Interviewing violinist Anne Akiko Meyers brings two surprises.
The first comes when she answers the phone in a Valley Girl voice.
The reason for the surprise is that the covers of Meyers' RCA albums almost invariably show the violinist in strapless gowns that make her look sophisticated and worldly.
But, as the violinist herself says, "I am only 23. I was born in San Diego and, since I did spend the first 14 years of my life there, I am a California girl."
The second surprise comes more gradually. Meyers -- who will perform Wieniawski this weekend with David Zinman and the Baltimore Symphony -- may have many of the linguistic tics that characterize young women of her generation: the affected nasal whine with a rising inflection that makes statements sound like questions and a tendency to punctuate her conversation with flurries of giggling. But eventually one realizes that Meyers has .. sophisticated taste and strong, considered opinions, which she articulates powerfully. In its way, the image conveyed by those album covers is pretty accurate.
She is a violinist whose violinistic heroes are not popular hot shots like Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman but iconoclasts like Gidon Kremer.
She's a musician who prefers Messaien to Mendelssohn, who says she feels "more comfortable with modern pieces than with Mozart," and who says she "likes composers who don't use a lot of extraneous BS and who go straight to the point."
So when you ask Meyers why she's playing a barnstormer like the Wieniawski D Minor Concerto, you get an uncommonly forthright response.
"Maestro Zinman specifically asked for that concerto," she says dryly. "You'll have to ask him."
The voice on the phone is like the playing on the records: It is honest, it is intelligent and it has a kind of beauty that -- whether the composer is Strauss or Franck, Lalo or Bruch, Mendelssohn or Vaughan Williams -- is true to itself and to the music.
"The Wieniawski is a piece of its time -- an era when violinists
were running around Europe trying to impress people with their virtuosity," she says. "It's great for the moment, but it never lasts in your heart. What I like best is the second movement. It's like an aria; if it's done right, when you close your eyes, you should be able to imagine a singer."
Meyers, the daughter of an American-born college president and a Tokyo-born painter, was already a concert veteran when she left home at the age of 14 to study with Dorothy DeLay at the Juilliard School in New York. Although appearances with orchestras such as the Los Angeles Philharmonic had helped "to steel her nerves" in performance, she wasn't quite prepared for DeLay, the teacher of Perlman, Shlomo Mintz, Nigel Kennedy and Midori.
"Miss DeLay taught me to teach myself, and that was frustrating after a teacher who cuddled my every step," Meyers says. "I had to go out and research things and figure out why I was playing the way I was playing."
Success came quickly. She was signed by Young Concert Artists at 16, switched over to ICM, one of the music industry's giants, the following year and began making records the year after that. By last April, when she received the prestigious $10,000 Avery Fisher Career Grant, the New York classical music establishment's seal of approval for soloists "on the verge of a major career," her progress had been such that it made the award seem an afterthought. While not quite the household word her contemporary, Midori, is, Meyer's been so busy that she hesitates for a moment when asked how many times world tours have taken her to Japan. (This winter's tour with the American Symphony Orchestra will make it eight; next season's with Zinman and the BSO will bring it to nine.)
She might even become successful enough to buy her own violin. The prices of old Italian instruments are now so high that even cellist Yo-Yo Ma went into debt a few years back when he bought his current instrument. Like most young string players with busy international careers, Meyers has been playing on an instrument -- a 1718 Stradivarius once owned by Robert Mann, the first violinist and founder of the Juilliard String Quartet -- that's on loan from a rich investor.
"But it's really a chamber music instrument and I'm looking for a stronger one," Meyer says. "I don't know which instrument I'll use in Baltimore. I've got five in my apartment now. Every moment I go, 'It's this one -- 'no, it's that one' -- 'or is it this one?' They're all either Strads or del Jesus -- the creme de la creme -- so i can't complain."
Anne Akiko Meyers
What: Violinist to play Wieniawski with David Zinman and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
When: 8:15 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday
Where: Meyerhoff Hall
Call: (410) 783-8000