Taipei, Taiwan -- Anne Akiko Meyers' presence in a restaurant proves more interesting than the food.
Some people stare at her. Others introduce themselves, saying they've met her on occasions that Meyers politely struggles to recall. Still others say hello to her luncheon companion as a pretext for being introduced to her.
Meyers attracts such attention partly because she is, as one writer put it, an "almost hopelessly beautiful young woman." But most admire her for being what one young man stammered in awe upon hearing her name -- "the famous violinist?"
"The one and the same," Meyers says, with a gracious smile that eases the young man's embarrassment as he returns to his table.
Anne Akiko Meyers is accustomed to being noticed. "You feel that you are being scrutinized," she says. "But most of the time you feel flattered -- that someone cares what you do is an #F incredible feeling."
Tonight in Taipei she joins David Zinman and the Baltimore Symphony on their tour of the Far East. She will perform with the symphony in both Taiwan and Japan, where she is even more famous than she is the United States. This evening, she'll be the soloist on Samuel Barber's Violin Concerto, the same work she played in a stunning performance last week at the Meyerhoff Hall in Baltimore.
Her rendition that night demonstrated unfailing intonation, the skill to dispatch difficult passages with consummate ease, an ability to produce an unending flow of beautiful tone, and musical maturity astonishing for a 24-year-old. She could convince even a skeptical listener that a minor work such as the Barber Concerto is a great one.
"Anne is a phenomenal player," Zinman says. "What makes her a phenomenal musician is the deep undercurrent of passion that she communicates beneath the polished surface of her playing."
Born in California, Meyers is the daughter of a Jewish-American college president and a Japanese artist. As a young woman growing up in suburban Los Angeles, she was often ridiculed because of her Japanese heritage and her looks.
"We hated the way we looked," she says of herself and her younger sister, Toni. "We didn't look like anyone else, and other children would call us slant-eyes -- and worse. They even made fun of the lunches my mother made for us. She put them together in the intricate Japanese style. When I thought of the care that went into them, I'd cry."
"I felt no different than any other parent would. I ached for her," says her father, Richard Meyers, now president of Webster University in St. Louis. "I tried to explain to her that not everyone loves everyone else . . . and that it was her task to educate others to all the good things that made her different."
It was also her musical talent that set her apart.
At 4, she attended a Suzuki violin class with a group of other children. "The next day, she was the only one who could play," Richard Meyers says. "Her mother and I thought that was strange. What was even stranger was the incredible rate that she continued to progress."
Three years later, with a group of Suzuki students from all over the world, Meyers went on a tour that took her to Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center. A few months later, she made her first solo appearance with orchestra, performing a Vivaldi violin concerto. At 10, she was a soloist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic; at 11, she played with the New York Philharmonic.
Her talent derived equally from both parents: her mother came from a family in which there were several musicians and her father was an accomplished clarinetist who had once dreamed, his daughter says, "of becoming the next Benny Goodman."
The nurturing of her talent, her father says, came from her mother, Yakko. "If it weren't for her mother, none of what happened would have happened," Richard Meyers says. "In many ways, Japan is a male-dominated culture, but it's actually a matriarchal society in which women passed on the culture while men supported the family."
As a student of literature to whom English was strange, Yakko Meyers says she realized that any language has built-in limits.
"When my daughter came to this world, I wanted her to communicate beyond words," she says. "People are the product of their environment, and when I nursed her I always played the David Oistrakh recording of the Beethoven Violin Concerto because I wanted her to love music the way she loved food."
When Anne was 14, Meyers' parents realized that she had outgrown her teacher in California. And young as she was, so did Anne. It was simply too confining having a teacher who told her how to play down to the tiniest detail. "My toes were just curling in my shoes," she says. "I was just dying to get out of my skin."
With both her daughters, Yakko Meyers relocated to New York so Anne could study at the Juilliard School with Dorothy Delay, perhaps the world's preeminent violin teacher. Her classmates were the equally precocious Midori and Gil Shaham. Richard Meyers saw his wife and daughters only on vacations and on transcontinental visits.
"Sometimes I felt deprived, but long before she left for New York I realized that the violin was what made Anne happy," he says. "She was once asked, 'What do you hope for?' She answered, 'I'm living the dream I wanted.' As a parent, that was enough for me."
The change was hard for Anne at first, as the approach of her teachers went from one extreme to the next.
"The first year with Ms. Delay was frustrating," the violinist
recalls. "After a teacher who told me how to do everything, I had one who left me free to make my own choices. I had to see why I played a certain way and learn how to help myself play better. She taught me to play, not just with my fingers, but with my mind."
By the time she was 16, she had been signed by ICM, the prestigious New York concert agency that also manages the careers of such stars as Midori and cellist Yo-Yo Ma, the other soloist on the BSO tour.
At 19, she made her first record, an acclaimed coupling of the Barber Concerto and the Brook Concerto No. 1. Now she has an exclusive seven-year contract with BMG Classics that calls for up to two records a year.
She uses New York as a base for concerts to take her all over the globe.
"It's a rewarding life, but a lonely one," she says. "You can't have an intimate relationship because everyone is an acquaintance -- often a lovely acquaintance, but just an acquaintance. The worst of it is going back to your hotel room and having no one to greet you."