GEN­ER­ALLY IN LIFE THERE IS ROOM FOR IM­PROVE­MENT AS A MU­SI­CIAN, AS A MOTHER, AS A HU­MAN BE­ING, A SPOUSE

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Cover Story - Anne-So­phie Mut­ter

judge, at least you have some­body liv­ing you can talk to.’’

Talk turns to is­sues out­side mu­sic. Mut­ter has been de­scribed as an ‘‘ aes­thetic, artis­tic, com­mer­cial, and al­to­gether ex­tra­or­di­nary phe­nom­e­non’’, a glossy, tawny-haired and care­fully main­tained brand that sparkles from air­brushed al­bum cov­ers, posters and on the con­cert stage. She has par­layed her pho­to­genic looks into great wealth, play­ing on the power of those Valentino sling­backs and slinky frocks, the lux­u­ri­ant mane and bare satiny shoul­ders nestling one of her two Stradi­var­ius vi­o­lins, the 1710 Lord Dunn-Raven or the 1703 Emil­iani. A Wash­ing­ton Post critic wrote re­cently she leaves noth­ing to chance, on or off­stage: ‘‘ her ‘ brand’ en­com­passes siz­zling vir­tu­os­ity, ag­gres­sive (if ar­bi­trary) in­ter­pre­tive de­ci­sions, and haute cou­ture glam­our’’.

But for all this shini­ness, there is a for­mi­da­bly bril­liant artis­tic core. Still, who ex­actly is the pri­vate woman be­hind the pub­lic im­age? It’s hard to say. In press in­ter­views she in­vari­ably comes across as the per­son­i­fi­ca­tion of girl­ish warmth and charm un­der­neath that sleek, shiny cara­pace of glam­our. She seems gen­uinely down to earth, fam­ily ori­ented; she has said her great­est tragedy is ‘‘ to be a bad crit­ics, the English mu­sic com­men­ta­tor Nor­man Le­brecht, has said ‘‘ what you see on stage, you hear on her DG records, nei­ther more nor less. She scarcely looks at the au­di­ence and sel­dom gives an en­core. Few mu­si­cians give so lit­tle for so much dosh.’’

This im­pres­sion of her as some sort of stern, un­smil­ing Valkyrie of the vi­olin seems, how­ever, a tri­fle un­fair. Yes, she of­ten scowls on stage, ap­pear­ing to wres­tle with some kind of in­ner de­mon as she plays. But cold? Watch her on YouTube, per­form­ing an achingly beau­ti­ful, sor­row­ful ren­di­tion of Bach’s Sara­bande in D Mi­nor in an en­core af­ter a Ber­lin Phil­har­monic per­for­mance un­der Seiji Ozawa, her eyes glis­ten­ing with tears, and you know the ac­cu­sa­tions are un­just.

She says with some steel: ‘‘ It all de­pends on what one ex­pects a per­former to do visu­ally. I look at the gen­er­a­tion be­fore me, at [Jascha] Heifetz, and so on, high-class vi­o­lin­ists whom I was lucky enough to meet at the very end of their lives when they still played won­der­fully well, and visu­ally, re­ally, there was noth­ing hap­pen­ing. Very stern faces, al­most no body move­ment, and this is how I feel should be the proper ap­pear­ance of an artist. We are not ac­tors, we are artists re­liv­ing the piece, so the only thing I can com­ment on [the crit­i­cism] is that it is just one part of the per­cep­tions of my per­son­al­ity. Oth­ers think I’m play­ing too much on a per­sonal level, too emo­tional,’’ she puffs out a breath of frus­tra­tion.

Mut­ter has been vo­cal on some of the more con­tro­ver­sial as­pects of the clas­si­cal mu­sic in­dus­try, from sex­ism (when she was en­gaged to per­form solo with the Mu­nich Phil­har­monic, con­duc­tor Sergiu Celi­bidache treated her so badly — among other things he re­port­edly called her a ‘‘ vi­olin-play­ing hen’’ — that she walked out of the re­hearsals) to the dumb­ing down of clas­si­cal mu­sic. In 2011, she sup­ported es­teemed vi­olin­ist Gi­don Kre­mer af­ter he was crit­i­cised for re­leas­ing a let­ter ex­plain­ing his rea­sons for with­draw­ing from the Verbier Fes­ti­val (among other things, Kre­mer de­cried the fes­ti­val cir­cuit’s li­on­is­ing of ‘‘ fake’’ stars). ‘‘ I to­tally un­der­stand his viewpoint, and his de­ci­sion not to per­form if you feel your artis­tic views are com­pro­mised,’’ she says.

Mut­ter, who set up a foun­da­tion in 1997 that fi­nan­cially supports ris­ing young mu­si­cal stars (among her finds is Ro­man Patkolo, whom she de­scribes as the Pa­ganini of the dou­ble bass), as well stag­ing ben­e­fit con­certs for ev­ery­thing from child wel­fare to vic­tims of Ja­pan’s nu­clear dis­as­ter, would like to see more clas­si­cal mu­si­cians take a greater pub­lic role in crit­i­cal is­sues of the day. ‘‘ Just give more, take a stronger role — there is no need to be in­volved with a po­lit­i­cal party or be some kind of spokesman.’’

In 2006, she ap­peared to in­di­cate on French tele­vi­sion that she would be re­tir­ing when she turned 45. Since then, she has said she was ‘‘ mis­in­ter­preted’’; cer­tainly at 50, she ap­pears busier than ever. Asked what she sees in the fu­ture, she is re­flec­tive. ‘‘ I don’t know what it brings, no one knows. Life is hap­pen­ing when you are mak­ing plans, ja? I hope my in­ter­est in cham­ber mu­sic, par­tic­u­larly in string trio, will one day find a good end­ing, which means I will have the time to find suit­able part­ners to play a few of Beethoven’s great last quar­tets. But you never know.

‘‘ What can I say? I am very grate­ful. I just came from a fu­neral yes­ter­day where I played, and this makes you very hum­ble. It makes you re­alise life is a gift on a daily ba­sis and you have to grab it and en­joy it.’’

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