Keble College 2015 Honorary Fellowship

A word of thanks

Dear Sir Jonathan and Lady Phillips, dear Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,

when I first had the honour of performing with Herbert von Karajan almost four decades ago, I wouldn’t even have dreamed of ever having such a close relationship with Oxford. However, only a few years after my debut at the Salzburg Easter Festival in 1977, this dream took its first concrete shape: I first played in Oxford in 1983 – another performance led by Maestro von Karajan – and shortly thereafter, the Mozart Society of Oxford University elected me its honorary president.

And now you, esteemed ladies and gentlemen, have appointed me one of the illustrious Honorary Fellows of Keble College: I thank you from the bottom of my heart for this honour – which makes me very happy indeed.

This distinction – for that is how I view today’s events – emphasises the important role that music plays at Keble College, also demonstrated by the fact that the Colleges of Oxford University have made outstanding musicians Honorary Fellows regularly in the past as well – for example my highly esteemed fellow violinist Maxim Vengerov, the great pianist Alfred Brendel or the conductor Marios Papadopoulos.

Moreover, it fills me with special delight that the writers Oscar Wilde and Thomas Stearns Eliot, both of whom I revere, were also members of this illustrious circle.  Even during my first guest performance with the Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra in October 2014 and the master class that followed, working with the students of the University’s Faculty of Music impressed and delighted me.

The students here enjoy an excellent education – for which I would like to congratulate you, the University’s administration and faculty. Therefore, it also fills me with pride that I was able to work once again with former and current students of Oxford University.

In this work, my vision is the same as the one I pursue through my foundation and my ensemble “Mutter’s Virtuosi”: I try to send ambassadors of music out into the world, because music is far more than merely an idle pastime or a hobby. Rather, music offers us the chance to change the world for the positive by working together. And that potential is far stronger than anything that has been attempted so far.

The barbaric terror attacks ten days ago in Paris have made this vision horrifyingly timely again. Of course, I am aware that the so-called Islamic State and other terrorists cannot be fought by ambassadors of music - however, I am deeply convinced that music does indeed have a significant, positive impact on their sympathizers and followers, hopefully preserving them from turning into murderers.

Music does not only build metaphorical bridges between human beings – it is also free of any kind of ideology. Suffice it to mention the powerful social and political message embodied by the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, or the innumerable benefit performances with which musicians around the world embrace life every day.

Working with my foundation, I try to help educate young musicians who consider music their life’s calling. However, in order to make music your life’s calling, it is not nearly enough to be well-trained in the technique of your instrument, to practice assiduously and to play flawless concerts – but otherwise to wear blinkers, letting the world pass by outside.

Such an exclusive focus on music-making ignores essential parts of our cultural roots and our rich cultural heritage. Music as a life’s calling does not mean creating stars. Rather, the point is to educate artists who will create unforgettable, new and exciting interpretations of music that one thought to be familiar. Therefore, music as a life’s calling also means developing one’s own, strong personality, one that sets artistic integrity above the mere wish for money and fame.

A musician should do only what he or she considers artistically right – enabling him to leave traces for the next generation. Granted, it was also possible one hundred years ago to get lost and stray from one’s artistic path – but today it seems to be almost de rigueur to want to be the focus of advertising campaigns– apart from one’s principal job as a musician.

Of course, I see that the merciless spotlight turned on young musicians today by mass media exacerbates this. However, I still cling to the old-fashioned and optimistic opinion that in the long run, quality will always triumph. My ideal of a musician includes another aspect, no less important: the good fortune of being able to help – to find meaning in life in one’s actions with and for the benefit of others.

I consider this an enormous gift which life has given me: with my music, I am able to support handicapped people or help build orphanages. Benefit concerts are among the most meaningful things I do. I would like to explain this to you, using as examples the two orphanages in Belarus and Romania, which I have supported for years.

I know some of the children personally, and over the years, relationships have grown: it is wonderful to see how they grow up to be enthusiastic, optimistic, life-affirming young people. They have found more than a roof over their heads in these orphanages: they are being educated in order to be able to take charge of their own lives.

This responsibility for others is a fundamental element of my support for young musicians. From the very beginning, they must understand clearly that their music is love rendered in sound.

Music is not palpable, not measurable, and yet it enriches us, making all of us – whether performer or music lover – world citizens sharing one language: in his own way, everybody understand what notes express. Music makes us more open, more sensitive to our fellow human beings.

Musicians experience this from childhood on, for the art of music making consists of playing and simultaneously listening to one’s peers. This enriches the individual and the collective equally. Not only does one’s own playing gain expressivity, but the harmony with others augments the effect.

These words explain not only how a good orchestra functions. They also point us all towards a path of recognising others as part of ourselves. This has never been of more pressing urgency than it is today – at a time when people have drawn closer all around the world. At a time when seemingly far-flung crisis zones unfold their gruesome, inhuman effects in our very midst. Our need for respect for each other, and profound understanding of each other, has never been greater. In bringing us all together, music creates the necessary framework for achieving this goal!

I thank you again for the honour you have bestowed upon me, which I value greatly.

Anne-Sophie Mutter

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