Mutter plays Bach
New! Different! Important?
Two years ago, German violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter told Musical America she planned to stop performing "when I reach my forty-fifth birthday," that is, in June 2008. Shortly afterward, however, she told the Washington Post that she'd been "misinterpreted"-that in fact she intended to keep playing as long as she could "bring anything new, anything important, anything different to music."
Mutter, of course, has been an international star since she made her recording debut thirty years ago. Since then she's performed every standard-repertoire work for her instrument and premiered new works by the best contemporary composers. She's also recorded every standard-repertoire work and many of the new ones, first with Herbert von Karajan and later with Kurt Masur and André Previn. And for her services, Mutter's won three Grammys and bears the Austrian Honor Cross, the Bavarian Order of Merit, and the Order of Merit of the German Federal Republic, First Class.
But all that doesn't necessarily mean Mutter can still bring anything new, important, and different to the music she plays. Indeed, while many critics praise her glorious tone, her sumptuous intonation, and her passionate attack, others say Mutter has been trading on her reputation for years-that despite her supreme virtuosity, she has nothing new, much less important or different, to say.
Ann Arbor music lovers may judge for themselves when Mutter appears in Hill Auditorium with the Camerata Salzburg on Sunday, October 19. Mutter is, of course, already quite familiar to local audiences. Since her debut here in 1989, she's performed in Ann Arbor roughly every five years since. This appearance will be her fifth.
This time Mutter will be bringing Bach's three violin concertos with her. For the most part Mutter has favored the Romantic and modernist repertoire and steered clear of the Baroque. She recorded Bach's concertos back in 1983 with Salvatore Accardo directing the English Chamber Orchestra and playing second fiddle in the double concerto. Those were beautifully played performances but not entirely self-assured interpretations. In
the intervening years, Mutter's playing has only gotten more beautiful while her interpretations have gotten vastly more self assured.
Whether this combination of beauty and assurance works in Bach's concertos is another issue. These works are far less about virtuosity and beauty and far more about musicality and spirituality. What Mutter's plan of attack will be one can only guess, but judging by her recent high-powered and incredibly opulent recordings of Mozart's concertos, I suspect that while Mutter may have something new and different to say about these standard-repertoire chestnuts, what she says may not be all that important. The only way to know is to go.
[Originally published in October, 2008.]