Anne-Sophie Mutter and the Berliner Philharmoniker

The violinist and the orchestra celebrate their 40-year artistic partnership

(Photo: Bastian Achard)

Her global career began with a world orchestra: In May 1977, Anne-Sophie Mutter made her debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker at the Salzburg Whitsun Festival. The unusual aspect of this performance was that despite her young age of 13, the soloist showed great artistic maturity. Under the direction of Herbert von Karajan – who had discovered the violinist – she played Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s G major violin concerto with technical perfection and a pianissimo that was pure and clear, with no hint of mawkishness.

Karajan’s discovery

“She played it ravishingly, and above all, she did not play it at all like a child prodigy. Her technique is fully mature,” wrote the reviewer of Die Welt enthusiastically. It was not her playing, but her writing that betrayed her extreme youth. “In gratitude for my first concert with the Berliner Philharmoniker under Mr. von Karajan,” the 13-year-old wrote at the time in a greetings card to the orchestra. The following year, she presented Mozart’s concerto at the Berlin Philharmonie where she also delighted her listeners. But despite all the praise, some critics wondered whether she would be able to cast off the child prodigy image.

1980: with Herbert von Karajan
(Photo: Gustav Zimmermann)

Artistic rapport

But she did. She proved this shortly afterwards when the 16-year-old performed Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with the Berliner Philharmoniker under Karajan’s direction. The press reacted enthusiastically: she played “with sanguine tone and mature sensitivity” (Der Abend). People marvelled at the special connection, the artistic rapport between the soloist, the conductor and the orchestra – no matter which of the great violin concertos was on the programme. In 1983, she presented the violin concertos of Johannes Brahms and Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy in just four months, plus the Brahms double concerto together with the cellist Antonio Meneses. Anne-Sophie Mutter went on to enjoy an unprecedented career which also brought her back to the Berliner Philharmoniker on a regular basis. The artist has a particular interest in new music, and many contemporary composers have written works for her, including Witold Lutosławski, Krzysztof Penderecki, Henri Duttileux, Wolfgang Rihm, and Sofia Gubaidulina whose work Intempo praesens was premiered by Anne-Sophie Mutter together with the Berliner Philharmoniker and Sir Simon Rattle in 2007.

“Prodigious talent for expressiveness”

Highlights of the violinist’s association with the Berliner Philharmoniker include her participation in the concert celebrating the centenary of the orchestra (1982) and the opening of the chamber music hall (1987), plus at the concert marking the 100th anniversary of Herbert von Karajan’s birth, which was conducted by Seiji Ozawa. It is no coincidence that the violinist performed Beethoven's Violin Concerto, the work that she most frequently played with Karajan. “Anne-Sophie Mutter, with a prodigious talent for expressiveness, played Beethoven in such a way that no one was left unmoved,” wrote the Berliner Zeitung. The orchestra has also invited her as a guest soloist to other glamorous concert events: in 2014, she travelled with the Philharmoniker to the Easter Festival in Baden-Baden and to New York as part of their Carnegie Hall residency. The following year, she was the star guest at the Philharmoniker’s New Year's Eve concert. In 2011, under the direction of Sir Simon Rattle, she performed Antonín Dvořák’s Violin Concerto for the first time with the orchestra. She played the same work again in 2013, this time with Manfred Honeck as the conductor. The Philharmoniker and Anne-Sophie Mutter are now celebrating their 40-year partnership with an anniversary concert which includes a musical premiere: for the first time, they perform Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto together. The conductor is Riccardo Muti. Even long-term relationships can surprise with new things.