CLIMB EVERY MOUNTAIN
THE MUSICAL ODYSSEY OF ANNE-SOPHIE MUTTER
AT nine, she played her first public concert. At 13, she made her international debut in Lucerne with Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic. At 15, she made her first recordings for the prestigious Deutsche Grammophon label.
By her late teens she was enjoying the fruits of international music stardom — a Stradivarius, a Porsche, critically praised recordings — after being hailed by the autocratic, silver-haired Karajan as ‘‘ the greatest musical prodigy since the young Menuhin’’.
Now 50, she’s been in the international spotlight for more than three decades, known for her scholarship and virtuosity as well as her glamorous John Galliano gowns. She’s sold upwards of 10 million albums, and critics worldwide salute everything from her lyricism and rich tone to her formidable control and the precision of her bowing arm.
‘‘ When she lets her turbo-charged sound roar fully out,’’ The Washington Post once said, ‘‘ you feel it almost physically.’’
The violin has been her first love since early childhood, but German superstar Anne-Sophie Mutter is a woman of many passions outside music. Speaking to Review from Austria, it is tennis, not Mozart, that is absorbing her boundless energy this morning; within seconds of getting on the line, she confides gleefully that she’s ‘‘ absolutely’’ over the moon at the thought of finally seeing the men’s singles final in Melbourne with her son when she returns to this country to perform with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra following her lauded Australian debut with Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in 2012.
‘‘ I know I should speak only of Mozart but I now shall speak of Federer — I am a big Federer fan,’’ she announces cheerfully in precise English overlaid with a rollicking, singsong accent.
Engaging and candid, she waxes lyrical about the Swiss legend’s almost musical playing style, his graceful sense of rhythm, his temperament: like her, she explains earnestly, he appears coolly remote, even imperious, but ‘‘ sometimes you see him give a funny little ‘ c’mon!’ and you can glimpse this incredible inner fire which he shelves before playing. Without wanting to put myself anywhere near the mastery of Federer, I think we are the same type on stage.’’
It is characteristic of Mutter, I find, to seek out parallels between her profession and her many interests. A self-described ‘‘ insatiable caterpillar’’ of the violin repertoire, that curious, cerebral mind of hers soaks up books and art, jazz and magic tricks as quickly as it does scores, old and new. Refreshingly pragmatic about her life with ‘‘ the fiddle’’ (‘‘it’s not life or death, let’s be honest’’), she makes quickfire conversational leaps from her Federer crush and her vexed realisation she’ll never truly master her instrument to why children are instinctively good at Mozart and her visceral dislike of listening to her old recordings (‘‘I’ll only do so if I’m in a moving car and can’t jump out’’).
Then it’s on to the need for classical musicians to be more politically engaged (where are the benefit concerts for Syria, she asks), the frustrations of working with occasionally ‘‘ uninspirable’’ orchestras, and her upcoming Carnegie Hall world premiere of an ‘‘ insanely’’ difficult new work by octogenarian Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki. ‘‘ I am so nervous,’’ she exclaims. ‘‘ Oh my God, how many sleepless nights have I had!’’
Art and literature, two passions, are regularly referenced. A keen collector, she has said Monet’s desire to paint not the object but what
EVERY NOTE IS PRECIOUS IN MOZART, AS ARE THE SPACES BETWEEN THE NOTES
goes on between the object and the eye of the beholder is ‘‘ very close to my understanding of music’’; she compares Beethoven and Mozart to Miro and Klee, and has cited the epigraph from TS Eliot’s Four Quartets (‘‘We shall not cease from exploration’’) to clarify her reasons for re-recording the Mozart concertos. At one point in our chat, she explains her theories on music in terms of the deceptively subtle work of Austrian sculptor Karl Prantl, and compares Mozart’s compositions — lean and infinitely nuanced — first with a Japanese haiku, and then a masterpiece of microcarving she once saw in a Dresden art museum.
On the weekend after next, she will perform three of Mozart’s five violin concertos with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. The great composer is perhaps Mutter’s favourite, ‘‘ always waiting for me at every juncture of my career’’.
Anne-Sophie Mutter; and as a child with Herbert von Karajan, right