German violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter wins the Praemium Imperiale 2019 | Music | DW | 17.09.2019
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German violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter wins the Praemium Imperiale 2019

One of the world's most celebrated violinists, Anne-Sophie Mutter is among the five prizewinners of the prestigious Japanese award that has been called the Nobel Prize for the arts.

Along with Mutter, the other winners are the South African William Kentridge in the category of painting, British-Palestinian Mona Hatoum for sculpture, the duo of Tod Williams and Billie Tsien from the US for architecture and the Japanese kabuki actor Tamasaburo Bando in the theater/film category. Apart from these five, a young artists' prize goes to the musical education program Démos from France.

The prizewinners were announced simultaneously on Tuesday, September 17 in Berlin, Paris, Rome, London, New York and Tokyo.

Lifetime achievement, exceptional talent, artistic strength and international status are the criteria for the award, established in 1989 at the instigation of the Japanese imperial family and bestowed annually by the Japan Art Association. Each prize goes with a cash award of 15 million yen (€126,000 or $138,000).

Klaus-Dieter Lehmann, the president of Germany's Goethe-Institut, honored the prize winners at the Tuesday ceremony in Berlin's Music Instrument Museum, saying that "The artists selected are sensitive in perception and strong in message. That makes them fit the basic idea of the Praemium Imperiale: that art and artistic creation enliven cultural dialogue across borders and differences. That is particularly important in our time, in which public debates are becoming ever more breathless and it is nearly impossible to distinguish fake from fact."

Lehmann then quoted German prizewinner Anne-Sophie Mutter, who has said "furthering the knowledge of the public and expanding understanding among artists and audiences is our beautiful and noble task."

The German violinist, one of the world's most renowned, has a career spanning four decades. Her recordings and performances of the classics have set the standard for many, and a number of composers have written new music for her. DW spoke to the artist at last year's 120th anniversary celebration of the label Deutsche Grammophon.

Deutsche Welle: There is so much music available on recordings nowadays. How does an artist come to terms with that? Isn't he or she supposed to be performing as though the piece is fresh and new?

Anne-Sophie Mutter: Historic recordings are always the groundwork not only for music lovers in the audience but also for young musicians. They should check what earlier generations have done and what their intellectual concepts of the musical works were.

So we're fortunate that amazing artists like Herbert von Karajan made so many recordings.

Nowadays people expect perfection from an artist. Does that stand in the way of creativity or spontaneity? 

Artists have always needed and desired perfection. That even applied to the Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninov when he was playing his own music.

If you're talking about the speed and precision of playing, it's true that the sheer technique of today's performing musicians is at a higher level than it was 30 or 40 years ago. But: Do we still have such amazing personalities like the pianists Dinu Lipatti and Clara Haskil — or the violinists David Oistrach and Joshua Heifetz?

I don't think so, because the general aesthetic of our time is all about surface. It's all surface in politics: "How do I like this person, how does he look? Is she beautiful? Does she have wrinkles?" And it's the same thing in art.

But is an artist personal? Does he or she dare to have a totally different viewpoint which might even offend the listener because it's so different and maybe not comfortable to listen to?

It's up to us musicians to come up with a personal viewpoint and just to be out there, to do it! And if you are liked for it, great. And if not, that's great too!

Filmstill Faszination Anne-Sophie Mutter (Unitel)

Concentration, impeccable technique, taste and intelligence of interpretation are the hallmarks of this performer

Does a musician have to be the star of the show to shine?

Generally, in music, what we do when we are onstage is to try to be there for each other. That's what makes chamber music so interesting.

When I was young, I used to play a lot with the cellist Mstislav Rostropovich in a string trio. Our age difference was something like 50 years. He had an incredible life experience was of course probably the greatest string player ever.

When we played chamber music, he'd yell at me because I was waxing away when I was just supposed to be the accompaniment. So, when he actually played the first voice, I learned to listen. And Rostropovich told me: "When you accompany, you almost have to have an out-of-body experience. Yes, you play the accompaniment, but in thought and concentration, you are totally with what the other person is doing.

It's like in a dialogue where you listen really intensely. So in a passage where my instrument is silent, I play along in my head with whomever has the main voice. I am totally immersed in the music. And I am always only part of it. I'm never just the soloist.

It's a joint effort, and that is what makes music such a fruitful activity for children. Because it's actually a lesson for life: You are part of a community, yet at the same time, you have to be a leader. You have to listen. And while you listen, your dialogue actually changes because you take into consideration what that person is saying to you musically. It's a great school. And that's why I heavily promote early music education.

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