In the galaxy of international violin stars, Anne-Sophie Mutter represents a rare comet whose path brings her to Southern California at irregular intervals. Her last area performance was in 2008, and before that in 2000. The opportunity to see her play locally is something like a celestial event.
Mutter will take the stage on Wednesday as part of a string trio at the Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa. The German violinist said in a recent interview that her infrequent appearances in the Los Angeles area were simply the result of non-musical priorities -- namely, her two children, Arabella and Richard.
"There is no reason other than family. Up until now, I have left home only two weeks in a row -- one has to make compromises," Mutter said on the phone a few weeks ago from Munich. "My children are a little older -- 19 and 16, and now I can travel more without harming family life."
Mutter, 47, ranks among the top violinists in the world. In conversation, she projects a self-deprecating modesty and wry sense of humor that belies her formidable stature. The violinist lives most of the year in Germany and Austria with her children.
The way west
Now she, violist Yuri Bashmet and cellist Lynn Harrell are in the midst of an extended trip west that includes stops in San Francisco, Mexico and Canada. Wednesday's concert in Costa Mesa will feature an all-Beethoven program.
Mutter said that she admires Beethoven more than any composer. "His music goes from darkness to light, and that teaches us about how we should go about life's problems. He's more than a composer. He's a teacher of life."
Most violin stars spend their careers as soloists, but Mutter appears to enjoy playing as part of an ensemble. "I do adore my two colleagues a lot -- that helps," she said. "I don't know how it is vice versa, so let's not go there! It's rare actually that you find colleagues who are so curious and like to rehearse. We're all very strong-willed people. These are repertory pieces -- we are willing to share our opinions and to totally throw them overboard."
Mutter first played the Beethoven string trios in the early '80s, and she said that, at the time, she had trouble modulating her volume in an ensemble. "People were like, why [do] you have to play so loud?" recalled the violinist. "It's about finding your inner voices."
Playing in a trio doesn't necessarily get easier with age, said Mutter. "There is no one leader. It's about partnership and the spark," explained the musician. "In a quartet, the melting of instruments is easier. In a trio, it's difficult to blend into one instrument. But that's what makes it attractive -- the dialogue, the constant challenge, to be more spontaneous than I could ever dream of being in front of an orchestra."
Mutter is keeping busy these days with a number of projects, including a recent revisiting of Brahms' violin sonatas, released by Deutsche Grammophon. She's preparing for an extended stay at the New York Philharmonic as artist in residence, beginning later this month. Her New York tenure will include performances of new pieces such as Rihm's "Lichtes Spiel," Currier's "Time Machines" and Sofia Gubaidulina's "In tempus praesens."
"It's keeping me up at nights," the violinist said with a nervous laugh when asked about the pieces. "At the same time, it's wonderful to see contemporary music being played by this orchestra."
Mutter was married to conductor-composer Andre Previn from 2002 to 2006, and the former couple is said to remain on friendly terms, continuing to collaborate on recordings and other projects.
When asked if she plans to perform at Walt Disney Concert Hall in seasons to come, Mutter expressed enthusiasm for the venue ("It's one of the best halls there are") and for Gustavo Dudamel.
"You might see more of me in the future -- Dudamel and I, we do have plans," said Mutter. "But my calendar is full until 2013, so it probably wouldn't be until after that. If people still want to hear me by then, I will be happy to play."
Where: Renee & Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, Orange County Performing Arts Center, Costa Mesa
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
Tickets: $30 to $250
Information: (949) 553-2422 or www.philharmonicsociety.org