′It lacks any logic′: Star violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter speaks out on COVID-19 policy | Music | DW | 22.10.2020
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'It lacks any logic': Star violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter speaks out on COVID-19 policy

The celebrated performer talks about a struggling classical music industry, and makes a plea to politicians to better support musicians during the ongoing pandemic.

Anne-Sophie Mutter is one of the world's most famous violinists. In early 2020 she toured the planet performing Beethoven violin sonatas on the occasion of the composer's 250th birthday, but had to cut the concert series short due to the coronavirus pandemic — and also because she herself had fallen ill. Yet the German virtuoso has continued to perform and win plaudits, having this week received the Opus-Klassik award for Instrumentalist of the Year/Violin in Berlin for her recordings of John Williams' film music.

Williams, who has written the film music for blockbusters such as Jaws, Star Wars and Harry Potter, also lauded Mutter in a speech at the award ceremony. In the violinists own acceptance speech, she pointed out the precarious situation of musicians during the coronavirus pandemic and appealed to politicians to provide more financial help. DW's Gero Schließ spoke with the star violinist about the coronavirus, her commitment to the arts industry, and her turn to film music.

Deutsche Welle: For 40 years, you have been one of the stars of the classical music world. You've received many honors and know the music business from front to back. How did you experience the disturbance to the music industry caused by the Coronavirus?

Anne-Sophie Mutter: In February, when I was performing in Japan, I was the last international artist to visit the country, and the coronavirus was already there. We had already played in front of an audience that was completely masked. I really admired the discipline of the audience. We will only come out of the pandemic in good health through extreme mutual consideration.

The virus got me in March. I was tired and my children said, Mom, you are never tired, you must be sick. So, I went to the doctor and to my great surprise I had to go into quarantine for two weeks. And then slowly the concerts were canceled. It became a long break. I only started to play concerts again in September.

Can you comment on how the culture industry is suffering during the pandemic, particularly with performance venues having to severely limit audience capacity? 

It is painful to have to witness this unequal treatment and not to be listened to despite requests and pleas to the appropriate channels. I have no understanding at all for the fact that recently in Bavaria they were able to serve roast pork and beer for 1000 people. I think it's great when people have fun and still keep distance and safety in mind. But then a cabaret artist comes on stage and only 200 people can remain in the hall. It lacks any logic. I find this unequal treatment outrageous. But nothing happens, perhaps because there's not enough awareness around the fact that there is a large number of other people and jobs attached.  

A smiling woman holds a violin amid an orchestra, most men in tuxedos also playing violin

Better times: Anne-Sophie Mutter on stage in front of a full house in Munich in 2019

It starts with the agent, continues with the concert organizer and ends with the lady working in the dressing room. Many people are involved in this industry. Unfortunately, most of them are self-employed people who participate directly or indirectly in the lives of musicians. That means we are also big employers. The economic turnover generated by the music industry in 2019 was 1.6 billion euros.

You said you wanted to take public office. Were you serious? 

No, I never said that I wanted to take office. I was asked if I would take it. And then I boldly said yes. I hope that the minister of state for culture, Mrs. Grütters, does not see this as a declaration of war, it is not meant to be in any way. When the opportunity comes and the time is ripe, it would perhaps make sense to put an insider in such a position.

I am in close contact with Mrs. Grütters and I am aware of her efforts and I hope that we are not yet at the end of the relief efforts. If I look at Bavaria and understand this correctly, then the Bavarian corona aid for self-employed musicians is exhausted after three months and a payment of 3,000 euros. So what am I supposed to do from March until the end of the year with 3,000 euros?

Have you ever thought of calling the German Chancellor?

Mrs. Grütters is responsible for that and I think she will do her best to further improve the situation. That is what I am counting on. And if that is not the case, then we have to take to the streets.

Mrs. Grütters initially had the misconception — and she has corrected it in the meantime — that it is wonderful that we all move so freely on the internet and post so much. It's wonderful to experience music. Yes, it may be wonderful to post something from time to time to stay in contact with the outside world. But of course this is not a meass of survival. Perhaps it may be for artists with five million clicks and big advertising partners who join YouTube. But in the case of classical music, this is an exception. So the virtual world, unfortunately, doesn't help us.

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Live concert experiment in Germany’s Leipzig

How will music life continue after the Corona crisis? Fewer concerts, fewer listeners, or perhaps less money?

I found it very courageous and wonderful what Salzburg (the Salzburg Festival) has created. Salzburg showed that it is possible to perform sitting in a chessboard pattern and by consistently and regularly testing all the people performing. There were even more than 200 people in the audience. This way, the organizer can at least cover their costs to some extent.

I think we will have an audience that feels and needs music even more intensely. I noticed that in the few concerts I played this fall. One really knows then that the listener has come especially for the program this evening. That's when we get a sign from the audience 'Yes, you are part of our lives.'

May I ask if you yourself would you accept less pay?

We musicians do that constantly. Especially in the coronavirus time we play two concerts a night, which means our fee is reduced by 50 percent. In addition, the fees have of course fallen enormously, simply because the organizer no longer has income. And of course, we work together and want to help each other.

I have always considered it extremely important for artists to make a meaningful contributions to the community and society outside of their profession. And that's why charity concerts are extremely important to me. That's why my foundation for the promotion of talented musicians, into which all my prize money goes, is very important to me.

close-up of a woman playing the violin

Anne-Sophie Mutter plays after receiving the Distinguished Artistic Leadership Award in 2012 in Washington, DC

You were recently awarded the Opus Klassik in Berlin, one of countless prizes you've received, including four Grammy awards. Does that still touch you and make you happy?

At Opus Klassik, John Williams gave a speech via video message, much to my surprise. He said something like making music with me was one of the most beautiful moments in his life.

Of course it means a lot to me when a great musician, especially one of the greatest composers of our time, appreciates me artistically and perhaps also as a person. A prize like this is always something wonderful, because for a moment it puts the music in the center of attention in front of millions of television viewers. We hope that politicians will also listen more closely to understand that many other professions and existences are attached to musicians.

What has been your response to the growing calls to increase diversity and address racism in the culture industry?

There have been a handful of female conductors from 1920 to the present day. It's progressing, however I don't want to hide the fact that racism also exists in the classical music industry, and we have to talk about it. We have to intervene when we see it and become witnesses.

Can you give examples?

I don't want to go into detail, but I have always stood up for musicians. For me of course it doesn't matter at all what the cultural or religious background of a person is in general, but in the case of a musician it depends on the talent, on the personality. And I am very happy that I am able to support musicians who have great talents with my foundation.

We are also currently hearing new sounds from Anne-Sophie Mutter: the film music by John Williams. Is it about the interest in new repertoire or simply about tapping into new audiences?

I already played contemporary music in 1986. Great composers have written works for me. For me, John Williams is another great contemporary composer who writes film music. Film music is nothing else but contemporary music, especially since I'm a hardcore Star Wars fan.

John Williams has the ability, like all great composers, to write in a way that makes it seem accessible and easy to understand. But when you delve a little deeper into the matter, you see the refinement of harmony. One sees the immense knowledge of the instruments and the orchestras.

This article was translated from the German original by Sarah Hucal 

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