is a mix of classical, jazz, and pop, and features the celebrated Italian pianist Fabio Bidini and Grammy-winning classical-guitar master Jason Vieaux. The music ranges from J.S. Bach’s “Air on G” and Villa-Lobos’ Aria from Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 to Duke Ellington’s lush ballad “In My Solitude” and Morten Lauridsen’s Dirait-On and Sure on this Shining Night (if you aren’t familiar with Lauridsen, a professor of composition at the USC Thornton School of Music, check out his majestic O Magnum Mysterium). There’s also an elegant four-track suite of tangos from Astor Piazzolla’s epic Histoire du Tango: “Bordel 1900”; “Café 1930”; “Night-club 1960”; and “Concert d’aujourd’hui.”
Strings asked Meyers about Shining Night.
What was your goal when you conceived of this project?
It all started when I wished Morten Lauridsen happy birthday and asked if he had written any duos for violin. Since he had not, he decided to arrange Dirait-On and Sure on this Shining Night, some of the most exquisitely beautiful music ever composed and originally written for chorus and piano. I am eternally grateful for his decision.
What were the greatest challenges?
The pandemic caused many delays and caused our sessions to be moved several times. The producer and engineer were remote—not physically at the sessions—but it worked out beautifully.
The music on the album spans hundreds of years and includes a violin/piano arrangement of a contemporary choral work by Lauridsen. What drew you to his work?
I was first entranced by Morten Lauridsen’s music when I heard O Magnum Mysterium for choir on YouTube. I played it repeatedly so I could soak in the poetry and majesty of his music. That led to our first collaboration when, after lots of begging, he arranged it for violin/piano, as well as an orchestral version. That latter version is featured on 2018’s Mirror in Mirror, with the Philharmonia Orchestra, Kristjan Järvi conducting.
You also had a chance to collaborate with pianist Fabio Bidini and guitarist Jason Vieaux.
They’re both storytellers with a range of color and feeling, creating performances that sing and flow easily. Both are loads of fun when rehearsing, too.
The program is an intriguing mix of European, American, and Latin compositions. For some players, the distance between Bach and Ellington and Piazzolla might seem insurmountable. What’s it like straddling these geographical and musical dimensions?
I wanted to showcase different musical styles, starting with the earliest works—Corelli, Bach, Paganini—which are like the sunrise or early dawn, and the newest works—Piazzolla, Brouwer, Lauridsen—the nighttime or dark starry sky. It was fascinating to see the inspiration the composers found through nature, love, and poetry as common threads that weave through centuries of music.
You also mixed well-known composers (Bach, Paganini) with lesser-known composers (Leo Brouwer), as well as pop, jazz, and classical. Why is that important to you?
I think the juxtaposition of styles allows the listener to feel the historical aspect of the music, while the emotional aspect affects our memories, mood, feelings. Music is simply the best salve for the soul.
What do you hope the listener will take away from this album?
The beauty and sheer magic of the music.
What violin did you use for the recording?
I exclusively perform, tour, and record on the “ex-Vieuxtemps” Guarneri del Gesù, dated 1741. The Belgian violinist and composer Vieuxtemps was so in love with this violin, he wanted to be buried with it, but thankfully he wasn’t.
Anything other thoughts about this project?
It takes a virtual village to create and produce a recording. From the music to the photography, producers, engineers, liner notes, booklet designer, marketing, record company, video production, and venue. I am so thankful to Morten Lauridsen, Leo Brouwer, Jason Vieaux, Fabio Bidini, David Frost, Silas Brown, Sergey Parfenov, Brian Lauritzen, Kaupo Kikkas, Sean Marlowe, Colburn School, 8VA Music Consultancy, Avie Records, and my amazing family for putting up with me.