Many prominent violinists and composers over the years have written cadenzas for Beethoven's Violin Concerto, a cherished jewel of the violin repertoire. Among them are Leopold Auer, Joseph Joachim, Maxim Vengerov, Fritz Kreisler, and Eugene Ysaye.
Earlier this month, violinist Anne Akiko Meyers premiered a new set of cadenzas for the concerto, written by Pulitzer Prize and five-time Grammy award-winning composer John Corigliano, who is also known for composing the soundtrack to "The Red Violin." The performance took place on opening night at the Brevard Music Center, on a program that also included Beethoven's Seventh Symphony and Carlos Simons' "Fate Now Conquers."
In an interview with The Violin Channel, Meyers shared more about her collaboration with Corigliano, what makes these cadenzas so special, and how they add something entirely new to the concerto in ways the existing cadenzas do not.
Meyers said she has "long admired Corigliano's compositions" and has collaborated with Corigliano for over a decade. In 2010, he composed "Lullaby for Natalie" for the birth of Meyers' first daughter, which she called a "gift that keeps on giving and a gorgeous piece that [her] daughter listens to every other night as she goes to sleep."
A few years ago, Meyers reached out to Corigliano about the possibility of writing the new cadenzas for the Beethoven concerto, which he finished at the end of last year.
Corigliano is well-versed with both the Beethoven concerto and violin playing more generally, as his father was the concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic for more than two decades. According to Meyers, Corigliano wrote the cadenzas after she sent him a video of a recent performance in Japan.
"When I first read through them, I instantly recognized how extraordinary they were," Meyers wrote to The Violin Channel. She mentioned Zoom meetings where she would play the cadenzas and he would shout "'No Annie!!! Softer, softer!!! Try slurring that note or you need to work on that!!' I loved every second of it!!'"
Corigliano studied Beethoven's arrangement of his concerto for piano — where he wrote cadenzas with timpani, something that influenced Corigliano's cadenzas — as well as the dozens of previously existing cadenzas. He understood Meyers' frustration with the limitations of the standard cadenzas, she said.
"The cadenzas sound original and come from a very organic place," Meyers said. "Fate brought them together, and they feel as if they were meant to be united. There are some Red Violin and Altered States overtones in them, and they are virtuosic and very powerful. With his unique language, he has brought out the glory, struggle, and beauty of the surrounding concerto, manifested from his colorful and profound range of sound."
Meyers likened last week's premiere of the cadenzas to a "triathlon on roller skates," due to the combination of a 45-minute tour de force concerto, Corigliano's demanding cadenzas, and the "purity and lyricism so inherent in every note" of the piece.