The Weekend Australian - Review - - Front Page -

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


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

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