Johann Sebastian Bach's Concerto for Two Violins, Strings and Continuo in D minor — better known as Bach's Double Concerto — has been recorded by many duos of great violinists.
But a new recording by Anne Akiko Meyers called AIR: The Bach Album offers something different: She plays both solo parts, one on each of her two prized Stradivarius violins. One is the "Molitor" Stradivarius from 1697, which is thought to have been owned by Napoleon and which she bought at auction two years ago for a then-record $3.6M. The other is the so-called "Royal Spanish" Strad, dating from 1730, which was once owned by the king of Spain.
Meyers calls the Double Concerto "one of the most fascinating compositions," and says that many people were curious to hear how two violins that, as she says, she "suddenly came into" having in her possession would sound together. So she recorded one solo part in London with the English Chamber Orchestra, and the other in New York with headphones several months later, listening to her first recording as she played.
"I played the first violin part on the 'Molitor' Strad, and then I did the second violin part on the 'Royal Spanish' Strad," she says. She says she thought carefully about which violin to pair with which part. "The 'Royal Spanish' has a little more masculine tone to it. 'Molly,' as I call her, has a very pure, beautiful, crystalline voice." So Meyers plays the first violin part on the "Molitor," while the lower bass notes are on the "Royal Spanish."
Meyers' mother is Japanese and her father is American; she was born in San Diego and studied at Los Angeles' Colburn School of Performing Arts. She was 4 years old when she began playing violin.
"There's a story that my mother played a lot of music for me when she was pregnant with me. She played the recording of the Beethoven Violin Concerto with David Oistrakh once I was born," Meyers says, "and especially when she fed me, so I would associate the pleasure of food and eating with music."
Perhaps it was to create a Pavlovian association?
"Yeah," the violinist says with a laugh. "I get hungry every time I play."
Thanks to YouTube, an early Meyers performance is available on YouTube. As an 11-year-old, she appeared on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson.
"I'm the one with the long knee socks," Meyers says. "I still haven't forgiven my mother that she put me on national TV wearing long knee socks."
A more recent performance of hers has been memorialized on YouTube: when Meyers played the National Anthem before a Seattle Mariners-Boston Red Sox game last year.
"That was such an honor to be asked — to get up in front of 42,000 screaming fans was just so thrilling," she says. "And I'm very proud to say that the Mariners went on to win like three games after that. I would like to completely credit myself for their winning."