The renowned German violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter began playing the piano at age five, started studying the violin shortly afterward, and in 1976, when she was just 13, was invited by Herbert von Karajan, the fabled conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, to make her official debut with that orchestra, playing Mozart’s “Violin Concerto No. 4.”
Mutter was still a teenager when, in 1980, she made her U.S. debut with the New York Philharmonic. And in that same year she was introduced to Chicago audiences for the first time by Sir Georg Solti, then music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. A prodigious talent, to say the least.
Chicago Symphony Orchestra with Anne-Sophie Mutter
When: Sept. 22 (Symphony Ball); Sept. 23 and 26 (season concerts)
Where: Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan
Tickets: (Sept. 22, concert only, $45 – $155; Sept. 23 and 26, $36 – $250)
The multiple Grammy Award-winning violinist has returned to Chicago many times since then, most recently this past March in celebration of the 40th anniversary of her international debut, and of her third decade of collaboration with pianist Lambert Okris, with whom she has premiered many contemporary works. Her last appearance with Maestro Riccardo Muti and the CSO here was in 2012.
On Sept. 22, she will return to the Symphony Center stage once again, this time joining Muti and the CSO for its annual gala, and playing Mozart’s 1775 “Violin Concerto No. 5” (nicknamed the “Turkish,” because its rondo finale draws on the sound of Middle Eastern music popular around the time it was composed). The choice of the Mozart was Muti’s, and, according to Mutter “it fits the spirit and time constraints of the gala program.” For the official opening concerts of the season on Sept. 23 and 26, she will play Tchaikovsky’s “Violin Concerto” on a program that also includes Schumann’s lushly beautiful “Symphony No. 2” and Krzysztof Penderecki’s “The Awakening of Jacob,” perhaps best known for its use in Stanley Kubrick’s film, “The Shining.” (As it happens, Penderecki, one of a number of contemporary composers Mutter has championed, wrote his “Violin Concerto No. 2, Metamorphosen” specifically for her.)
Chatting from her home in Munich before setting out for the U.S. (to which she will return in March 2018 for a concert at Carnegie Hall), Mutter talked about how, this past May, she performed the Tchaikovsky for her 40th anniversary concert with Muti conducting the Berlin Philharmonic, and felt “a very close connection with the Maestro on this piece.”
“We have had a decades-long musical relationship,” said Mutter. “And I treasure him as an incredibly serious, relentless, upright person who is a total servant to music. He also knows about priorities. I still remember when I was pregnant with my second child [her children are now both in their twenties], he lectured me about the importance of cutting down on my concerts for a while.”
“The Tchaikovsky is a work that I love for its wonderful balance between virtuosity and great, dreamlike romanticism, and it is full of beautifully melodic material,” Mutter explained. “Its slow movement is so tender and melancholic, with the composer’s feeling of an unfulfilled life coming through, even if the lyrical moments suggest the image of a perfect life. And the work has wonderfully lush orchestral music, especially in the partnership with the violin in the first and second movements. And in this music the CSO can display its rapid-fire reaction time and wit, and the beauty of its strings. And I can drive the violin like a Lamborghini.”
In fact, Mutter will be “driving” one of the two Stradivarius violins she owns — an instrument from 1710 that is her favorite for works by Tchaikovsky, Brahms and Dvorak.
The violinist estimates that she has about 15 concerti from a great variety of stylistic periods committed to memory forever — “works by Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Mendelssohn, Dvorak, as well as contemporary composers like [Witold] Lutoslawski, plus about three dozen or so sonatas. But I never stop analyzing them further to find the deepest emotional connection. It’s really a process of constant preparation, with so much room for improvement, greater insight and subtlety.”
Her on-site preparation generally begins with a piano-only rehearsal so, as Mutter puts it, “I know where the ship is sailing, I’m in synch with the tempi, and I can stop and adjust the bowing and the phrasing with the conductor. It’s like dancing with each other on a very fine level. Then there are several full rehearsals where we refine things further. It’s like working on a sculpture. The CSO is one of the great orchestras of the world, with such a wonderful brass section and a rhythmic muscle that is totally unique. And I always love listening to the second half of the concert, and the warmth and unforced generosity Maestro Muti draws out of it.”
Note: A post-concert CD signing with Mutter will be open to all CSO patrons on Sept. 23 in the Grainger Ballroom.