Edgar Meyer
b. 1960
American string bassist and composer

While it’s certainly factually correct to identify Edgar Meyer as a contemporary classical bassist and composer, this label is really too narrow to adequately describe either his repertoire or his composition style. He is arguably the most important string bassist of this era, and that’s not just because he’s a technically talented musician. Meyer’s ability to blend classical techniques and structures with the flavors and soul of American roots music (in both his performance and his compositions) has helped him to carve, at long last, a place in the mainstream classical world for the string bass as a solo and small ensemble instrument.

His compositions are stylistically quite folksy-sounding, but they aren't simply hackneyed attempts at recreating folk music: he incorporates jazz-based and modern-sounding, dissonant harmonies (a welcome supplement to the pentatonic simplicity common in folk songs) and classical stylings such as intricately articulated passages, syncopated rhythms and polyphonic textures.

As a performer, Meyer is known for his several fruitful collaborations with other musicians, which have succeeded in bringing the string bass to the attention of the musical public. Probably the most well-known have been his collaborations with Yo-Yo Ma and Mark O'Connor on the albums Appalachia Waltz and Appalachian Journey, with Béla Fleck and Mike Marshall on Uncommon Ritual, and with Joshua Bell on Short Trip Home. These four albums are all excellent examples of Meyer's abilities as a crossover folk/classical musician; to hear him on these is to know undoubtedly that he is a very technically talented player (even if you know very little about the bass), and yet he allows his sound to be almost rough. Therein lies his genius as a performer: he doesn't try to pass the string bass off as a larger sort of cello. He allows it to be a bass, and sound like a bass; rough, sometimes gravelly, deep and resonant; he avoids beating it into submission or pretending it's smooth and urbane like its higher counterpart. This is what kept the bass from being a solo instrument for so long, but it's also precisely what Meyer uses to transform it into a solo instrument. For the best example of what I'm inarticulately trying to describe here, I recommend listening to Meyer's recording of the Bach Unaccompanied Cello Suites; his interpretation of Bach is achingly beautiful and emotional, and because it's a solo album it's fantastically easy to hear the character of the instrument.

Here, because it's what I think is most useful (because, after all, there's only so much about music that one can describe in words), is a fairly complete discography, with some brief notes of explanation where necessary:

Appalachia Waltz*
1996
trio of Meyer, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and violinist/fiddler Mark O’Connor

Uncommon Ritual*
1997
Meyer, banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck and mandolin player Mike Marshall

Short Trip Home*
1999
with violinist Joshua Bell

Listen To The Storyteller*
1999
spoken word tales for children with instrumental accompaniment, composed by Meyer, Wynton Marsalis, and Patrick Doyle , and performed by various artists, including Meyer.

Appalachian Journey*
2000
a return of the Meyer/Ma/O’Connor trio; Grammy winner, Best Classical Crossover Recording

Barber and Meyer Violin Concertos
2000
Hilary Hahn performs concertos by Meyer and Samuel Barber

Bach Unaccompanied Cello Suites
2000
Meyer performs Bach's Cello Suites 1, 2, and 5 on string bass.

Perpetual Motion
2001
Béla Fleck performs banjo arrangements of classical pieces with various forms of accompaniment. (Meyer was co-producer, and also a performer and arranger) Double Grammy winner: Best Classical Crossover Recording and Best Instrumental Arrangement, for Doctor Gradus, an arrangement of a Debussy piece

Heartland: An Appalachian Anthology*
2001
music from Appalachia Waltz and Appalachian Journey, as well as other albums. Performers include Joshua Bell, Sam Bush, Béla Fleck, Yo-Yo Ma, Mike Marshall, Meyer, and Mark O’Connor

Edgar Meyer: Meyer and Bottesini Concertos*
2002
Meyer performs his own concerto as well as one by Romantic composer Giovanni Bottesini with accompaniment by the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and featured soloists Yo-Yo Ma and Joshua Bell.

Silk Road Journeys: When Strangers Meet
2002
Yo-Yo Ma's pet project, this album consists of traditional music from the Silk Road region, performed by a motley crew of classically trained and folk musicians, including Meyer. (Meyer was not a major collaborator on this album, but it's a great one!)

note: Albums listed with an * are those on which Meyer appears both as a composer and a musician. On unstarred albums, he appears solely as a performer, unless otherwise noted. All albums are on the Sony Classical label.

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