One of the biggest events in my musical life happened yesterday. Having been performed around the country by many stellar orchestras, my Violin Concerto finally emerged in a format that anyone can hear anywhere: a CD. That’s right, the amazing Anne Akiko Meyers has just released The American Masters, a beautiful disc that travels through three generations of American composers, with exceptional performances by the London Symphony under the direction of Leonard Slatkin.
If I could breakdance on this flight from Chicago to San Francisco without being ejected from the plane, I’d be busting a headspin.
It’s an amazing CD (which you can find here. Anne wows audiences wherever she goes, with a stunning discography that has attracted a diverse following. This disc will further endear her to all who listen. For one thing, the album is a beautiful concept, a passing-off of music-making from teacher to student. Samuel Barber, whose concerto opens the disc, taught John Corigliano, my own teacher at Juilliard whose own Lullaby is premiered on the CD. In the music world, I’ve sometimes heard instrumentalists poignantly discuss the “lineage of knowledge” that they trace far back into music history, a passing of the baton from one teacher to another over decades. This is how performance practice is preserved and developed, and this exists too for composers.
Beyond the concept, there’s just superb playing. Anne has always possessed a unique combination of fiery intensity and sweet lyricism, and her playing receives stellar support from the London Symphony Orchestra. I knew the LSO from our recording of Mothership a few years ago. Many stellar musicians make up this fine orchestra – they can play just about anything on a first run-through – and with Leonard Slatkin on the podium, it becomes a dream team. Leonard is an American treasure, a dear friend and collaborator who has conducted many of my works over the years. Sitting in the control booth during the recording session, I marveled at how efficiently he conjured up this complex work.
The piece inhabits two identities: one primal and rhythmic, the other elegiac and lyrical. This hybrid musical creature is, in fact, based on a real one. The Archaeopteryx, an animal of the Upper Jurassic famously known as the first dinosaur/bird hybrid, can be heard in the sometimes frenetic, sometimes sweetly singing solo part. The searching melody that underlies the entire work, not heard in full until we are well into the first movement, has in fact been peering at us from behind the orchestral fauna all along.
Unfolding continuously out of the explosive first movement, the middle movement explores this melody dreamily, conjuring the lakebed in southern Germany where the archaeopteryx fossil was discovered. Eerie, hazy sonorities give way to a kind of underwater epiphany, pushing us airborne into the finale. In this last movement, the soloist stays aloft on a jetstream of notes, inspired equally by Bach inventions and sparkling electronica. The work’s final measures transform the soloist fully from dinosaur into bird, with the melody floating high above an orchestra of fluttering textures.
That transformation has also happened to this piece, which after many performances has taken flight. It’s a joy that work is now available for all to hear — so please check it out!