A Tribute to Sibelius, with Mutter, Schultz, and the BSO
Saturday, April 22, 2023
Encore broadcast on Monday, May 1
Anne-Sophie Mutter is the soloist in Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 1 and Thomas Adès’s Air, a work inspired by Sibelius, and Andris Nelsons leads the BSO in Sibelius’s Luonnotar, with soprano Golda Schultz, and Symphony No. 5.
Andris Nelsons, conductor
Golda Schultz, soprano
Anne-Sophie Mutter, violin
SIBELIUS Luonnotar (translation)
MOZART Violin Concerto No. 1
Thomas ADÈS Air, for violin and orchestra
SIBELIUS Symphony No. 5
This concert is no longer available on demand.
Hear a preview of Thomas Adès's Air with Anne-Sophie Mutter using the audio player above, and read the transcript below.
Brian McCreath I'm Brian McCreath at Symphony Hall with Anne-Sophie Mutter, who is back with the Boston Symphony with a couple of pieces. Anne-Sophie, thanks a lot for your time today. I appreciate it.
Anne-Sophie Mutter Great pleasure, Brian.
Brian McCreath We're going to talk about Thomas Adès's Air, this new piece. But first, I want to ask you about Mozart and whether this concerto number one, the Violin Concerto No. 1, is a specific choice to accompany Thomas's piece, or if there's any other particular reason you chose it for this concert.
Anne-Sophie Mutter Yeah. This is a very good question, actually. When we world premiered the Air on the 27th of August last year at the festival in Lucerne with the Festival Academy Orchestra and the great composer conducting, I was immediately aware of the length also of this gorgeous piece, which is sadly a little short. Of course, one could play double as slow, but that's not the intention of the composer. So it was clear, and I discuss it with Thomas Adès, what else he would feel comfortable with having in the program. And he was very generous. He said, "Basically everything is possible, you know, Mendelssohn, Mozart, maybe even Lutosławski," as he himself, when he was a young pianist, was playing on the Lutosławski. So he felt — feels also a very strong connection to the man itself, Witold Lutosławski, as well as the composer.
So anyhow, I decided this Mozart concerto, the B Major, because it's probably the most virtuosic of all the Mozart concerti, and it's obviously the first concerto he wrote. He wrote it for an Italian violinist, Antonio Brunetti, for whom he also dedicated his, I think it was a [K.] 379 Mozart sonata. So Brunetti was the violinist who followed Mozart as concertmaster at the court in Salzburg, quite a significant violinist in Mozart's life, although Mozart himself was a brilliant player. So a lot of reasons to bring the B Major concerto to Boston, and mainly also because it's not that much played.
And I think Mozart in general has a little bit vanished from, internationally speaking, from the repertoire, as well as Haydn. And I remember many great conductors like Frühbeck de Burgos, André Previn, Colin Davis mentioning, and also Seiji [Ozawa] by the way, mentioning that playing Mozart, and I couldn't agree more, ease — or is the greatest lesson in precision in character, full playing, in the gesture of the narrative. So it's a really fantastic training ground to play Mozart from time to time, just to check if all things are in order. And a part of that, it's great fun and I hope the audience is going to have great fun with listening to this exuberantly beautiful and very virtuosic piece.
Brian McCreath All of that makes a lot of sense. Listening to you play them in rehearsal, these two pieces, what also occurred to me, and I wonder if this is occurred to you, is that with Mozart, especially his first violin concerto, his very first concerto, period, you sort of have a blueprint for soloist and orchestra. And then you hear this piece by Thomas Adès that doesn't really conform to that blueprint necessarily. It's a very different kind of piece. Did that enter your mind at all?
Anne-Sophie Mutter No, but it's a very good point, actually. What I — what inspired me once again to fall in love again with the Air, which is a gorgeous piece, and it basically has, as a stem cell, four bars of a musical motif, which then . . . it is in a form of a passacaglia, although the basso ostinato is not in the bass, it's just reversed. It's in the upper, you know, it's basically in the first fiddle. And I was in a Gregorian mass the other day, and I was very touched by musical form, and just by the beauty, the stillness, the kind of meditative state it brings you in because of the repetitive-ness and the stillness of the performance.
