Anne-Sophie Mutter can't count the number of times she has played the Tchaikovsky violin concerto in her four-decade career.
But the only time she will play it this year will be when she visits Australia this week.
"Of course, 2018 is the big Penderecki year (the Polish composer turns 85), so there is a focus on his work," the great German violin virtuoso, 54, says by phone from her Berlin home.
"But I'm greatly looking forward to the Tchaikovsky because it's one of the few super-exciting romantic pieces in the repertoire with a wonderful balance between the lyrical aspects and the amazing virtuosity – particularly in the last movement, where I really love to challenge the orchestra and conductor and, obviously, myself."
Mutter – who plays with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra from June 14 to 16 under David Robertson and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra from June 21 (a masterclass) to 23 – says she has no problem keeping her interpretation fresh.
"I am not the type of person who gets bored with something as exciting and multi-layered as the Tchaikovsky concerto. So every time I play it I get excited, and am looking for a different approach, maybe for a longer musical line, more purity, maybe less romanticism, because Tchaikovsky can also be looked at as a post-classical composer. There are many philosophical ideas you can wrestle with, and no right approach."
Working with living composers emphasises this, she says, because they are excited to find musicians with their own viewpoints, which can be opposed to each other.
"For example, Gidon Kremer's interpretation of my Sofia Gubaidulina violin concerto [written for Mutter] is totally opposed to what I did in the world premiere, and Mrs Gubaidulina was perfectly happy with both, because both Kremer and I had good reasons for our interpretation.
"The same is true of the Tchaikovsky. It's a constant path of renewal and question marks. I find that nothing is more important for music than to really question what you are doing and why, because I do not believe in formulas of interpretation."
Mutter famously made her concert debut with the Tchaikovsky at 13 with Herbert von Karajan at the Salzburg Festival – starting at the very summit. But if Karajan was her most notable mentor, another conductor she worked with a great deal in her youth is the one she will reconnect with in Melbourne, Sir Andrew Davis.
"I'm particularly happy to recollaborate with Andrew Davis, who was my favourite long-term conductor in my younger years." They haven't worked together for decades, Mutter says. "Sometimes it happens that you totally lose track of a musical companion and rejoin later."
She is also particularly excited about playing the Australian premiere in both cities of one of her favourite composers, John Williams – a work for violin, harp and string orchestra the celebrated film composer wrote for Mutter.
"I adore his film scores because they really ennoble the films he has done, whether it's Star Wars or Lincoln. His music is truly an art form of craftsmanship and understanding of tonal colours and harmonies." This piece is lyrical, she says, like a fantasy.
Is that the 27th work written for Mutter, a noted champion of contemporary music?
"I think so, probably around that number. There is a lot of contemporary music happening in the next few months, and that's why I love to include highly romantic repertoire from time to time – that brings me back to what the violin is best at. It's a wonderful, expressive melodic instrument, of course with the capacity to really dazzle in its virtuosity as well."
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