When one thinks of “classical music,” Anne-Sophie Mutter may be either the first or last name to come to mind. On the one hand, she’s established herself as one of the most talented violinists of the genre. On the other hand, she’s become an outspoken champion of contemporary compositions that stray away from ancient standards.
Mutter was born in Rheinfelden, West Germany in 1963. She first began piano lessons at age 5, but soon switched to the violin. Her early mentor was Erna Honigberger, who had studied under Carl Flesch, a violin performer and instructor who emphasized artistry over technicality. This focus would inform her style of playing for the rest of her life. A notable example is the fact that she never uses a shoulder rest, allowing for a greater range of motion.
By her early teens, Mutter transferred to the Winterthur Conservatory.in Switzerland. At age 13, she made her public debut at the 1976 Lucerne Festival, where she played Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 4 in D major. That same year, she was invited to play with the Berlin Philharmonic. A year later, she performed solo at the world-famous Salzberg festival, and then in 1978, she made her first recording: Mozart’s Third and Fifth violin concerti. Eventually, Mutter quit school to focus on her professional career.
In 1980, Mutter traveled to New York to make her American debut with the New York Philharmonic. Eight years later, she made her solo debut at Carnegie Hall, and embarked on her first extensive tour of North America.
Mutter began her teaching career when she was just 22. In 1985, she became an honorary fellow of London’s Royal Academy of Music (London) and was appointed as the head of its international violin studies program.
Though she made a name for herself performing classical works, particularly by Mozart, by the mid-‘90, Mutter turned her attention toward contemporary classical music. The most notable of these was her new work with composer and conductor Krzysztof Penderecki that netted her a Grammy for Best Instrumental Soloist Performance (with orchestra) in 1999. She and Penderecki have since been close collaborators, frequently performing and writing music together. Today, she continues to receive personalized compositions and perform them across the world.
It was briefly speculated that Mutter would retire in 2008, but that has luckily not been the case. She continues to record, teach, and perform internationally. Recently, she formed "Mutter’s Virtuosi,” a touring group of 14 violinists from her Anne-Sophie Mutter Foundation. The foundation was formed in 1997 as a way to help promising young students receive proper musical education.
Though only 50 years old, Mutter has received equal acclaim to musicians with decades more experience. She’s been awarded 4 Grammy Awards, a French Legion of Honor Award for her commitment to French contemporary music, an Austrian Cross of Honor, and much more. She’s also a member of the esteemed French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and has a Merit Cross 1st Class of the Federal Republic of Germany. Mutter has carved out a niche in the insular world of classical music as a lover of invention. She says she intends to play as long as she can “bring anything new” to music.