Pas­sing On the Ma­gic

Handelsblatt Global Edition Magazine - - Fashion Phenom Philipp Plein - BY FRE­DE­RIK HANS­SEN AND ES­T­HER KO­GEL­BOOM

Star vio­li­nist Anne-So­phie Mut­ter talks about fin­ding the soul of a Stra­di­va­ri­us, how to awa­ken a child’s pas­si­on for mu­sic, and why con­cert­go­ers shouldn’t be so well-be­ha­ved.

Anne-So­phie Mut­ter, 52, is wi­de­ly con­side­red to be the world’s grea­test li­ving vio­li­nist. She owns two Stra­di­va­ri­us vio­lins ma­de in the ear­ly 1700s and be­lie­ves an in­stru­ment can ta­ke cen­tu­ries to reach peak per­for­mance. For her la­test CD,“Li­ve From the Yel­low Lounge,” she ven­tu­red in­to a wareh­ou­se-tur­ned-night­club to play for Ber­lin’s night craw­lers.

Han­dels­blatt: You we­re a child pro­di­gy, per­for­ming with the le­gen­da­ry con­duc­tor Her­bert von Ka­ra­jan when you we­re 13. How can par­ents in­still en­thu­si­asm in their child for learning an in­stru­ment? Mut­ter: The best way is to start when the child is about fi­ve, wi­thout too much ex­pla­na­ti­on. Just put a litt­le vio­lin, re­cor­der or drum in­to the child’s hands. You can even bor­row the in­stru­ments. The most im­portant thing is for mu­sic to play an ever­y­day ro­le. The child has to feel that ma­ma and pa­pa think it’s cool. You could do worse than play so­me clas­si­cal mu­sic on the ra­dio at bre­ak­fast ti­me.

That’s enough?

Ta­ke small child­ren to the ope­ra. So­me par­ents don’t da­re be­cau­se they’re af­raid the child will cau­se a dis­tur­ban­ce. Two things can hap­pen: Eit­her the child falls as­leep or is en­rap­tu­red. Ope­ra can be as na­tu­ral as do­ing han­di­crafts.

So the child picks up a re­cor­der and starts blo­wing. Af­ter an hour, the par­ents’ skulls are about to ex­plo­de. What do you do?

Earp­lugs. I high­ly re­com­mend the wax ver­si­on. Look for a mu­sic school and let the child try out va­rious in­stru­ments. It worked for my child­ren.

Tell me mo­re.

To­day my son plays pia­no and ten­nis. My daugh­ter got stuck on the re­cor­der. Her con­nec­tion with the in­stru­ment isn’t as in­ti­ma­te as I’d ho­ped, but it led to an in­credi­b­ly trai­ned ear. Re­cent­ly she was at a con­cert I play­ed in Salz­burg and told me she’d be­en de­eply mo­ved.

Was it just be­cau­se her mo­ther was play­ing?

No, it was be­cau­se she’d be­en gi­ven ac­cess to mu­sic from a ve­ry young age and had de­ve­l­o­ped that sen­si­bi­li­ty.

So par­ents need to ac­tive­ly in­tro­du­ce a child to mu­sic?

We can’t lea­ve ever­y­thing to the schools. The­re are al­so ma­ny won­der­ful, en­thu­si­as­tic

Clas­si­cal cool: Mut­ter per­forms for the club-craw­ling crowd at Ber­lin ve­nue Neue Hei­mat.

mu­sic te­achers. They ha­ve no stan­ding in our so­cie­ty. They’re paid mi­se­r­a­b­ly and not ta­ken se­rious­ly, be­cau­se mu­sic is not se­en as a ca­re­er skill.

People sit so clo­se to the sta­ge you can feel them phy­si­cal­ly, their si­lence, when they hold their bre­ath. It re­al­ly got un­der my skin.

The­re are par­ents who ha­ve no in­te­rest in clas­si­cal mu­sic but want their child­ren to le­arn an in­stru­ment as a sta­tus sym­bol. Does that work?

It will ne­ver be au­then­tic. Mu­sic is so­me­thing that you sha­re. You don’t ma­ke mu­sic for so­meo­ne, you ma­ke it with so­meo­ne. It’s al­so such a gre­at ve­hi­cle for em­pa­thy. Mu­sic can be a gre­at bridge-buil­der as ear­ly as kin­der­gar­ten, be­cau­se it teaches pa­ti­ence and re­spect for ot­her cul­tu­ral roots. We need that ur­gent­ly.

How does one nur­tu­re a child’s en­thu­si­asm wi­thout overw­hel­ming it?

