‘Samsara’ is the title of your recital programme. What does it mean?
The whole series at the Rubin Museum is titled ‘Resonating Light’. Tim McHenry, curator of the museum and producer of this series, came up with the title ‘Samsara’ after I told him what music I’d chosen. ‘Samsara’ means ‘continuous flow of life’, and the programme goes from birth to death to afterlife.
How did you choose the music?
The Rubin Museum was such an interesting situation as Tim asked me to come by and view all the collections, and then base my recital theme on that. That was really a first to be asked to programme like that. I chose a wide selection of diverse composers, but it starts and ends with Bach. It’s meant to be symbolic of life itself, and the general mood and character I wanted to convey.
So how does the programme develop?
The Bach Air on the G string represents the first breath of air we take into our bodies. Piazzolla’s Milonga del Angel is steamy, sexually desirous music; I wanted to show building passion, which leads to finding love in Kreisler’s Liebesfreud. His Liebeslied represents the love that you lose. Lost love makes the love you find that much sweeter; we all experience that bittersweet feeling. Then Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel is the mid-life crisis! You look into a mirror and take stock of where your life is, it’s a time you need to be quiet and meditate to find yourself.
Can you tell us about the two contemporary pieces in the second half?
Somei Satoh’s Birds in Warped Time II is so fascinating because he thinks the rests are more important than the notes. The rests symbolise death, and the notes life. So it’s a very ethereal reflective work, and you hear the birds going off into the distance. Jakob Ciupinski’s piece The Wreck of the Umbria for Solo Violin/Electronics is an eerie reminder of how life was on that boat. It was destroyed in World War II, and this piece represents faded life and the afterlife. Ciupinski is an adventurous young composer and a deep sea diver himself. Then the Bach-Gounod Ave Maria is the encore.
Intriguing programming is one of your trademarks…
I’m a huge fan of diversity, and I love to have a wide range of emotions. I’m always trying to think of interesting programmes, venues and styles of music to put together such as in my recordings Seasons… dreams and Smile. To my mind, it seems strange that ‘Really obscure composers, Volumes 1, 2 and 3′ would be big sellers. When I come up with ideas like this it’s because I really can’t stand the stuffiness that comes with a normal programme theme. It bothers me when I go to a recital and someone plays first a Classical work, then a Romantic one and then something contemporary as if it’s a bitter after-pill. Music of our time is what I want to hear – it relates to my life, and I want to hear what’s going on in composers’ minds today.
What will it be like to perform this programme on the ‘Molitor’ Stradivarius, which you recently bought at auction?
With the purity of its sound, I think it’ll be breathtaking from the first note. This Stradivarius has really no other word to describe it. I think it’s going to be a very reflective, diverse, beautiful programme. I hope! If I do a good job.
Interview by Rebecca Franks
Anne Akiko Meyers is performing at the Rubin Museum of Art, New York, on Sunday 30 January 2011 at 6pm. American readers of BBC Music Magazine can find out more about Akiko Meyers in the March US edition.
Audio clip: Schnittke: Stille Nacht from ‘Seasons… dreams’ (eOne Records EOM-CD-7780)