Winner 2008 Siemens Music Prize 2008

How your artistry has changed the world of music Laudation Joachim Kaiser

The learned Hugo von Hofmannsthal deemed it beneath his dignity to write something as trivial as a realistic adulterous comedy libretto for his friend and colleague, composer Richard Strauss – which Strauss wanted so much to set to music. But Hofmannsthal rejected the idea with scorn: "We create mythological operas; it is the truest of all forms." Strauss then approached playwright Hermann Bahr but with the same result.

Finally, Strauss ended up writing the script for his conversational opera "Intermezzo" himself. But Strauss knew quite well what he could and could not do. He therefore he sent Hermann Bahr the first hastily written draft of "Intermezzo" with the following cover letter: "Please read it and tell me honestly and without holding anything back what you think about it. One is a dilettante in all things that one has not managed to master since one’s 14th birthday."

If the brutally descriptive comments of Richard Strauss were true, our colleges of music, if they were to focus solely on top performance, would not have to worry about overcrowding – at least in the fields of violin, cello and piano... A few decades ago Anne-Sophie Mutter said something even more radical to me in reference to the risk of getting a poor education when learning to play the violin: If you haven’t learned certain things by the age of 12 and have become accustomed to making certain mistakes, she said: "it’s all over."

Fortunately, for Anne-Sophie Mutter it has never been over. In fact, things could hardly have gone better. She has been playing marvelously for years and has never had a need to adjust her style by as much as 100th of a millimeter to ensure that her sound alone creates sensuous joy in every receptive soul. Suddenly we knew not only who the queen of the violin was but also who the queen of heaven for her instrument was. But there is more that is truly and sustainably delightful: Anne-Sophie Mutter’s masterful, boundless virtuosity refutes any temptation toward seductive cultural pessimism!

She – as well as Gidon Kremer whom she highly regards – appeared to launch an era of great, masterly, expressive violin playing, thereby setting a shining example during the barren period following the deaths of Rubinstein, Serkin, Arrau, Kempff and Horowitz. It was a period during which opera houses struggled to find a suitable "Tristan", "Siegfried" and "Lohengrin" due to, it appeared, a lack of directors of the caliber of Karajan and Bernstein. But her success is attributable not only to her exquisite artistry. It is also due to her character, to her curiosity, and to her rejection of self-satisfaction!

Thanks to the fantastic depth of her intonations, she also motivates composers. A few representative names are to be mentioned here: Wolfgang Rihm, Witold Lutoslawski, Henri Dutilleux, Sofia Gubaidulina. They, and many others, have dedicated their important works to her!

An artist cannot "plan" such effects. They emanate from the artist’s being, power of fascination and character. Suddenly the music scene is teeming with young and very young violinists, who appear to be inspired by a desire to achieve a high degree of artistic expression rather than striving for virtuosity for virtuosity’s sake or driven to perform Paganini’s capriccios better than Ricci, Accardo or Haifetz. It is precisely Anne-Sophie Mutter’s aura, which has contributed significantly to the era of Frank Peter Zimmermann, Vadim Repin, Maxim Vengerov, Hilary Hahn and Julia Fischer. What’s more, we appear to be entering a golden age of remarkable young string quartets.

I spoke here of Anne-Sophie Mutters "character", which has had far-reaching effects. But what exactly does "character" mean? We need to be more precise here – especially in view of Clemenceau’s contemptuous but illuminating observation that "if anyone has any character at all, it’s usually bad." But for Anne-Sophie character is something much more compelling – it is expressed as her inner ambition. Those who are allowed to observe her up close can feel it. Her entire inspiration comes from a compelling inner – and not an external – ambition, which emanates from a kind of despair – and thus the despicable abandonment of all inner ambitions.

Let us take a look at what is behind the legends that attribute her career to "plain luck." I was very fortunate to be present when Anne-Sophie Mutter performed her first orchestra rehearsal with Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in Salzburg on June 27, 1977. There sat the inside favorite, a still somewhat chubby 13-year-old teenager in blue jeans and with a harmlessly old-fashioned hairdo. Karajan wanted to introduce her to the world. She was very aware of was what on the line. But she had to wait her turn. Up until the lunch break the maestro experimented with "Zarathustra". A complicated work. Then came the "Jupiter Symphony" performed by a downsized orchestra. Anne-Sophie Mutter sat patiently waiting for hours. Waiting for what must have seemed like eternity. Hardly an envious situation. Finally, it was her turn. And Karajan demonstrated his gentle and caring expertise. The wait must have been excruciating for the soloist. But now Karajan showed that he emphasized with her. He interrupted the Berlin Philharmonic while the orchestra was playing the prelude to the concerto in D major. He pointed out a small mistake, which was perhaps not really necessary. Suddenly Miss Mutter was completely relaxed. She saw that it was possible to make mistakes during a rehearsal like this. That it is possible to be interrupted. This was the encouragement she needed. Mozart’s magic transcended through the just and unjust. No sound was indifferent; each was equally internally illuminating.