In the ide­al ca­se, a child finds an in­stru­ment they want to be fri­ends with. Then things hap­pen pret­ty much na­tu­ral­ly. The child doe­sn’t want to stop. I was lu­cky that my first vio­lin te­acher ma­de learning li­ke a ga­me. Na­tu­ral­ly we wish that all learning could be li­ke that.

But not ever­yo­ne is that lu­cky.

Then the par­ents should wi­th­draw com­ple­te­ly, and let a ve­ry pa­ti­ent mu­sic te­acher qui­te ca­sual­ly im­part the lo­ve of mu­sic. We don’t want to bring up a na­ti­on of pro­fes­sio­nal mu­si­ci­ans. May­be so­me­ti­mes it will just “click.” May­be the child will form a band at 13 or 14 ye­ars old. The main thing is to plant and nur­tu­re the seed. It’s okay if they don’t de­ve­lop the will to per­fect an in­stru­ment. But even sim­ply lis­ten­ing is ve­ry dif­fe­rent if one has al­re­a­dy ho­ned the sen­ses for it. Is the­re ever a mo­ment when one should say,“Child, the­re’s no po­int. Best just drop it.” I would ne­ver say that.

But what if the­re’s just no pro­gress with the les­sons?

Then it’s the te­acher’s fault. Na­tu­ral­ly your own child can’t pos­si­bly be that stu­pid. It must be be­cau­se of the te­acher! (Laughs.)

In 1997 you star­ted a foun­da­ti­on to sup­port gif­ted young mu­si­ci­ans. What do you do for them as a te­acher?

My first scho­lar­ship stu­dent, Wei Lu, is now con­cert­mas­ter at the Ger­man Sym­pho­ny Orches­tra [in Ber­lin]. I met him when he was 17 and brought him from Bei­jing to Eu­ro­pe. His tech­ni­que was al­re­a­dy ve­ry good, and he prac­ticed li­ke he was pos­ses­sed. But our cul­tu­re was com­ple­te­ly for­eign to him. So I went ro­wing with him and moun­tain hi­king, dragged him along to meet ar­tist fri­ends. For ye­ars he pro­bab­ly thought “This la­dy is nuts, all I want her to do is teach me vio­lin!” But I didn’t gi­ve him any vio­lin les­sons. Ins­tead, I ga­ve him books along with Jo­han­nes Brahms’ ad­vice to prac­tice a litt­le less and re­ad a litt­le mo­re. He’s now a won­der­ful mu­si­ci­an, and hasn’t just re­mai­ned a vio­lin spe­cia­list. He grew as a per­son du­ring the scho­lar­ship.

You al­so gi­ve con­certs with your pro­té­gés. For your la­test CD, you play­ed with so­me of your stu­dents in a Ber­lin night­club, not the first ti­me you play­ed in club.

I’d play­ed be­fo­re at the As­phalt Club in cen­tral Ber­lin. That was an eye and ear-ope­ner for me not on­ly did it work, but it was har­mo­nious. What I li­ke is how clo­se you are to the au­di­ence. People sit so clo­se to the sta­ge you can feel them phy­si­cal­ly, their si­lence, when they hold their bre­ath. It re­al­ly got un­der my skin. It in­spi­res in a way that I re­al­ly can’t ex­plain.

Plea­se, try.

We’re not just sen­ding out sound. In an ide­al sce­na­rio we’re al­so re­cei­ving sti­mu­li from the au­di­ence. We’re lis­ten­ing to you.

When was the first ti­me mu­sic got un­der your skin that way?

A Ka­ra­jan con­cert, it must ha­ve be­en 1977. He was con­duc­ting An­ton Bruck­ner’s 7th Sym­pho­ny. Du­ring the slow mo­ve­ment, I star­ted to cry un­con­troll­ab­ly and had to run out of the hall. The mu­sic was so be­au­ti­ful, I couldn’t be­ar it. That’s the mo­ment when it all be­co­mes too much. This is what art should do to us: it should sha­ke us out of our com­fort zo­ne, gi­ve us in­ten­se fee­lings.

How does a clas­si­cal con­cert work in a night­club?

What I found so excit­ing about the club au­di­ence was that it re­min­ded me of what we know about per­for­man­ces back in Mo­zart’s ti­me: People clap­ped bet­ween mo­ve­ments, the mu­si­ci­ans im­pro­vi­zed, the­re was so much ener­gy in the place. It’s a good thing to ap­plaud bet­ween mo­ve­ments. Au­di­en­ces al­ways be­ha­ve so darn re­spec­ta­b­ly.

