Taipei, Taiwan -- Anne Akiko Meyers' presence in a restaurant proves more interesting than the food.
Some people stare at her. Others introduce themselves, saying they've met her on occasions that Meyers politely struggles to recall. Still others say hello to her luncheon companion as a pretext for being introduced to her.
Meyers attracts such attention partly because she is, as one writer put it, an "almost hopelessly beautiful young woman." But most admire her for being what one young man stammered in awe upon hearing her name -- "the famous violinist?"
"The one and the same," Meyers says, with a gracious smile that eases the young man's embarrassment as he returns to his table.
Anne Akiko Meyers is accustomed to being noticed. "You feel that you are being scrutinized," she says. "But most of the time you feel flattered -- that someone cares what you do is an #F incredible feeling."
Tonight in Taipei she joins David Zinman and the Baltimore Symphony on their tour of the Far East. She will perform with the symphony in both Taiwan and Japan, where she is even more famous than she is the United States. This evening, she'll be the soloist on Samuel Barber's Violin Concerto, the same work she played in a stunning performance last week at the Meyerhoff Hall in Baltimore.
Her rendition that night demonstrated unfailing intonation, the skill to dispatch difficult passages with consummate ease, an ability to produce an unending flow of beautiful tone, and musical maturity astonishing for a 24-year-old. She could convince even a skeptical listener that a minor work such as the Barber Concerto is a great one.
"Anne is a phenomenal player," Zinman says. "What makes her a phenomenal musician is the deep undercurrent of passion that she communicates beneath the polished surface of her playing."
Born in California, Meyers is the daughter of a Jewish-American college president and a Japanese artist. As a young woman growing up in suburban Los Angeles, she was often ridiculed because of her Japanese heritage and her looks.
"We hated the way we looked," she says of herself and her younger sister, Toni. "We didn't look like anyone else, and other children would call us slant-eyes -- and worse. They even made fun of the lunches my mother made for us. She put them together in the intricate Japanese style. When I thought of the care that went into them, I'd cry."
"I felt no different than any other parent would. I ached for her," says her father, Richard Meyers, now president of Webster University in St. Louis. "I tried to explain to her that not everyone loves everyone else . . . and that it was her task to educate others to all the good things that made her different."
It was also her musical talent that set her apart.
At 4, she attended a Suzuki violin class with a group of other children. "The next day, she was the only one who could play," Richard Meyers says. "Her mother and I thought that was strange. What was even stranger was the incredible rate that she continued to progress."
Three years later, with a group of Suzuki students from all over the world, Meyers went on a tour that took her to Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center. A few months later, she made her first solo appearance with orchestra, performing a Vivaldi violin concerto. At 10, she was a soloist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic; at 11, she played with the New York Philharmonic.
Her talent derived equally from both parents: her mother came from a family in which there were several musicians and her father was an accomplished clarinetist who had once dreamed, his daughter says, "of becoming the next Benny Goodman."
The nurturing of her talent, her father says, came from her mother, Yakko. "If it weren't for her mother, none of what happened would have happened," Richard Meyers says. "In many ways, Japan is a male-dominated culture, but it's actually a matriarchal society in which women passed on the culture while men supported the family."
As a student of literature to whom English was strange, Yakko Meyers says she realized that any language has built-in limits.
"When my daughter came to this world, I wanted her to communicate beyond words," she says. "People are the product of their environment, and when I nursed her I always played the David Oistrakh recording of the Beethoven Violin Concerto because I wanted her to love music the way she loved food."
When Anne was 14, Meyers' parents realized that she had outgrown her teacher in California. And young as she was, so did Anne. It was simply too confining having a teacher who told her how to play down to the tiniest detail. "My toes were just curling in my shoes," she says. "I was just dying to get out of my skin."