And yes, in Thomas Adès's Air, there is quite a lot of dynamic going back and forward. But as it starts, very simple, and with the first fiddles and then the violas are coming in, then you have the bell come in. And then after four repetitions where the carpet has already started to grow, the musical carpet, the solo violin enters. And then, you know, from there, the interval for the canon never stops. And we go through various keys and various variation, while one of us always is staying with these four bars. And we basically go from the rather dark and melancholic E minor to E major, which evokes once again back to the Baroque time — is not only the form of Passacaglia, but I have to think about Bach's and, you know, the short pieces used to write for every day in the year, which mostly are in a minor key. And then at the end, he's capable of in half a bar, just opening up the sky, looking right into God's face and, or whatever, and there's this light, you know, from darkness to light. He was a master of that. And the Air does that as well.
It's terribly, poetically just amazing piece. And I've never played anything like that. And I couldn't be more grateful to this unique composer. After his exuberantly difficult and very — it was a violin concerto, and we discussed in a brief kind of, you know, telephone conference, during COVID of course, and what his thoughts were on the piece and possibly if I had any idea and I was dreaming of a post-corona lamento, a big aria. And in a way, yeah, that has happened. And you know, the title Air, of course, is, as it is in English, it's a song, but it also has to do with air and breathing, and the violin, the solo violin, it's basically — only I'm like an apnoe-diver, you know [laughs], I'm breathing only twice. Yeah, only twice. Two short sections where the orchestra themselves, my wonderful colleagues of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, are waving and enlarging this harmonic carpet. And I'm taking a break and coming back and doing a little duet only with the strings. But other than that, it is a breathless 15 minutes aria.
Brian McCreath That's such a beautiful description of this piece. It's a v — and you're right, it is —
Anne-Sophie Mutter Now we don't have to listen to it. No, no, no [Brian laughs]. But music is always, and particularly of Thomas Adès, it's such a fantastic piece. And I feel very self-conscious having to speak about such a genius piece. And then, you know, with my limited English, I feel really bad. So definitively, you need to forget everything I ever said [Brian laughs] and just listen to the music.
Brian McCreath No que — your English is awesome, Anne-Sophie. But is this the first time that you've ever worked with Thom — when have you worked with him — you could work with him as a pianist, or as a conductor, or as a composer.
Anne-Sophie Mutter Yep, yeah, true. Good question.
Brian McCreath Tell me about your relationship with Thomas.
Anne-Sophie Mutter Yeah, we worked a few times with the LSO [London Symphony Orchestra] on the Brahms [Violin] Concerto, for example, and I was totally smitten — that's quite a while ago — by how wonderful of a conductor he also is. You know that he's a fabulous pianist, and a genius composer, we know. But he also, in the Brahms, I mean, it was so insightful, and it felt like having a musical glove, you know, next to me. And then, of course, I was present when his [opera] Exterminating Angel was premiered in Salzburg, all already a few years ago. And my dream, you know, since I had worked with him, was always to have a piece by him. And it took quite a while, but . . . so it blossomed into this beautiful Air.
Brian McCreath You know, this piece is so meditative. It is the opposite of a pyrotechnic display of your abilities.
Anne-Sophie Mutter But I have to explain. Yes, you are correct. And that is what the greatness of the piece is, is made of it.
Brian McCreath And that's actually what the question that I had. Where does this character of the piece challenge you?
Anne-Sophie Mutter Yeah. It challenges in . . . Like every other great piece of music, it has a large arch, which you have to follow within all of these high points and changes of character because of changes of keys have to be observed. But I don't think that many of us would feel really comfortable in this stratospheric height. First of all, it is once again a great advantage to be a woman and having small hands because up there, there is no space. I tell you, there's just it — starts on the high [sings a high pitch], and it finishes with an high E, and some of it is really pretty much at the end of the fingerboard. So . . . and then having this strength in your tiny little finger to vibrate up there where you need the most pressure to get that string down, which is razor sharp. Good luck with you folks trying that [both laugh].
