Wednesday, October 8, 2008

We interrupt this radical blog to bring you some dead white guy stuff.

Last night the German violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter performed in Chicago with the Camerata Salzburg. Mutter hit the international music scene when she was very young, and has been a sought-after soloist for thirty years. She is one of the most respected virtuoso violinists alive today. She's performed in every major venue, and collaborated with the greatest living conductors and composers. As with every classical music superstar, there are those who adore her playing, and those who think it's overrated, but it's without question that she is one of the greats.

Mutter is no musical conservative, either. In the second half of her career, with her wunderkind past behind her, she has become a passionate advocate of contemporary music. Many great living composers have dedicated works to her, and Mutter has played these pieces for audiences around the world, challenging their ideas of what the violin can and should do. She speaks about the composer Lutoslawski, whose eerie, ear-stretching soundscapes are far outside the canon, with warmth and enthusiasm.

As a young violinist growing up, I listened over and over to her recordings of the Brahms sonatas and the Mozart concertos. For me, her sound is shimmering, electric, alive, and full of ever-changing color and texture. She's a serious, intellectual, brilliant performer whose interviews reflect a warm spirit and a deep knowledge of her craft.

This morning, in an excited post-concert Google search, I was reminded that because Mutter is also a beautiful woman, there are all kinds of swipes directed at her. She is called "classical music's attempt to attract the 18-34 male demographic." One columnist recalls that her "gravity-defying strapless gown ... caused outbreaks of fast breathing in elderly subscribers." She has been said to mix "virtuosity and va-va voom."

Other beautiful women performing in classical music are sometimes subjected to claims that it's their appearance that has allowed them to succeed. But the intense leadership and energy that Mutter radiated last night -- which her collaborators and audience alike responded to so keenly -- wasn't the sheen of her Dior gown, but the powerful energy of a great artist.

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