Anne-Sophie Mutter: a Musical Life in Full

It’s fair to say that violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter has reached iconic status. According to one writer: “If Yo-Yo Ma is the reigning god of classical music, Anne-Sophie Mutter is the goddess.”

Mutter would probably decline either honor – goddess or icon. “I don’t like looking back every day,” she said in a telephone interview with The Georgetowner. “Music to me is about moving forward.”

It’s not that she’s notably restless, but that she believes in living a full life. The program for her Nov. 23 Kennedy Center performance, under the auspices of Washington Performing Arts, is emblematic of her passions and interests, musical and otherwise.

She will be playing with the Mutter Virtuosi, a 14-member string orchestra of young scholars and professionals, alumni of the Anne-Sophie Mutter Foundation. Supporting young musicians is one her passions. Another is giving exposure to the works of contemporary composers. The program includes “Ringtone Variations,” written in 2011 by Mutter favorite Sebastian Currier on the theme of everybody’s favorite possession and irritant, the cell phone.

Juxtaposing “Ringtone Variations” with Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” and Mendelssohn’s “Octet” may be a little dizzying. Majestically romantic, Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” is as familiar as a waltz. “I know everybody loves it, but it’s not that simple. It’s a complicated work. I think it’s been somewhat abused by people who used it as elevator music,” she says. “‘Ringtones’ to me, I’ve never heard music that is so dense. The notes seem to be traveling from the moon.”

On the phone, Mutter is fully engaged. Her voice is warm, with a hint of a German accent. She was raised in the Black Forest region and today lives in Munich. Apart from her extraordinary talent, some of her fame comes from being a classically beautiful woman that age has made few intrusions upon.

“I think sometimes there’s too much emphasis and too much talk about that, the appearance, how musicians look and appear on stage,” she said. “The music is everything, and live performance is unique and central to this.”

In some critical quarters, there are grumbles about her having something of a cool persona as a performer. “I don’t understand that,” she said. “I’m not an actress. It’s always about the music. I saw a woman, a violinist, once, who sat absolutely on a chair, hardly moved at all, except with bow and fingers. And the most remarkable music would come forth, and it was to me an act of magic.”

The 2011 Deutsche Grammophon release of a huge boxed set of her recordings was a long way and time from 1978 when, as a teenager, she began her performing career at the Lucerne Festival. A year later, she performed at the Salzburg Whitsun Concerts under famed conductor Herbert von Karajan.

She’s performed at the Kennedy Center frequently over the years. “This is a wonderful city to perform in, to visit. I head straight to the museums when I’m here.”

She also exercises (passionately, we’re guessing), loves Rilke, reads Marquez and for a time was listening to Elvis. Lately she has been listening to jazz vocalist Madeleine Peyroux.

Mutter herself sounds a bit jazzy at times. She’s funny, with a sly sense of humor, and says she once – before her destiny took over – wanted to be a clown. Her life in full comes across in her voice and, of course, in her playing, which always brings out the bottomless depths of the music. She says: “How you play a piece changes all the time and so does the music. But it’s that connection that’s important: musician, violin, composer, audience.”

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