But what came next? It was the arduous test of the true durability of one’s "inner ambition", which consists of how one copes with defeat following a triumphant beginning. Only when this happens – and such setbacks permeate every artist’s biography – only when this happens is one’s spiritual physiognomy finally formed. Anne-Sophie Mutter herself said what Karajan expected from her following that brilliant Mozart beginning. Karajan suggested that she perform Beethoven’s violin concerto one year later.

The successful 15-year-old did her best. For a half-year she studied for the famed concerto with instructor Aida Stucki, a student of Carl Flesch. She then described what happened with unabashed candidness, whereas others prefer to conceal such defeats out of embarrassment: "I then traveled to Lucerne as planned to perform Beethoven’s concerto for Karajan." Karajan was extremely busy. She continues in her report: "But after the introduction" – thus after the grand solo – "he said gruffly: ‘Go home and come back next year.’" She writes further: "A year later things went a bit better, and we worked constantly on the concerto between his rehearsals and concerts." By the way, she always chose to finish Beethoven’s concerto with a 70-second, stunning virtuosic Kreisler cadenza, which, at the half-way point, become a fast-and-furious passage orgy. Karajan was proud of his violin genius in both a fatherly and sporty way. In Japan I observed how he beamed with pride as he saw how damned independent his creation had become when Anne-Sophie Mutter, to the astonishment of the Tokyo audience, launched into the explosive the cadenza with which he described as "breakneck speed".

Whereas Karajan was her discoverer, another great musician, namely Paul Sacher, became increasingly important to young Anne-Sophie Mutter as a music teacher and mentor with respect to her relationship with exquisite contemporary art. I met and learned to admire this great and generous Swiss conductor, patron and inspirer of a multitude of modern works, here in Munich in conjunction with the Siemens Music Prize. At that time both he and I sat on the very first Siemens Music Prize jury. His advice and his suggestions carried weight. I also had the honor of being invited to his home in Basel. This was in every respect one of the noblest experiences of my life.

Just how important Paul Sacher was for Anne-Sophie Mutter’s relationship with contemporary composers is evident in many ways. For example, Witold Lutoslawski composed his Dialogue for Violin and Orchestra – "Chain 2" – for Paul Sacher, and recommended that Lutoslawski direct the premier performance with Anne-Sophie Mutter playing the solo. And he was so thrilled with her interpretation that two years later he reinstrumentalized his "Partita" in 5 movements as a violin concerto and dedicated it expressly to "Anne-Sophie Mutter." Her relationship with the nocturne "sur le meme accord" by Henri Dutilleux developed in much the same way. Anne-Sophie Mutter totally adored his compositional integrity and considered him absolute best. The composer once remarked: "The relatively short work is dedicated to Anne-Sophie Mutter, to whom Paul Sacher introduced me some 15 years ago."

Ladies and gentlemen – as an older music critic one tends to be skeptical of certain specialization trends. When I hear that this or that violinist or pianist prefers to play only contemporary works or only round-bow baroque solo sonatas, one has to ask whether this is a totally voluntary limitation. But Anne-Sophie Mutter has no need for such alibis when it comes to her approach to contemporary violin literature. Quite the contrary. As the masterly, exemplary and adventuresome interpreter of great traditional works from Vivaldi to Debussy, Anne-Sophie Mutter has no need to fear the competition.

I am so grateful for the memories as I think back on the many opportunities I had in Munich and other places to experience her performances of Brahms’ violin concerto in "live" concert. To me they seemed more impressive than the performances of even the likes of David Oistrach, Nathan Milstein or Itzak Perlman – not to mention lesser gods. Her performances were spiritually overpowering experiences. To find something comparable I have to go back to Hamburg in 1948 when 29-year-old Ginette Neveu moved me with her highly dramatic Brahms interpretation. Such performances are more than simply good or very good concertos. They extend light years beyond the bounds of the usual, the beautiful, the ordinary. My friend Stephan Sattler summed up his experience upon seeing Anne-Sophie Mutter perform Brahms’ sonatas here in Munich as follows. He said that he could hardly believe that Germans were still capable of producing such a wondrous creature of such absolute coherence. There was so much passion, stylistic confidence and freedom expressed that evening in Anne-Sophie Mutter’s artistry. She never gives the impression that rehearsing and performing contemporary works is merely a magnanimous, required exercise. My colleague and friend Harald Eggebrecht, who published a splendidly knowledgeable book about the "Great Violinists" expresses it in this manner: "Her experience with newer music has significantly expanded Anne-Sophie Mutter’s interpretive horizon. She can now let her sound turn ashen pale; she does not shy away from harshness or even ugliness."

