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Meyer’s wide range of styles to be on display with JCSO

By ALLISON ALFONSO
Press Tempo Writer
aalfonso@johnsoncitypress.com m

MILLIGAN COLLEGE — Renowned double bass player Edgar Meyer will headline the Johnson City Symphony Orchestra’s Nov. 17 concert at 8 p.m. in Seeger Chapel at Milligan College.

The concert begins with Aram Kathchaturian’s Masquerade Suite and Ricard Strauss’ Serenade for Thirteen Winds. Meyer will join the orchestra for the Bottessini Concerto No. 2 and his own Concerto for Double Bass, which features a range of jazz and blues elements, textural contrast and imaginative orchestration.

It combines the wide range of musical styles for which he is known with the structure of a classical concerto.

Meyer is a native of Oak Ridge and is considered by many to be the best bassist alive. The chameleon is as talented playing classical music and bluegrass as he is composing unclassifiable pieces that combine country, folk, rock and pop.

The Grammy Award-winning Sony recording artist has recorded with YoYo Ma, Bela Fleck, Garth Brooks, Bruce Cockburn, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Hank Williams Jr., Emmylou Harris, James Taylor, Lyle Lovett, T-Bone Burnett and Reba McIntryre, among others.

Meyer’s collaboration with violinist Joshua Bell on “The Prequel” from his 1999 CD “Short Trip Home” was part of the sound track for Ken Burns’ epic World War II documentary for PBS, “The War.” His latest CD is “The Best of Edgar Meyer.”

Meyer, the first bassist to win the Avery Fisher Career Grant, is a recipient of a prestigious MacArthur Foundation Award and three Grammy Awards. He is a visiting professor of double bass at the Royal Academy of Music and the Curtis Institute of Music.

He began playing bass when he was 5. His first teacher was his father, Ed, who played bass with the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra and in local jazz bands. Meyer also plays mandolin, guitar, piano, dobro, banjo and da gamba.

Johnson City has JCSO publicity chairman Marilyn Robertson to thank for Meyer’s appearance. She taught Meyer as a general music student when he was in first and second grades. She remembers playing a recording of “The Elephant” from “Carnival of the Animals” by Camille Saint-Saens for her class one day and the young Meyer’s insistence the bassist hadn’t played his part correctly.

The next day, Meyer brought his bass in and played the correct version for the class.

“I didn’t think he was being arrogant because he wasn’t that kind of child,” she said. “He was an extremely intelligent child.”

Robertson’s never had a student who reached the level of musical fame Meyer has and has enjoyed listening to his recordings and keeping up with his activities through his online newsletter. And the concert will be sweeter for her than many since she knew him so long ago and never imagined the life he’d lead.

“I have a perspective on Edgar Meyer that very few people have,” she said. “That makes me feel good.”

Meyer said he knew from an early age that music would always be central in his life, though he didn’t necessarily think it would be a career. He was drawn to the double bass for its unique and mournful “voice,” which fits perfectly with the many older songs he likes to play.

His Concerto for Double Bass was written 14 years ago and influenced by dobro player Jerry Douglas and mandolin player Sam Bush. He said in part it reflects the blues that underlies the music of both and that Bush is able to make things “drive and have a rhythmic vitality that’s inspiring.”

He’s looking forward to performing it here when concert night comes. And, no, he doesn’t remember playing the bass for Robertson’s class but finds it amusing that he did and will make sure he reintroduces himself to her. Meyer doesn’t put as much stock in the zip code of audience members as the chance to bond with and meet other musicians. The first thing he will do when he gets to town is introduce himself to the JCSO players and try to “connect.”

“I have a good time with orchestras wherever I go,” Meyer said.

Does Meyer listen to his own CDs? No. Once his latest music is preserved for posterity, he’s on to something new. If he lived in the past, he wouldn’t grow, he said.

“What you find is that’s not very constructive,” he said. “It locks you up. You don’t want to fall in love with your own piece.”

Tom Stites, JCSO conductor, said there are no words to describe how excited he and the JCSO musicians are about this concert. Meyer is not alone in being able to play so many different instruments, but he is part of a small group of virtuoso musicians who can play them so well.

“Listening to his recordings, I am amazed at the proficiency level that he is able to contribute on each of these instruments,” Stites said. “The high level of talent that Edgar possesses along with a passion for performing is something we are all going to enjoy for many years to come.”

Tickets are $30 for adults and $10 for students and children. For more information, call 926-8742 or visit www.jcsymphony.com.

The concert is sponsored by East Tennessee State University and General Shale.

Johnson City Press Article

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MILLIGAN UNIVERSITY is a Christian liberal arts university in Northeast Tennessee whose vision is to change lives and shape culture through a commitment to servant leadership. The university offers more than 100 majors, minors, pre-professional degrees and concentrations in a variety of fields, along with graduate and adult degree completion programs.  To learn more about Milligan University, visit www.milligan.edu or call 800-262-8337.

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