Guest violinist Meyers and ‘Molly’ join Litton, CSO for evening of Mendelssohn, Mahler

Guest conductor Andrew Litton leads the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra through Capriccio Italien, Op. 45, by Pyotr Tchaikovsky Tuesday evening in the Amphitheater. Photo by Eric Shea.



Kelsey Burritt | Staff Writer

Violinist Anne Akiko Meyers calls her 17th-century Stradivarius “Molly.”

The violin, officially named the ex-“Napoleon/Molitor” Stradivarius — which may have traveled through the hands of the French emperor — was crafted in 1697 and passed down to socialite Juliette Recamier and Count Gabriel-Jean-Joseph Molitor, until it landed in Meyers’ hands.

“The wood is very blonde and light compared to the Royal,” Meyers said.

The Royal, or “Royal Spanish” Stradivarius, is her other violin, crafted in 1730, which she called “dark and handsome.”

“Because of its blondness, it has a very crystalline, pure sound that cuts like a laser,” she said.

At 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater, Meyers will cut to the heart of Mendelssohn’s beloved Violin Concerto with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra followed by Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 (Titan), led by guest conductor Andrew Litton.

The concert is a tribute to Emile Simonel, a CSO violist for 45 years, who died in March. Simonel also worked as the CSO’s orchestra manager for a time.

According to his daughter Alis Simonel-Keegan, at age 87, Simonel had mailed in his contract for another season and was still “like the Energizer Bunny.” His heart, she said, belonged to Chautauqua.

It is both Litton and Meyers’ first time visiting Chautauqua. The two are close friends and colleagues, who recorded the Mendelssohn concerto together 10 years ago. They have been collaborating since they met working for the Swedish Radio Orchestra when Meyers was 18.

But the two do not exactly work around the corner from one another. Litton is music director and conductor of the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra in Norway, whereas Meyers travels as one of the world’s premier solo violinists.

“He brings total passion to works, and there’s also a level of comfort,” Meyers said. “Like you know that he’s not going to leave you stranded on the side of the road.”

“One of my dearest friends, Anne … is just superb. Wonderful violinist,” Litton said. “She plays (the concerto) beautifully.”

Meyers began her violin studies at age 4, and by 11, performed on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson. The next year, she performed with the New York Philharmonic.

Although she embarked on the professional level early in life, Meyers said she feels she will always be a student.

“With any craft that you’re learning and honing your entire life, as an artist, you’re constantly absorbing different material and information and just trying to present it as a collective whole,” Meyers said. “And that I’m able to get up on stage and share whatever is going through my head and my heart — I’m very, very fortunate.”

The Mendelssohn is surely one of the greatest hits of the violin repertoire. But Meyers never tires of playing it.

“It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve played it, every time is different,” Meyers said. “I definitely get nervous and excited for every performance. It doesn’t matter where it is in the world.”

Meyers called the Mendelssohn a stylistic crossover of Tchaikovsky and Mozart. The piece walks a fine line, she said, between Classical and Romantic.

“It’s just always a joy to perform for me,” she said. “And audiences just love it. I mean, they could hum along if they wanted to.”

Mendelssohn composed the concerto for his friend and colleague Ferdinand David, the concertmaster of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra when Mendelssohn was its conductor.

The two were in close correspondence during the six years that Mendelssohn wrote the concerto.

Meyers has also been in close contact with composers during her career, premiering Schwantner’s “Angelfire ‘Fantasy’ for Amplified Violin and Orchestra” in 2002.

Meyers is now working with contemporary composer Mason Bates for his first violin concerto. Bates is known for his innovative blending of electronica and classical music. They will premiere the piece in December with Leonard Slatkin and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

“(It’s) just really thrilling to me. He’s slowly sending me the notes right now. It’s a very exciting process,” Meyers said.

Commissioning a concerto, however exciting, is also difficult and complicated. Funds must be found to sponsor the piece, and a premiere must be arranged with an orchestra willing to take the risk on a piece it has never heard. Above all, audiences can be reluctant to come out and hear something new, Meyers said.

“There are definite holes and gaps in history where you think, ‘Wow, if you were around to commission Beethoven to write something, would it have happened?’” Meyers said.

On the program after Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto is Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 (Titan), whose original version for the symphony was composed in 1888, the same year as Franck’s Symphony in D Minor, which the CSO played Tuesday.

Mahler revised the symphony several times, taking out an entire movement called “Blumine” and making changes until 1898.

“Mahler is one of those composers whose revisions are so fabulous that, except out of a purely academic process, there’s no need to go back and look at the early stuff except to see, and to prove to yourself, how much better the revision really was,” Litton said. “He knew what worked in concert and what didn’t work in concert. It really was like a great chef going back over a recipe going: ‘You know, that was a little too salty. Let’s do this.’”

The symphony was originally composed as a symphonic poem, but later became a symphony with a slight variation to its structure –– switching the Minuet-Trio with the slow movement, a variation reflecting Beethoven. The symphony also references Beethoven in the opening of its first movement, and the third movement is a funeral march based around “Frère Jacques,” introduced by a rare solo double bass.

Tonight’s concert, as it is dedicated to the memory of Emile Simonel, will be followed by a reception on the back porch of the Amp.