On Friday May 8, American violinist Anne Akiko Meyers releases the world premiere recording of a new arrangement of Arvo Pärt’s Estonian Lullaby for Violin and Piano, dedicated to her by the composer. She received the handwritten score as a Christmas present from Pärt last year, and recorded the three-minute work with pianist Reiko Uchida in January. The release is accompanied by a beautiful animated video. Meyers spoke to Limelight about her relationship with Arvo Pärt’s music, and how the new arrangement of his Estonian Lullaby came about.
Anne Akiko Meyers. Photograph © David Zentz
When did you first play Arvo Pärt’s music?
In the 1990’s I fell in love with his very spiritual music and performed Tabula Rasa (the double violin concerto) with the St Paul Chamber Orchestra. I remember it vividly!
When did you first meet him?
In Leipzig, Germany, 2015. It was like meeting God. I was so nervous and was scheduled to perform and record most of his violin repertoire.
How helpful was it to talk with him about how he wanted his music played?
Incredibly helpful!! I played the opening cadenza of Fratres with the entire orchestra, conductor, Arvo and his son there. There is a wicked tempo marking that I was practically getting tendonitis trying to achieve. He stopped me after I finished my marathon and said, “Akiko… why do you play it so fast?” I gulped and responded, “You wrote it!! I was trying to respect your wishes!” He looked at me incredulously and said “please play it at a comfortable tempo and markings are just that. A general guide – not rules to abide by”. It was such a valuable lesson I will never forget!
What is the secret to playing his music well?
Finding the deep shades of colour and fluidity within each note. Inhaling, exhaling and feeling the space in between the notes. Those spaces are as sacred as the notes themselves.
Pärt famously talks about the space between the notes being as important as the notes. How much does that influence the way you play his music?
I feel such a similarity and it resonates deeply with my Japanese heritage. [Born in California, Meyers’ mother is of Japanese descent and her father is Jewish.] Much like visiting a rock garden, you can see the precision, careful attention and the poetry within as a collective whole. When still, one can listen to internal thoughts clearly. When performing his music, I love to listen deeply and allow the notes to breathe and sing.
You played at the opening of the Arvo Pärt Centre in Laulasmaa, Estonia in 2018. How was that experience?
It was such a tremendous honour. To play his music, in this peaceful beautiful sanctuary, with him there to witness it all was like being in heaven. The audiences listened from their core and it was profoundly moving.
When and why did the new arrangement of his Estonian Lullaby for violin and piano come about?
When I performed at the opening of the new Centre, I also performed John Corigliano’s Lullaby for Natalie (written for my first born). Arvo loved this Lullaby so much, it planted a seed. We also agreed that everything is better on violin (most definitely!) and as his lullaby is originally for voice, he surprised me greatly with this new arrangement of the Estonian Lullaby.
Did you know you would be getting it for Christmas?
I received a FedEx from Estonia and was thinking it was a giant Christmas card. After opening the package, I was literally speechless for quite some time. Then I cried like a baby after seeing his handwritten manuscript.
How special does it feel having that handwritten score dedicated to you?
It’s sitting on my desk so I can look at it every day. It’s my Holy Grail.
When and where did you record it?
I recorded it in New York City in January with my dear childhood friend, Reiko Uchida. It felt so special to share this experience together with her and Silas Brown, the producer/engineer. He has recorded many of my albums.
Who did the gorgeous animation? Did you commission it and did you know what you wanted?
I immediately knew I wanted to make some kind of animated video for this special composition. There are very few artists who work in watercolour animation so I was incredibly fortunate to find Skazka Studios based in Portland, Oregon. His work is extraordinary, poetic and beautiful.
You were meant to be performing Arvo Pärt’s music with the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra for a televised broadcast this month. It must be disappointing that that is not possible because of COVID-19. Is it being rescheduled?
I was really looking forward to performing Arvo’s music with Kristjan Järvi and the ENSO in Tallinn and am not sure if it will be rescheduled as of yet. I was to spend that day also celebrating my 50th birthday so look forward to celebrating at home with my family with lots of champagne!
How are you coping with COVID-19?
Eating loads of chocolate and enjoying my wine room a little too much…
Anne Akiko Meyers’ recording of Estonian Lullaby can be bought here