CHECK OUT HELMUT Newton's portrait of German violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter in the February 7 issue of The New Yorker. To her familiar Breck Girl-cum-Valkyrie persona he's added, by way of deep shadows and an urban setting, a dash of Sophia Loren. Mutter, who appears with pianist Lambert Orkis in the Seattle Symphony's Distinguished Artist recital series this Sunday, has capitalized on her photogenic appeal so unapologetically throughout her career that she makes it all appear completely unselfconscious. It's as though she dares you to criticize her for it.
Violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter
Benaroya Hall, Sunday, February 27
Mutter's most renowned, however, for a repertory decidedly low on marketable glamour. Very few classical megastars have done more for contemporary music than she. Not that she has much competition in the violin world: Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, despite her bad-girl image, has never to my knowledge been so iconoclastic as to actually commission or premiere anything. Her most celebrated peers—Midori, Joshua Bell, Gil Shaham—have also made their names and fortunes entirely off the standard repertory, thank you very much.
But Mutter has collaborated with some of the most esoteric European composers— Penderecki, Lutoslawski, Wolfgang Rihm—on works written just for her. She recently swept through New York City with a series of orchestral appearances and solo recitals comprised of almost entirely 20th-century works. She'll bring a similar program to Benaroya, including Anton Webern's Four Pieces from 1910, which forms the cornerstone of the modernist/serialist/pointillist tradition. Ranging from nine to 24 bars in length, none over 90 seconds long, the Four are masterpieces of epigrammatic yet intensely charged lyricism; they're the earliest and yet most radical works on Mutter's program. To contrast, she'll play two more traditional violin sonatas: a rather innocuous one by Prokofiev and an effortful one by Respighi. Stravinsky's commedia dell'arte-style Suite Italienne is the concert's pops offering.
Like, say, Bach's Art of the Fugue, the instrumentation for Arvo P䲴's Fratres ("Brethren") is unspecified; P䲴 wrote just a bass line (an unchanging drone on the notes A and E) and a spare but rapturously beautiful series of chords above. This basic plan has been arranged for various combinations; one excellent CD by the Dutch new-music orchestra I Fiamminghi includes six versions. P䲴's always been drawn to medieval music, a profound spiritual source for him (hence the monkish connotations of the title); his austere and ascetic sensibility is marked by a serenity of sound and a cathedral-like sense of open space. The version of Fratres that Mutter and Orkis are playing is a bit different from the others—the drone and chords remain in the piano while the violin spins baroque virtuoso passagework above. P䲴's use of this antique violin style will in turn recall Mutter's recent eye-opening recording of Vivaldi's Four Seasons, a performance which demonstrates the powerful tone and passionately intelligent sense of discovery she brings to music of any period.