The great communicator: Anne-Sophie Mutter

Whether it’s waxing lyrical about Dvořák’s dark allure or playing in a Berlin nightclub, Anne-Sophie Mutter has an irrepressible love of music – and a desire to communicate that to her fans. The star violinist explains what drives her

Likely the most talented violin virtuoso of our time, Anne-Sophie Mutter has dazzled countless audiences around the world with her charisma and incredible skill. The German musician has performed with the most celebrated orchestras and conductors, master composers have written works especially for her, and she has an astounding number of awards to her name. But this year came an altogether new challenge, when Mutter started a video blog.

Beginning in February, the nine-month series charts Mutter’s recording of Dvořák’s Violin Concerto, released on Deutsche Grammophon in October. The recording was a new undertaking for the seasoned violinist, and one that saw her reunited with the Berlin Philharmonic and Manfred Honeck for their first studio album together in 30 years. From early rehearsals to concerts in Berlin and Cologne, and right through to recording and post-production, the videos offer a rare glimpse into the star’s thoughts and outlook.

In one clip, directly before recording the concerto, Mutter leans into the camera, mock conspiratorially. ‘The secret,’ she says with a smile, ‘is that you must be able to capture the magic of a live performance within the recording. Because at the end of the day, we are playing for you, the audience. It’s not for the microphone, it’s not to please the sound engineer. It’s to reach you and make you aware of these incredibly wonderful and moving pieces.’

For a performer whose glamour and style are so often commented upon by critics and audiences alike, Mutter comes across as funny, warm and heartfelt – there’s nothing diva-like here. ‘The blog helped me put into words more precisely what I thought was necessary for the audience to know about the concerto,’ she tells me on the phone from Munich. ‘It also really helped me to focus on the process of deepening my own understanding, and once again to transmit it.’

‘At first it was really difficult to find the time to make the blog during my almost constant touring schedule, and to come up with personal messages,’ she continues. ‘But I grew more fond of the blog, and as it went on perhaps it became less philosophical and more fun. It’s a wonderful tool to help infuse music lovers with Dvořák’s musical message, which is so rich in melody and drama – you can’t escape its charm once you’ve heard it.’

‘I really got hooked on this totally new way to look at music’

The warmth and enthusiasm that’s so evident in Mutter’s blog is also apparent on the phone; the violinist talks quickly in a charmingly clipped German accent, but her speech is oddly sprinkled with very British words and phrases (the Dvořák recording takes longer than planned, she explains in one clip, because people needed to ‘go to the loo’).

Speaking to her audience directly through video blogging may be something new for Mutter, but communicating with her listeners has always underpinned her career. Sometimes that means conveying the dark beauty of a work like the Dvořák concerto, and on other occasions it’s about illustrating the appeal of an entirely new composition. Mutter has long been a champion of contemporary music and has premiered works including Henri Dutilleux’s Sur le même accord, Krzysztof Penderecki’s Violin Concerto No 2, and Witold Lutosławski’s Chain 2.

‘After my first world premiere, which was Chain 2 in 1986, I really got hooked on this totally new way to look at music from the perspective of almost being a partner of the composer,’ she says. ‘Being the first one to perform the piece – first of all playing for the composer and then performing for the audience – there’s so much more artistic room and less expectancy and tradition. It’s a very freeing process.’

As someone who has such an innate – and immediately obvious – passion for classical music, what are Mutter’s thoughts on bringing more people to the genre? ‘In my life it’s just about being authentic and true to what I believe,’ she says, ‘and reaching out clearly to an audience – without changing my personality or my repertoire – who otherwise would not be in touch with classical music. I also point out on a regular basis how important it is to have early musical education in order to know what’s out there. All of this hopefully puts in action a force which helps keep music in our minds and hearts.’

‘I’m looking for personalities who are intelligent enough to refuse to follow the screaming sirens’

Mutter’s ethos on widening classical audiences manifests itself in a number of ways, from performing at Deutsche Grammophon’s famed Yellow Lounge series, that stages classical concerts in clubs, to working in her Bavarian home on a programme for pre-school music education.

The musician also runs the Anne-Sophie Mutter Foundation, educating and nurturing young string players. Launched in 1997, the organisation provides musicians with tuition, instruments, and auditions with conductors. A total of 15 violinists, viola players, cellists and contrabassists have been supported over the years, including Daniel Müller-Schott and Arabella Steinbacher.

‘There’s nothing that I’m not willing and able to provide them with,’ Mutter says, ‘but of course they have to play for themselves. I’m looking for personalities who are intelligent enough to refuse to follow the screaming sirens, who are just looking for models to play instruments. That’s absolutely not the type of musician I’m looking for. I’m looking for the type who will go into a kindergarten, or who is going to play for people with special needs, who is socially very engaged – by this I mean a broadminded human being and musician.’

Mutter with Manfred Honeck and Berlin Philharmonic © Harald Hoffmann DG
Mutter with Manfred Honeck and Berlin Philharmonic © Harald Hoffmann DG

These are principles that guide Mutter’s own career. ‘My social outreach has always been an important part of my life,’ she says. ‘But as I grow older I feel even more strongly the need to reach out and point into areas of darkness in society – that might be charities for catastrophes to which I contribute, or ongoing projects like the orphanages I support in Romania.’

These activities, of course, sit aside a truly staggering number of concert engagements, which Mutter rapidly reels off from memory. World premieres, recitals, and tours across Europe, the US and the Far East are all on the cards for the coming months – not to mention plans to expand her repertoire. How does Mutter stay inspired and energised? ‘My problem is actually how to slow down,’ she laughs. ‘Sometimes I get a little tired of my high energy levels! I have a great passion for what I’m doing. And in a way, philosophically speaking, every concert could be the last concert. So whatever I have, good or bad, I’m throwing in there. When I’m on stage, I’m 100 per cent there.’

‘I wish I could have even more time ahead of me,’ she continues, ‘because there’s so much wonderful repertoire that I will probably nev-er play, either privately or for an audience. But I guess that’s also what keeps you fresh because you are so hungry to go on discovering music.’