This was written in 2014 and never published.
As I was walking to the metro stop after the concert, I reflected how distinctive Mutter’s sound is. Even in the tenderest of moments, Mutter projects rock-solid confidence. Her violin is crying? But no, if I look closer, her mascara isn’t running– at all. She still looks perfectly coiffed and oddly composed despite all the tears. Mutter’s violin is aggressive.
Anne-Sophie Mutter performed with The Mutter Virtuosi at the Kennedy Center on Sunday, November 23, 2014. The Mutter Virtuosi is a 14-member string ensemble that is comprised of talented young string players who are fellows in the eponymous Mutter Foundation.
First up was a dandy of a piece for violin and double bass: Ringtone Variations by Sebastian Currier, a recent composition dedicated to Ms. Mutter. On a technical level, Mutter and the double bass player, Roman Patkoló, were evenly matched; perhaps Mutter was a little more dominant due to her overwhelming stage presence, instilled by years of making amazing music and being recognized for it. The piece itself took its inspiration quite literally from a cellphone. Thus, it had annoying, repetitive motifs with many pauses and stops; at times, the violin and bass seemed to be playing completely different pieces. As such it was difficult for me to enjoy this piece no matter how many arpeggios and double stops Mutter and Patkoló could amaze us with.
Next was Felix Mendelssohn’s Octet in E-flat major, in which Mutter naturally played first violin. It was a stereotypical “nice” Mendelssohn piece, but Mutter spicily drove along the tempo. I have seen my fair share of chamber music, but never have I seen one so driven by one performer. Rather than an octet, it could have been more aptly named soloist plus seven accompanists. Of course, the first violin does have the melody most of the time, but many instruments still could not get in a note in edgewise, even when they briefly had the melody. The violas especially were barely heard. In my musician gut, I felt that if The Mutter Virtuosi had mustered the verve and aggression to be Mutter’s counterpart, the octet would not have been as lopsided.
The capstone of the night was Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, which incidentally is a violin concerto– giving Mutter at last the space to be an actual soloist. Finally, one player responded to Mutter’s verve and matched her energy– ironically it was the harpsichord player, who is not a Mutter fellow. Turning his head almost 45 degrees to the right, ignoring the sheet music in front of him, Knut Johannessen frequently had long periods of eye contact with Ms. Mutter, while still deftly playing his own part from memory. The first violin and the first cello also tried and played confidently but still, somehow, they both could not parlay with Mutter on equal terms. The cello had a hard time overpowering the harpsichord, despite the impassioned movements of the instrumentalist, more rock cello than classic cello style. Overall, it was a breathless and starry-eyed performance, yet I would not characterize it as particularly moving. While Mutter’s delivery and phrasing are always a work of art, I suspect her group intrinsically did not want to upstage her, and so they remained, in the background.
The encore included a rehash of Summer and a Bach in G major.