PREVIEW: Anne Akiko Meyers returns “home” to play free concert Sunday with YMF Debut Chamber Orchestra

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

One of the consequences of exceeding the Biblical “three score years and 10” is that I’m more and more writing about musicians with whom I have, in effect, grown up. One such is the violinist Anne Akiko Meyers, now in her 40s, who was born and grew up in Southern California and about whom I have written, or at least heard, since she began playing concerts at age 7.

Meyers returns “home” (she is an alumna of the Young Musicians Foundation) to play in a YMF Debut Chamber Orchestra concert on Sunday, Nov. 19, at 6 p.m. at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Admission is free.

Meyers will be the soloist in Einojuhani Rautavaara’s Fantasia and Ralph Vaughan Williams’ A Lark Ascending. Yuga Cohler, who is finishing his three-year term as YMF Music Director, will lead the program that will also include Poulenc’s Sinfonietta.

Rautavaara composed Fantasia for Meyers — it was his last completed major work. Meyers premiered the work earlier this year with the Kansas City Symphony, conducted by Michael Stern.

In December 2015, Rautavaara, then 87 years old, invited Meyers to his home in Helsinki to hear her play the yet unpublished work. She recalls, “After I played Fantasia, he looked at me and repeatedly said, ‘I wrote such beautiful music!’ We laughed and agreed… I was amazed that he made no changes to any notes or dynamics. Everything was in place, just the way he wrote it.”

Meyers will be playing the concert on her 1741 Vieuxtemps’ Guarneri del Gesu violin, which was given to her on lifetime loan several years ago. One of the most important violins ever made by Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù, it belonged to Belgian violinist, Henri Vieuxtemps during the 19th century.

Concert information:

Photo By: Vanessa Briceño-Scherzer


(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Pasadena Symphony opens 86th season

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News

Igor Stravinsky’s score to the ballet, The Rite of Spring, is 100 years and five+ months old but it remains one of the most unsettling works ever written, no matter how often you’ve heard it. Pairing “Rite” with Leonard Bernstein’s Serenade and Shostakovich’s Festive Overture made for a formidable opening concert to the Pasadena Symphony’s 86th season Saturday afternoon at Ambassador Auditorium.

The program —David Lockington’s first as the PSO’s fifth music director — offered major challenges for the players, conductor and the audience; the latter included a sizeable number of children and young people (always a healthy sign for an orchestra).

The 57-year-old, British-born Lockington’s conducting style seems precise (judged from an audience seat) and he generates a great deal of energy on the podium. As we learned from when he first conducted the PSO in 2012, the orchestra clearly responds well to his leadership. Lockington also delivered erudite comments in the preconcert lecture and prior to the playing of Serenade.

In The Rite of Spring Principal Bassoonist Rose Corrigan spun an appropriately ominous line at the beginning and Lockington and the orchestra built the tension until the first driving, rhythmic section exploded. The orchestra’s winds and the percussion section, headed up by Timpanist Wade Culbreath, were in top form throughout the afternoon. The overall performance was solid, but not breathtaking and the audience responded with a generous standing ovation.

Lockington chose Bernstein’s Serenade as a companion piece because, in his words, “I think of it as a mid-century look at a musical language that was made possible by The Rite of Spring.” The rarely played 30-minute work, written in 1954, was inspired by Plato’s dialogue “Symposium” and is the most un-Bernstein sounding piece he ever wrote, although his familiar snappy, jazzy motifs (think West Side Story) do finally emerge in the final movement.

Anne Akiko Meyers gave a superbly virtuosic performance, playing on a 1741 Guarneri del Gesu violin, “Ex-Vieuxtemps,” for which she recently received lifetime performance rights (details HERE) Her lyrical portions sang sweetly (her pianissimos were particularly striking) and she sailed through the thorny sections as if they had been written for her instead of for violinist Issac Stern. Lockington and the orchestra provided supple support.

The program opened with a sizzling rendition of Shostakovich’s Festive Overture. Lockington took tempos that were just short of frenetic but not over the top and the PSO was at its razor-sharp best.

• Because orchestra schedules are planned well in advance, this was the only concert that Lockington will conduct this season. Beginning next season, he’s expected to lead at least three of the classical concerts. Read my story on Lockington HERE).
• The Pasadena Symphony’s holiday concerts are Dec. 14 at 4 and 7 p.m. at All Saints Church, Pasadena. Grant Cooper conducts the orchestra, Los Angeles Children’s Chorus, vocalist Lisa Vroman and the L.A. Bronze handbell choir. INFO.
• Nicholas McGegan (LINK) makes his first appearance as the PSO’s principal guest conductor when he leads the orchestra on Jan. 11 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. at Ambassador Auditorium. The program is scheduled to be Dvorak’s Symphony No. 6 and Chopin’s Concerto No. 1 in E minor, with 13-year-old (yes, you read that right) pianist Umi Garrett (LINK) as soloist. Info on the concert is HERE.

(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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