Violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter made her San Francisco Symphony debut in 1988 and has returned to Davies Symphony Hall many times to perform with the Orchestra, and in solo and chamber recitals. She joins the SFS as Artist-in-Residence in 2020 to perform three programs she has planned in celebration of the 250th anniversary of Ludwig van Beethoven’s birth. January 26 is a solo recital of three Beethoven sonatas, alongside her longtime piano collaborator Lambert Orkis. The following evening, January 27, Mutter joins violinist Ye-Eun Choi, violist Vladimir Babeshko, and cellist Daniel Müller-Schott to perform an all-Beethoven chamber program. June 4–6 sees Mutter play Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with Michael Tilson Thomas and the SFS.
What is it about Beethoven that you love?
Very early on I was fascinated by Beethoven’s life motto: “Through darkness to light.” That has also been a great inspiration to me through difficult periods in my life. There’s inner strength in Beethoven’s music and this kind of beauty in which he transforms pain into something for the greater good. That is why Beethoven has always been a very important composer in my life because he is more than a musician to me. For me, he is a philosopher and he stands for much, much more. He stands for humanity.
What do you hope the audience gets out of this residency?
These three totally different programs showcase Beethoven as a composer for the violin and also highlight the violin in different settings—trio, quartet, recital, and a concerto with orchestra. I hope that the audience will see Beethoven both as a young composer and as a more mature composer, and will understand both the incredible depth and honesty in his music as well as the shattering emotions this man was capable of transmitting. I hope it’s going to be a very joyful and lasting and meaningful experience.
Your programs this season really show different sides of Beethoven’s music for the violin. Take your recital, for example…
I’m particularly excited about the recital program. Obviously, it’s terribly difficult to decide which of Beethoven’s ten sonatas to include. I wanted to show the middle Beethoven where we have the famous Spring Sonata [Opus 24] but also its predecessor, which is actually its sister. The A minor Sonata [Opus 23], is very dark, tumultuous, and agitated. Only once you get to know this dark backdrop do you understand the poetry, beauty, and hope that spring brings to us. Only in this combination can one also understand what microcosmoses each of Beethoven’s sonatas really represent. So, it was really important for me to show that process of dark and light. And the Kreutzer Sonata [also on the program] is really the pinnacle of sonata writing: You could almost describe it as a concerto for piano and violin.
What about your chamber program?
String quartets have intrigued me for my entire life because for many composers, and in particular, Beethoven, their most mature pieces are chamber music. Actually, his last piece was a string quartet. I’m particularly excited to play in a quartet at this later stage of my life as a musician because I have found three string players to work with me whom I have known for many years, who started in my foundation. I think the tonal quality, the style, of Ye-Eun Choi, Vladimir Babeshko, and Daniel Müller-Schott will really add to our concept of having this one huge string instrument in which to tackle the profoundly philosophical string trios [in E-flat major, Opus 3 and in C minor, Opus 9, no.3] and the Harp Quartet [Opus 74] by Beethoven.
You’ve performed with Michael Tilson Thomas many times in San Francisco and elsewhere. What has this relationship meant to you?
Working with Michael is at once challenging and exciting. He’s an intelligent, intellectual, well-informed, fast, witty, demanding, funny, and wonderful friend and musician colleague. It’s really very difficult to only say a few words about the musical and human relationship we have had! Over several decades I’ve played almost all the major violin repertory with him, as well as a lot of contemporary music, and it has always been a tremendous thrill to see how much insight he brings to music. These have been wonderful times!
This article first appeared in the program books of the San Francisco Symphony, and is used with permission.