The air in the club was re­al­ly hot. Doe­sn’t that da­ma­ge your Stra­di­va­ri­us?

If the wood warms up slow­ly, the risk of split­ting isn’t so gre­at. When it gets re­al­ly hot, I ha­ve to ha­ve a hand­ker­chief on my shoul­der, so the lac­quer doe­sn’t get da­ma­ged by too much per­spi­ra­ti­on.

You al­ways we­ar off-the-shoul­der dres­ses when you per­form.

I would die if I had to we­ar slee­ves. It can’t be do­ne. The most im­portant thing is skin con­tact. It feels sim­ply won­der­ful when you can lay the vio­lin against your skin. It’s about in­ti­ma­cy. You wouldn’t play pia­no wea­ring gl­oves.

Could you play equal­ly well in, for ex­amp­le, a tracksu­it?

Ha ha, you me­an an off-the-shoul­der tracksu­it? [Al­ways wea­ring the sa­me ty­pe of dress is] a way to ma­ke su­re the­re’s one less thing bo­the­ring me. I al­re­a­dy ha­ve enough pro­blems to de­al with when I per­form. The re­per­toire, how I feel that day, the heat, may­be a loo­se hair dang­ling in­to my eyes...

What do you do then?

Blink. Wait for the next orches­tra pas­sa­ge when I can wi­pe the stu­pid thing away. One of my stu­dents, a Ko­re­an girl with be­au­ti­ful long hair, failed in a com­pe­ti­ti­on be­cau­se, du­ring a par­ti­cu­lar­ly wild pas­sa­ge, her hair, wet from sweat, fell across the bridge and she pul­led the vio­lin’s bow over it. Va­ni­ty is all well and good, but on sta­ge one has to watch that not­hing detracts from the work at hand. At the end of the day we’re ve­ry se­rious mu­si­ci­ans – not mo­dels.

How do you bo­ard a pla­ne with your vio­lin?

I try to get to the front of the li­ne, so I can stow it in the over­head. The ca­se is lon­ger than car­ry-on re­gu­la­ti­ons al­low, but I can’t ma­ke it any shor­ter.

What about the se­cu­ri­ty check?

Vio­lin ma­kers tell me it’s sa­fer to let it pass th­rough the X-ray than let so­meo­ne hand­le it who doe­sn’t know what they’re do­ing. A cust­oms of­fi­cer in Ita­ly on­ce tap­ped the wood with his fin­ger­nail. I al­most kil­led him! The mark he ma­de on the in­stru­ment is still vi­si­ble. In Ame­ri­ca I even mis­sed a pla­ne on­ce be­cau­se I re­fu­sed to hand over the in­stru­ment. I said I would do any­thing they wan­ted ex­cept let them touch my vio­lin. They went com­ple­te­ly cra­zy. Their su­per­vi­sor was mo­re un­der­stan­ding.

Ta­ke small child­ren to the ope­ra. Eit­her they fall as­leep or are en­rap­tu­red. Ope­ra can be as na­tu­ral as do­ing han­di­crafts.

What ex­act­ly is the mys­te­ry be­hind an old in­stru­ment?

As eso­te­ric as it sounds, vio­li­nists are con­vin­ced a vio­lin ta­kes on a com­ple­te­ly in­di­vi­du­al sound from its play­er. Re­cent­ly I play­ed the vio­lin that be­longed to the le­gen­da­ry vir­tuo­so Fritz Kreis­ler, who di­ed in 1962. It was fre­aky. Sud­den­ly I soun­ded li­ke Fritz Kreis­ler! To an outs­ider, it seems li­ke black ma­gic.

It must be frus­tra­ting for vio­lin ma­kers to es­sen­ti­al­ly pro­du­ce a blank sla­te that on­ly re­veals its ma­gic af­ter hund­reds of ye­ars of use.

What I lea­ve be­hind as a mu­si­ci­an is not­hing. But a vio­lin ma­ker’s mas­ter­pie­ce can chan­ge the mu­sic world. I think that’s mad!

Mut­ter‘s night­club con­cert in Ber­lin in­clu­ded pie­ces by Aa­ron Co­pland and Clau­de De­bus­sy. Fre­de­rik Hans­sen and Es­t­her Ko­gel­boom wri­te for Han­dels­blatt’s sis­ter pu­bli­ca­ti­on, the Ber­lin dai­ly news­pa­per Der Tagesspiegel, whe­re this in­ter­view first ap­peared.

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