Anne-Sophie Mutter - Biography

Anne-Sophie Mutter is universally considered to be one of the greatest violinists of modern times. Her artistry embraces everything from tonal richness and consummate technical virtuosity to transcendent expression and profound musicianship. Born in the German border town of Rheinfelden, she showed signs of exceptional talent at an early age. Anne-Sophie began to study piano at the age of five; soon after, she received her first violin lessons from Erna Honigberger, a pupil of Carl Flesch. At the age of nine she commenced studies with Aïda Stucki, one of Switzerland’s finest musicians and an inspirational teacher.

In 1976 Herbert von Karajan heard the 13-year-old Mutter in recital at the Lucerne Festival. The legendary conductor subsequently invited the young violinist to make her concerto debut with the Berlin Philharmonic at the 1977 Salzburg Whitsun Festival. Their partnership continued in 1978 when Mutter made her first recording for Deutsche Grammophon, an album of Mozart’s Violin Concertos Nos. 3 and 5. Mutter collaborated regularly with Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic to create a landmark series of recordings of violin concertos by Beethoven, Brahms, Bruch and Mendelssohn for the Yellow Label. Meanwhile her debuts in Berlin (1978), Washington and New York (1980), Tokyo (1981) and Moscow (1985) garnered critical acclaim and helped establish her regular presence at the world’s major concert halls.

In 1986 Mutter was appointed International Chair in Violin Studies at the Royal Academy of Music in London. The following year she founded the Rudolf Eberle Trust to support the development of outstandingly gifted young string players throughout Europe. The initiative’s reach extended worldwide in 1997 after it was incorporated into the Friends of the Anne-Sophie Mutter Foundation, with the establishment of the Anne-Sophie Mutter Foundation itself following in 2008. Mutter’s commitment to the promotion of young musicians has helped launch the careers of many fine artists, Daniel Müller-Schott, Sergey Khachatryan, Roman Patkoló, Leonard Elschenbroich and Kian Soltani among them. In 2011 she established the Mutter Virtuosi, an ensemble made up of former and current scholarship holders of the Anne-Sophie Mutter Foundation and selected other young musicians. Her Foundation has commissioned André Previn’s Concerto for Violin and Double Bass and his Nonet for Two String Quartets and Double Bass, Krzysztof Penderecki’s Duo concertante, Wolfgang Rihm’s Dyade and Sebastian Currier’s Ringtone Variations.

Anne-Sophie Mutter’s commitment to the future of string playing extends to her wholehearted championship of contemporary music. In 1986 she gave the first performance of Chain II, written for her and the Paul Sacher Foundation by Witold Lutosławski, and recorded the work for Deutsche Grammophon. Her tally of world premiere performances includes Rihm’s Gesungene Zeit and Lichtes Spiel, Penderecki’s Second Violin Concerto Metamorphosen, La Follia for solo violin and Duo concertante for violin and double bass, Dutilleux’s Sur le même accord, Gubaidulina’s Violin Concerto In tempus praesens, Previn’s Violin Concerto “Anne-Sophie”, Violin Concerto No.2 and Second Violin Sonata, and Currier’s Aftersong and Time Machines. She has recorded these and many other new works for the Yellow Label, together with such monuments of the 20th-century repertoire as Berg’s and Stravinsky’s Violin Concertos and Bartók’s Second Violin Concerto.

In the closing years of the 1990s, Mutter recorded Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons with the Trondheim Soloists and Beethoven’s Violin Sonatas with her regular duo partner Lambert Orkis. The latter went on to win Grammy® and Echo Awards, while her Vivaldi album attracted critical acclaim and sold over 370,000 copies worldwide. She began the new millennium with a series of touring and recording projects, including Back to the Future, a retrospective look at major works from the 20th-century violin repertoire, and Recital 2000, an album of chamber works by Crumb, Prokofiev, Respighi and Webern. In 2001 Mutter performed Mozart’s complete violin concertos in two evenings as artist-in-residence at Carnegie Hall and with the Vienna Philharmonic in Vienna and on tour in Germany. Previn’s Tango Song and Dance, dedicated to and premiered by Mutter, formed the core of an eponymous recital album and her touring programme in 2003. Her recordings with Previn as conductor also include award-winning accounts of his Violin Concerto “Anne-Sophie” and a pairing of the violin concertos by Korngold and Tchaikovsky (Echo Award 2005 for “Instrumentalist of the Year”). Mutter celebrated the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth in 2006 with world tours and complete recordings of his sonatas and concertos for violin.