It is certainly impressive: the diversity of the expressiveness, the various intonations, the mysterious lack of authenticity, as Anne-Sophie Mutter senses and fulfils the exciting, breakneck high drama of the extremely important violin concerto of Sofia Gubaidulina composed in 2007. The work bears the enigmatic title "In tempus praesens". She begins the recitative initial solo of the concerto with both wonderful timidity and oppressive expressiveness. The music is not directly contemporary but as if someone is thinking or dreaming behind a curtain and now and then glances into the promised land of the expressivo.

What inner subtleties. But the most violent passage – for both the composition and the interpretation – is yet to come. The last minute before the cadenza. The composer and the orchestra rise to thundering anapestic short-short-long rhythms – while the solo violin fights violently for its life against this chord. This passage offers drama comparable with the ecstasies of the main movement of Brahms’ violin concerto. A great actress with unlimited adaptability would not be able to follow such multifariousness more captivatingly than Anne-Sophie Mutter.

Having just offered some admirable comments about the remarkable interpretation of Sofia Gubaidulina’s second concerto by Anne-Sophie Mutter, there are some more notable aspects that need mentioning here. The wonderful, painfully flowing sound she elicits from Lutoslawski’s "Partita" largo and how she transforms it into a differentiated "cantabile" experience. How she honestly and discreetly masters Dutulleux’s "Nocturne" with such restrained legato. What brilliant weapons she has in her arsenal which she draws upon in violinistically and spiritually conquering Penderecki’s "Metamorphosis."

And in daring to make a wild comparison: She plays with a modern and always smooth violinistic style. Milstein once performed Bach’s solo sonata and partitas with wonderful expression and deep meaning. He was able to truly and reverently marry Bach and Sarasate. In this same manner Anne-Sophie Mutter succeeds in achieving a natural blend of tricky modernism and violinistic ecstasy! This is by no means simply a sure-fire attitude of a world-class soloist – but rather a virtually endless but always new, surprising abundance of tenderness, aggression, modification.

I know from her personally how she likes to avoid constant uniformity and identical repetition. It thus appears absurd when soloists, in performing a classical sonata movement, resort to certain ritardandos – as if every sound, every expression was meant to be articulated in the same identical manner. No mortal always utters the phrase "I love you" exactly the same every time. Instead the phrase is repeated sometimes with more passion, sometimes with a touch of boredom. But not always the same. Anne-Sophie Mutter takes this modification obligation to its utmost: "I rely entirely on the moment whereby the bow-phrasing always remains the same. As a string instrumentalist," she continues, "you can achieve new coloration through fingering. In the reprise I always employ different fingering – even it its northing more than a different gesture than the one used in the exposition."

As laudator I can only view such details with total amazement. But I must add that there is awesome concentration concealed behind such meticulousness and perfection. This apparently effortless virtuosity is built upon blood – upon the demands which the artist has placed upon herself! Most recently, following the premier of Jan Schmidt-Garre’s wonderful film about Anne-Sophie Mutter’s encounter with the Gubaidulina’s second violin concerto, the artist said that the comments of the composer about her interpretation are the real acid test. The severest judgment of everything that she does!

It now becomes clear why many great artists consider quitting at the pinnacle of their outstanding careers and celebrated successes. Ten years ago Anne-Sophie Mutter was playing with just such an idea: "I plan to retire when I reach my mid-forties". And she added: "Perhaps I’ll then take up conducting." Today the notion of being able or wanting to quit is an essential component of every exceptional career. Not as a definite decision but rather as a consolation, as a vision of freedom, as a means of alleviating stress. How would it be if we were to ask our Anne-Sophie Mutter to take 45, a number she equated with the end of the line, and transpose into 54! And when she then reached 54, to convince her to double the original 45! That would come to 90. And what were to happen after that would no longer be our earthly concern.

Dear, Anne-Sophie Mutter, I congratulate you upon winning the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize. It is an expression of how much the music world reveres you and your musical talent. It also an indication of how much we all need your artistry and could not bear to be without it. Thank you very much!

Joachim Kaiser

A word of thanks by Anne-Sophie Mutter

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