12 Nov 2023

Anne-Sophie Mutter: Violin virtuoso visits New Zealand

From Sunday Morning, 8:21 am on 12 November 2023

One of the world's great violinists, Anne-Sophie Mutter is playing in New Zealand for the first time.

Mutter started to play the violin at five and made her debut with the Berlin Philharmonic at 14 under Herbert von Karajan.

She will debut this week in Auckland and Wellington with the NZSO playing the music of John Williams, composer of the scores for the Star Wars, Jurassic Park and Harry Potter films, as well as a violin concerto Williams wrote for her.

Amme-Sophie Mutter

Photo: NZSO

She connected to Williams through German gingerbread, she tells Jim Mora.  

“I had met the great master some 11 years ago in person at the Tanglewood Festival.

“I was actually overcoming my shyness and asked him if possibly he could consider one day writing a few bars, which he pretty much straightaway turned down, explaining that he was in the middle of yet another film with Mr Spielberg, and so on and so forth.

“We had a wonderful evening together and all was very nice. And, of course, I kept on dreaming, I'm a passionate dreamer. And so came Christmas and I thought, he might enjoy, because I'm enjoying, German ginger bread, he might enjoy it as well.

“And I sent him a Christmas card and the gingerbreads and back came to my incredible amazement, which shows what a generous and gentle and wonderful man he is, a long letter pointing out that he felt obliged now, with that many wonderful gingerbread cookies to write one bar of music for every gingerbread.”

That became Markings, which premiered in 2017 in Boston, she says.

"It's a beautiful piece for chamber orchestra and harp and violin.”

Mutter says her “musical dialogue” with Williams has endured.

“I've worked with other great composers, but John Williams is not only a genius, he is so passionate about every little detail, the length of an ending note. Also, bowings; we were discussing bowings, when does a string player discuss bowings with either the conductor or the composer? It was a revelation, I learned so much.”

In April 2019, Mutter and Williams recorded their first album of film scenes, Across the Stars - one of the pieces she will perform in New Zealand.

Williams is one of the great composers, she says.

“If you take Hedvig [theme from the Harry Potter films] which is such a such a beautiful theme, and you take the treatment he did for the violin of this film theme with its, I kid you not, 12 tonal cadenza in the middle.

“It is extremely virtuosic, it is so skilfully orchestrated, colourful, but yet transparent enough to let the violin through whenever needed, and the capacity he has to get to the most inner core of that particular figure in the film.”

Mutter, through her foundation, mentors young musical talent from across the world. There are particular qualities the foundation looks for, she says.

“Risk-taking, the inquisitive mind, the capacity to always question the solutions you might have thought you found. And also, the understanding that you are the servant for the composer, and that you have to try to be a useful member of society.”

Famously stylish, Mutter says she recycles many of the gowns she uses in concert.

“I have recently recycled a dress which I bought some 40 years ago actually, by Chanel. I love great quality and inventiveness. And I love handmade things, embroidery, this is a great art, and handmade things, no matter if it's pottery or a drawing or a dress, they have an incredible value, and that value is not going to go away and you can reuse it, re-tailor it or whatever.

“I do love skilfully made things, including some clothing. But I'm less interested in fast fashion.”

Growing up in Germany, clothes and make-up were far from her mind, she says.

“You have to remember that I grew up in the Black Forest pretty much being a tomboy with two older brothers.

“So, nothing was further from me back then than hair, make-up and clothing,”

 She feels privileged, she says, to have had violin pieces written for her.

“What makes me really happy, because it will be really meaningful for future generations is that a few of the greatest violin concerti of the last 30 years have been written for me, and that's, I think, a great present for me personally.

“But if you look at the larger picture, it really is a huge present for the future generation of violinist. It's just wonderful.”

Despite the 30-hour flight, Mutter is glad to be on this side of the world playing for audiences, she says.

“It’s the love for music and the love for the audience and the belief that we all can better the world. If we wouldn't believe in that, we would all stay home.”

New Zealand Performance dates:

  • NZSO Foundation presents: Anne-Sophie Mutter Violin Masterclass; 8:30PM Wednesday 15 November 2023, Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington - SOLD OUT

  • Music of John Williams with Anne-Sophie Mutter - Open Rehearsal;10:00 am Fri, 17 Nov 2023, Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, NZ

  • NZSO 2023: Music of John Williams with Anne-Sophie Mutter, 6:30 pm Fri, 17 Nov 2023 Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, NZ - SOLD OUT

  • NZSO 2023: Music of John Williams with Anne-Sophie Mutter, 7:30 pm Sat, 18 Nov 2023, Great Hall, Auckland Town Hall, Auckland, NZ - SOLD OUT

Amme-Sophie Mutter and John Williams

Photo: Hilary Scott

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