But I love the high register, and funnily enough, it's from almost the first piece which has been written for me. The first piece was by Lutosławski in 86', Chain 2. But then the next piece, which was dedicated to me by Wolfgang Rihm is called Time Trend [Gesungene Zeit]. And that . . . it has started an avalanche of pieces which mostly, not exclusively, mostly are dealing with the highest height on that instrument. So I don't know. It of course is fantastic for me because I love it. But sadly I have noted that because it's so specifically . . . specific for a very small group of players that it has not helped the pieces to be played often so well [both laugh].
Brian McCreath That is so illuminating, though, to hear your description of what the challenges truly are, especially for someone who is not a violinist, that . . . those things didn't even occur to me as I listened.
Anne-Sophie Mutter Maybe it is a little bit like coloratura soprano, you know? Not necessarily — do they have to run up and down the scales and, you know, all of that. But first of all, hitting these high notes and filling them with luminosity, with life, with tenderness, with excitement, whatever. But this high coloratura soprano part in a human voice is wow, dangerously difficult. And it is dangerously difficult on a violin as well.
Brian McCreath Yes. Yes. Well, the last time that we got to experience you here in Boston, well, actually at Tanglewood first was with John Williams's [Violin] Concerto [No. 2].
Anne-Sophie Mutter Yay [both laugh]! And here we are taking the concerto to Europe, I'm so excited!
Brian McCreath Yes, yes, exactly. So tell me just now that it's been a little bit of time, just reflect on your experience of working with John. And I remember interviewing you when you did Markings, and it was this very short little piece that you got John to write for you. And then he wrote this unbelievable concerto. Just reflect for me on the distance now, with the distance between now and that first performance at Tanglewood, what this concerto means for you in your artistic life.
Anne-Sophie Mutter Well, this . . . I don't know where to start. You know, John Williams is one of the very, very few, huge presence — I mean, I have had a lot of musical presence, but he is amongst the . . . he's the emperor, you know, let's face it. At once, he has done, had done his debut in Vienna a few years ago and I was his soloist. You know, I officially declared him [laughing] "Emperor of Europe," but I think he's the emperor of the world, musically speaking. He's such a genius. I mean, the way he still works on that beautiful second violin concerto — we just did it a few weeks ago in San Francisco — he is, you know, ever looking for the holy grail of perfection, although in my opinion, he has long had it in his hands.
But it's very humbling to see how passionately he's involved and ever searching. And the pieces, yes. Now that I know it much, much better, I wish, you know, we would have another go at maybe having a live performance, live television, or whatever, because it really has gotten under my skin to a degree where I also understand the shape better. And, you know, the great master has since rewritten a film tune, which is supposed to be released soon, which I'm extremely excited about. And he's doing all these re-arrangements, or re-writings of film themes for my smaller group, the Mutter's Virtuosi. So it is a great privilege and an enormous joy having his music in almost all my programs. I'm not kidding you when I play trio, now we have this version, which he did for Yo-Yo Ma of Schindler's List for trio. When I play duo, of course I do Cinderella [Liberty], I do The Long Goodbye. You know, I do them all. And one day, my dream is to do an entire John Williams evening with piano and violin.
Brian McCreath That's beautiful. Anne-Sophie Mutter's —
Anne-Sophie Mutter I'm turning 60 soon, so maybe [if] the master's hearing that [both laughing boisterously], that would be a great present.
Brian McCreath We'll be sure to pass that along to him. It's so good to talk with you. Thank you so much for a little bit of your time. It's wonderful to hear you, too. Welcome back to Boston.
Anne-Sophie Mutter Thanks for your time, Brian. Thank you. Thank you very much.