Anne-Sophie Mutter champions contemporary music and has premiered 22 works by a number of leading composers, including her chosen work for LSO International Violin Festival. We find out more about her, André Previn's Violin Concerto, and her violin, in this blog.
Anne-Sophie Mutter was born in Rheinfelden, Germany in 1963. She began playing the piano aged five and a short while later, after hearing a recording of the Mendelssohn and Beethoven Violin Concertos with Yehudi Menuhin and Wilhelm Furtwängler, Mutter persuaded her non-musical parents to let her take up the violin. She studied with Erna Honigberger (a pupil of the great violinist Carl Flesch) and Aida Stucki and, after winning several prizes, was exempted from school so that she could dedicate all of her time to music.
At just 13 she was invited by Herbert von Karajan to play with the Berlin Philharmonic, making her public debut in 1976 at the Lucerne Festival with Mozart’s Violin Concerto No 4 in D major. She performed with the English Chamber Orchestra under Daniel Barenboim aged 14, and at 15 made her first recording with Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic (Mozart Third and Fifth Violin Concertos). By 17 she had made her American debut with the New York Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta.
Anne-Sophie Mutter is particularly known for her performances of contemporary music; several pieces have been specially written for or dedicated to her, and she has premiered 22 works composed by a number of the leading composers of today. She has said that she will continue to play as long as she felt she could ‘bring anything new, anything important, anything different to music’. She married conductor, composer and pianist André Previn in 2002, who wrote a number of works for her, including the first violin concerto 'Anne-Sophie' as 'a sort of engagement present'. Although they have subsequently divorced, they continue to work closely together.
Anne-Sophie Mutter is passionate about music education, and in 2008 founded the Anne-Sophie Mutter Foundation, which provides support for an elite group of rising young artists worldwide.
When asked what advice she would give to aspiring musicians, she says: 'There is a wonderful quote of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry about building a ship, and that one should not focus solely on finding the right tools but one has to focus on teaching the men – or in this case your own perspective on music – that longing for the sea. The longing for the sea is the longing for an interpretation which will provide a fresh look on an old master piece, and my advice to young violinists is to try to be a servant to music in whatever form you can be. As a chamber music player, a teacher, an orchestra member, a soloist – it really doesn’t matter as long as you bring your talents forward and make them useful for music. The world will be happy to welcome you because the garden of music is huge and there is a place for all of us particularly when it comes to a language which embraces all of us regardless of our cultural and religious roots.'
Anne-Sophie Mutter made her LSO debut in 1980 performing Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto under Adabbo at the Royal Festival Hall. In 2011 she was the feature of the UBS Soundscapes Artist Portrait; she performed two works with the LSO which were written for her, Gubaidulina’s In tempus praesens and Rihm’s Lichtes Spiel, as well as Previn's Concerto for Violin and Viola, conducted by the composer, and a chamber programme with André Previn and Daniel Müller-Scott. As part of the artist portrait, the three also gave a piano trio masterclass to members of the Guildhall School.
‘I have been lucky enough to play with this wonderful ensemble for quite a few decades and I am particularly thrilled to be part of the International Violin Festival,’ says Mutter, ‘Coming back to London and playing with the LSO will be yet another highlight in my summer season.’
André Previn’s Violin Concerto is dedicated to Anne-Sophie Mutter, who gave the work its premiere with the Boston Symphony Orchestra (who commissioned it) in 2002. Previn has said of Anne-Sophie, ‘I don’t know a better violinist or musician. She has immense imagination, and her technique is flawless. From a technical standpoint there are certain things she particularly likes, and I was able to give her something that she enjoys performing’.
Reflecting the country where he was born and lived for 10 years, the concerto’s finale is a set of variations Previn based on Mutter’s favourite German children’s song: ‘Wenn ich ein Vöglein wär’ und auch zwei Flügel hätt, flög ich zu dir’, which in English means, ‘If I were a little bird and had two wings, I’d fly to you’. The nostalgic intention of the music is also noted in Previn’s quotation at the start of the movement of these words from T S Eliot’s Little Gidding, the last of his Four Quartets: ‘We shall not cease from exploration And the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time.’
Anne-Sophie Mutter is one of the few violinists who actually own their Stradivarius, rather than having one on loan. She has been playing the 1710 ‘Lord Dunn-Raven’ Stradivarius for the last 25 years. The violin is named after the Irish politician Windham Wyndham-Quin, fourth Earl of Dunn-Raven, is said to have once belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte, and was crafted during Stradivari’s ‘golden period’.
‘A Stradivari is always special as a piece of sublime craftsmanship,’ she says, ‘but what sets these instruments apart is their capacity to carry even the softest of pianissimos to the very last row of any hall. I particularly love the unlimited scope of colours my violin is able to show, as well as the tiger-like roaring G-string … It is the best instrument I could have, with its own personality. But it is sensitive to abrupt temperature changes—well, it is 300 years old.’
In December 2013, she told The Strad: ‘It is becoming difficult to find a violin that is reliably dispositioned, but that makes it exciting. When it sounds good, it is a particular joy.’
Anne-Sophie treats her instrument like a work of fine art. ‘I feel a great responsibility to pass it on in a perfect condition to the next generation,’ she says.
Talking to The Strad about the concerto, Anne-Sophie Mutter said: ‘André’s wonderful First Violin Concerto was given to me in March 2001. It was actually a sort of engagement present so it obviously has, above the splendour of its musical contents, a very special personal place in my heart. I could not be happier, more honoured, and more humbled by having received such a tremendous piece of music. It is truly one of the most sublime violin concertos written in the last hundred years.’
As a final comment she said, ‘listen out for the very original beginning and the way he handles the orchestration, which the LSO, one of my long-term favourite orchestras in Europe, will pull-off so splendidly … André is tremendously gifted in all musical spheres. Never have I worked with anyone as diversely gifted.’
Some excerpts originally printed in The Strad and re-printed with permission.
Anne-Sophie Mutter appears in the LSO International Violin Festival at the Barbican on Wednesday 10 June, performing Andre Previn's Violin Concerto.
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We'll be getting to know the stars of the Violin Festival on the LSO Blog throughout the Festival, so keep checking back to read out latest interviews and behind the scenes stories.
Photo used with thanks to Deutsche Grammophon, © Tina Tahir / DG