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Sigrid Faltin’s tête-à-tête with Anne-Sophie Mutter

By Sigurd Neubauer


Sigrid Faltin, one of Germany’s most prominent filmmakers, discusses her new documentary starring Anne-Sophie Mutter.

German filmmaker Sigrid Faltin’s latest documentary, Vivace, is a tribute to the celebrated violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter. In it, Faltin has succeeded in teasing out Mutter’s personality, including showcasing her admiration for  Roger Federer – one of the greatest tennis players of all time. At the same time, Faltin reveals in a wide-ranging interview, Mutter strives to maintain a down-to-earth personality as she’s keenly aware of her great fortune in life which enables her to practice her artistry while enjoying a jet-setting-lifestyle. “She strives to live like an ordinary person, which she cannot because she constantly travels around the world,” the filmmaker says.

The film begins and concludes with Faltin accompanying Mutter on a scenic hike in the mountains of Aurach on the outskirts of Kitzbühel, Austria; and in between, the viewer is invited on a journey spanning the life of the violinist extraordinaire whose career was catapulted to stardom in 1976 when she was 13 by none other than the legendary Maestro Herbert von Karajan (1908-1989). 

“To this day, Mutter loves talking about Karajan. She’s very grateful to him and she makes herself available to anyone who wants to talk about the late maestro. Mutter didn’t take for granted what Karajan did for young musicians, which is why she’s trying to emulate it.”

Faltin’s film also showcases Mutter performing with younger musicians who she supports through her foundation. She travels on tour with them and considers Karajan to be a role model for her when it comes to cultivating the next generation of artists.

Faltin, we should point out, has also made a film about Karajan.

Once Mutter agreed to the film in 2015, negotiations over its content were carried out between Faltin and Mutter’s brother, Andreas Mutter, who also serves as her media adviser.  Filming started in October 2019.

Mutter insisted that her home and access to her two children and two brothers would be off-limits, Faltin reveals.

“She insisted upon including [American film composer] John Williams in the film and the New York-based magician Steve Cohen. The main person she wanted to meet was nonetheless Roger Federer,” Faltin reveals, adding: “They’re both solo artists alone on stage – whose extended arms – are required for their craft whether it is playing the violin or holding a racket.” Both of their crafts require supreme concentration, mental strength, and, Faltin points out, they grew up only 20 miles away from each other.

She grew up in Wehr im Wiesental in the Black Forest, Germany. Federer grew up in Basel, Switzerland.  “They even speak the same German dialect.”

Above all, Mutter wanted to meet Federer: Faltin

In a meeting that took over three years to organize, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Roger Federer, and Richard Wunderlich spent hours conversing. Photo credit: Filmwelt/Jürgen Carle

While Mutter tells Federer that she had come to watch him at the 2013 Australian Open, she leaves the impression that she’s more interested in tennis than Federer is in classical music. “I think Federer decided that he had to attend a classical music concert before the interview,” Faltin says with her characteristic laugh, adding: “I believe this was his first experience with classical music.” (Novak Djokovic won the 2013 Australian Open).

It wasn’t easy to get Federer to agree to the interview, the filmmaker says, pointing out that it took her three years and five nos. “At first, Federer’s assistant didn’t know who Mutter was,” Faltin recalls. But once he agreed, the pandemic erupted but when he suffered a knee injury in June 2021 Faltin saw an opportunity, but it took an additional six months to schedule the meeting, which  eventuallytook place in April 2022.

Mutter brought her son, Richard Wunderlich, along. Federer allocated some three hours to the meeting but the three of them went for lunch afterwards, Faltin reveals and quips: “I think she enjoyed every second of it.”

“Richard is completing his doctorate in law as his father had. His older sister, Arabella, lives in London where she works in the world of theater.” Although Mutter enjoys a close relationship with both children, the daughter doesn’t want to appear in public at all, which is why she didn’t attend the film’s premier. 

Vivace makes clear that Mutter’s first husband, Detlef Wunderlich, who succumbed to cancer in 1996, was the love of her life.

Meanwhile, archival footage of Mutter’s father appears once in the film. Faltin reveals that not having included archival footage of Mutter’s mother was “probably a mistake.”

Mutter’s children attended a Jewish school as she’s very aware of German history. Mutter’s second husband, Maestro Andre Previn (1929-2019) was Jewish, but the couple divorced in 2006. “Mutter’s relationship with Previn was probably marked by her knowledge about our history.”

She is, however, very reluctant about exposing her private life.

Mutter and Faltin at the Vivace premier in March 2023. Photo credit: Filmwelt/Sascha Radke

Hiking with Mutter

Mutter loves to hike, which Faltin knew from her research. This is why the filmmaker proposed it, she reveals.

With a hearty laugh, the filmmaker describes the hike as “fun but exhausting,” but turns serious when she points out that her cameraman – Jürgen Carle – didn’t enjoy it as he injured his foot and had to stumble along. 

What surprised Faltin the most about Mutter’s personality, she reveals, was “how caring she was. I was astonished.” She’s referring to how Mutter sent an e-mail the following day to Carle with suggestions about what he could do to recover from his injury. 

Another aspect of Mutter’s personality that Faltin discovered from their collaboration was that “she’s a very loyal person. If she likes you once, she likes you forever.”

Faltin describes her three-hour-long hike with Mutter as "fun but exhausting." Photo credit: Filmwelt/Jürgen Carle

A German icon?

Mutter became popular among the general German public during the Covid-19 pandemic when she spoke publicly out against the lockdowns and its draconian impact on the performing arts. “She doesn’t want to be involved in politics nor does she want to speak to politicians, but she’s very interested in politics,” the filmmaker explains.

Mutter has also been supportive of the Ukrainian people once the war broke out in February 2022 and has thus provided many benefit concerts to raise funding for humanitarian causes.

Responding to whether Mutter can be considered a German cultural icon – perhaps in the same vein that Karajan was a generation before her – Faltin becomes introspective and points out that despite her ongoing efforts to broaden the appeal of classical music to the younger generation, she was surprised to discover how unknown she was among those under 40. This was also her experience at the film’s premier, which took place in March of this year.

To drive home her point, Faltin cites a January 2020 concert at the Vienna State Opera where Williams conducted his music with Mutter starring as a soloist along with the Vienna Philharmonic. “It was a different audience compared to those who generally attend the Vienna Music Society as they were all wearing ‘Star Wars’ t-shirts. My impression was that they didn’t know who Mutter was. They loved John Williams who they gave a standing ovation to; Mutter was just a side-show for them.”

“For the older generation in Germany, Mutter is a glamorous person who is also known as the best dressed classical musician, but she doesn’t like to discuss her wardrobe.”

This becomes clear in the film itself where Mutter insists that she wants to be known for her artistry and not for the way she looks. Mutter declined to have her wardrobe filmed as “she wants to be acknowledged as a musician and not as a woman.”

Mutter doesn’t want to acknowledge that her brand is a combination of her celebrated artistry, beauty and esthetics. “She doesn’t want to be like that, but she is,” Faltin says. “You shouldn’t talk to her about it.” But “what Mutter is,” the filmmaker says, “is above the sexes. She operates above the fray.”

Faltin is a prolific artist herself. Her next project is a documentary about local politics in Germany. “I am very concerned about the future of democracy,” she concludes.

"Mutter insists that she wants to be known for her artistry and not for the way she looks." Photo credit: Filmwelt/Sascha Radke
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