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ZEN MOMENTS

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Anne Akiko Meyers, who makes her Bargemusic debut Dec. 11-14, admits she was warned about the ’dangers’ of playing the barge.

"I’ve been told not to wear heels," the 33-year-old violinist says with a laugh, referring to the occasional swaying of the barge on the East River during a performance.

"Seriously, I’m really looking forward to playing there - it’s such an old New York tradition to play the barge. It’s something everybody should do - and I hope to get a reservation to [Peter] Luger’s [Steakhouse] afterwards," she adds.

Meyers is equally enthusiastic about this weekend’s programs.

"I really wanted to do Aaron Copland in Brooklyn," says Meyers, speaking of that most famous of composers who called this borough his home. "He grew up in a very middle-class family, and his dad had a department store there. Their real name was Kaplan, but [the immigration officials] screwed up and made it Copland."

Meyers’ second recital, on Dec. 12, includes Copland’s Violin Sonata, with pianist John Neuman, and she is understandably excited about returning it to her repertoire.

"I recorded it years ago, and it’s a work that definitely should be played more: I don’t understand why it’s a little under the sheets," she says. "He wrote it in the 1930s when he was writing a lot of music that was kind of inaccessible for the general public. He wrote it before [his famous ballet] ’Appalachian Spring’ - he was going through a change with the public, trying to make his music much more accessible. It has a lot of song-like qualities: it just makes the violin sing. Obviously, I think it’s a great sonata."

Along with the Copland sonata on Dec. 12, Meyers and Neuman perform a Mozart sonata and "Birds in Warped Time II" by the Japanese composer Somei Satoh.

"It’s a nice contrast to the Copland," Meyers jokes about Satoh’s piece. "We’ll do a little Japanese music and a little Jewish music!"

A 12-minute work for violin and piano composed in 1970, "Birds in Warped Time II" is music very close to Meyers’ heart.

"I’ve performed it many times, and was fortunate enough to premiere Satoh’s Violin Concerto about a year ago in Tokyo," she says. "His music is very Zen-like, very much like a monk’s chanting over and over. His music makes you much more aware of your surroundings. I love performing it; it takes so much control, and it’s very beautiful.

"The space in between the notes is almost more important than the notes themselves in Japanese music," explains Meyers. "I have a Japanese mother who taught me to understand all the subtleties in life. I only can play music that moves me on a personal level and an emotional level."

Neuman also performs two solo works by Chopin and Alexander Scriabin.

Much of the music on the Bargemusic programs is, as Meyers says, "convention­al." ("A lot of this music is crowd-pleasing," she concedes. "With all the people involved, everyone has different taste, but we were all pretty flexible.") But that’s not to denigrate its quality.

Indeed, the music on the Dec. 11 program combines more solo Chopin and Scriabin for Neuman to play with two very diverse piano trios (for which cellist Michael Mermagen joins Meyers and Neuman).

"I grew up playing the Mendelssohn D-minor trio," Meyers says, "but the Rachmaninoff Trio [in G-minor] is new for everyone involved. It’s a short, very sad, somber trio. In other words, a perfect opener."

The final program, on Dec. 13 and Dec. 14, has Meyers and four other musicians - cellist Mermagen, violinist Gloria Schmidt, violist Andy Simeonescue and pianist Navah Perlman - playing Mozart, Handel and Schumann, climaxing in his great E-flat Major Piano Quintet.

Originally, Meyers had planned to perform the Duo for Violin and Viola by an under-appreciated Czech composer from the first half of the 20th century, Bohuslav Martinu, but unfortunately she was unable to track down the sheet music.

"Oh, the joy and frustration of trying to do undiscovered music!" the violinist says, before mentioning that she’s currently searching for a rare chamber work by another neglected master, Italy’s Ottorino Respighi.

In addition to the Bargemusic concerts, Meyers has also been touring in conjunction with her new CD on the Avie label. With pianist Li Jian, she performs music by Satoh and another Japanese composer, Toru Takemitsu, as well as by French composers Olivier Messiaen and Maurice Ravel, and another Czech master, Leos Janacek.

"I felt strongly about all of these works and I wanted to get it all onto a CD," she explains. "I decided to push the envelope a little bit, because it’s not your typical program, that’s for sure. But I’ve always been a little weird in my musical taste. I get complaints that it’s too ’out there,’ but to me, it’s all such beautiful music."

 

Violinist Anne Akiko Meyers performs Dec. 11-13 at 7:30 pm and Dec. 14 at 4 pm at Bargemusic (Fulton Ferry Landing at the end of Old Fulton Street on the East River). Tickets are $35, $20 for full-time students. For more information, call (718) 624-2083 or visit www.bargemusic.org.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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