The year 2008 saw the release of her first Bach recordings for Deutsche Grammophon in a disc coupling his two violin concertos with the world premiere recording of Gubaidulina’s In tempus praesens. This was followed by a Mendelssohn album marking the bicentenary of the composer’s birth (2009); a complete recording of Brahms’s Violin Sonatas with Lambert Orkis (2010); an album of first recordings of works by Rihm, Currier and Penderecki (2011); and the release of ASM35, a 40-disc box set of her complete recordings for Deutsche Grammophon (2011) issued to mark the 35th anniversary of her professional debut. In June 2013, Mutter and the Berlin Philharmonic came together at the Berlin Philharmonie to make their first studio album in 30 years: the resulting recording of Dvořák’s Violin Concerto, Mutter’s first, was released to critical acclaim in October 2013.

Having made her debut in Deutsche Grammophon’s Yellow Lounge in September 2013, at Berlin’s Asphalt club (where her 300-strong audience included many young clubbers), Anne-Sophie Mutter repeated the experience in May 2015 with two dates at Berlin’s Neue Heimat venue, a converted railway station in the city’s bohemian Friedrichshain district. Her performances were recorded live for Deutsche Grammophon’s first Yellow Lounge album, released in August 2015. The event was also filmed by ZDF for subsequent television broadcast and as the subject of a documentary film.

In October 2016 Mutter celebrated the 35th anniversary of her debut in Japan with appearances in Tokyo with the Wiener Philharmoniker and Seiji Ozawa, the Mutter Virtuosi, and Lambert Orkis. Last season also featured a concert marking the 40th anniversary of her debut at the Salzburg Whitsun Festival and the world premiere of John Williams’s Markings for solo violin, strings and harp at the Tanglewood Festival.

Highlights of the 2017-18 season have so far included appearances at the BBC Proms, Lucerne Festival and Enescu Festival in the Dvořák Concerto with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and Manfred Honeck; performances of the Tchaikovsky Concerto in Buffalo and Chicago; and, last November, a recital tour taking in four German cities and Barcelona in which Mutter anticipated her programmatic focus of 2018: the music of Penderecki in the composer’s 85th-birthday year. November also saw the release of Mutter’s latest Deutsche Grammophon album, which features performances of Schubert’s “Trout” Quintet and “Notturno” Piano Trio in company with pianist Daniil Trifonov and the Mutter Virtuosi. The recordings were warmly received, Gramophone praising the violinist’s ability to bring “an almost microscopic variety of shadings and colourings to each phrase” in the Quintet.

In January 2018 she performed the Beethoven Concerto with the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia and Sir Antonio Pappano in Rome, Düsseldorf, Munich, Hamburg, Frankfurt and Baden-Baden. Her Penderecki focus has continued in recitals with Lambert Orkis – notably at Carnegie Hall, where they performed the Second Violin Sonata as part of a programme that also featured the world premiere of André Prévin’s The Fifth Season – and with performances of the Second Violin Concerto at London’s Royal Festival Hall and the Berlin Philharmonie. A new double album of the composer’s works for violin and piano or violin and orchestra, Hommage à Penderecki, is scheduled for release in August: Penderecki and Mutter have been friends for over three decades, and this is her birthday tribute to him, the repertoire including her first recording of the Second Violin Sonata. An early highlight of next season, meanwhile, will be the world premiere of a new work for two violins by Korean composer Unsuk Chin at the Berlin Philharmonie (6 November).

Anne-Sophie Mutter has for long used her public profile to support and promote charitable causes, notably those associated with the alleviation of medical and social problems. Her benefit concerts have raised funds for, among other organisations, Save the Children Japan, the Swiss Multiple Sclerosis Society, victims of the 2011 Japanese tsunami and nuclear energy disasters, the Hanna and Paul Gräb Foundation’s Haus der Diakonie in Wehr-Öflingen, Artists against Aids in the United States, the Bruno Bloch Foundation, the UK-based Beethoven Fund for Deaf Children, SOS Children’s Villages in Syria, the Leipzig Refugee Council and the “Healing Arts Program” at the Fred and Pamela Buffett Cancer Center (Omaha).

Mutter’s many awards and honours reflect the nature of her humanitarian work as well as the excellence of her artistry. She has won the Grammy® Award for “Best Instrumental Soloist(s) Performance (with orchestra)” three times, received the prestigious Ernst von Siemens Music Prize in 2008 and the Légion d’honneur in 2009 for services to contemporary French music, and in 2011 was awarded the Erich-Fromm-Preis for the advancement of Humanism through social engagement. Other honours include the Merit Cross 1st Class of the Federal Republic of Germany, the Mendelssohn and Brahms prizes, the Herbert von Karajan Music Prize and the Bavarian Order of Merit. In 2013 Anne-Sophie Mutter became an Honorary Foreign Member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, in 2015 she was appointed an Honorary Fellow at Keble College, Oxford, and in 2016 she was awarded the Gold Medal of Merit in Fine Arts by Spain’s Ministry of Culture. In November 2017 she was both awarded Romania’s Order of Cultural Merit (Grand Officer) and made a Commander of France’s Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. She was named an Honorary Member of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in February this year and, a month later, was awarded Poland’s Gold Medal for Merit to Culture – Gloria Artis.