German violinist Christian Tetzlaff is in high demand in Europe for his “wonderful, very articulate and romantic” playing, says Seattle Symphony music director Ludovic Morlot. Tetzlaff will perform Feb. 5, 7 and 8 as a guest of SSO.
Doing almost anything several hundred times is bound to get a little mechanical. That could be a problem if one is talking about playing the solo on one of the world’s most famous pieces of music.
But that hasn’t happened yet to violinist Christian Tetzlaff.
“It’s the easiest thing in the world,” says Tetzlaff of his enduring enthusiasm for performing Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D major.
Seattle Symphony: Beethoven’s Violin Concerto
7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday (Feb. 5, 7-8) at Benaroya Hall, 200 University St., Seattle; $20-$122 (206-215-4747 or seattlesymphony.org). Note: This Masterworks program offers free tickets to youth 8-18. Two youth tickets are available for every regularly priced adult ticket.
“For me, it’s wonderful. This year I’m around my 300th performance of the piece, which I first played when I was 14, so that’s 34 years of playing it regularly. It feels like a place I live in and know well and always love to play, so whenever I can do it, I will.”
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Tetzlaff will carry on that tradition in his debut with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra next week. (The program also includes music by Ravel, Berlioz and Debussy.)
The much-in-demand Tetzlaff, of whom critics often write rapturously, even lyrically, about his concerts and recordings, vaguely recalls appearing in Seattle for a chamber performance “ages ago.”
Seattle Symphony music director Ludovic Morlot — who collaborated with Tetzlaff a couple of years back at a Mozart festival — is delighted to host the Hamburg-born musician.
“It’s not so easy to get him here to Seattle, because he performs a lot in Europe,” says Morlot. “It’s urgent for the Seattle orchestra and audience to share his musical talent. His playing is not only wonderful, very articulate and romantic. He includes aspects of period-instrument thinking — something controlled, in a way, in his expression. I think it’s going to be exciting to hear the concerto in that kind of light.”
Though recent years have seen Tetzlaff’s energy directed toward recordings and concerts of Bach, Schumann and Mozart; modern works by György Ligeti and Stuart MacRae; a 2014 release of violin concertos by Shostakovich; and chamber works with his sister, cellist Tanja Tetzlaff, and pianists Leif Ove Andsnes or Lars Vogt (resulting in a 2012 Gramophone Award), Beethoven’s music has remained an essential touchstone.
“I want to tell the story,” says Tetzlaff about the Violin Concerto. “I’m always deeply thinking about the music, often in a trancelike state. Tradition doesn’t come into it. The challenge is to think and talk and explain every phrase. It’s such a joy. It hasn’t happened, and it will not happen, that I think ‘tonight I do not want to play this.’ ”
Beethoven wrote the Violin Concerto (the only complete Beethoven concerto of its kind) in 1806. It proved unpopular, and remained so until after the composer’s death.
Beethoven wrote an even less-successful transcription of the piece for piano and orchestra, though he did include his own cadenzas this time. (He had not written any for the violin version.) Unlike other virtuoso violinists, Tetzlaff has brought those cadenzas back to the concerto’s roots.
“I simply took his piano cadenzas and adapted them to the fiddle. So every harmony, everything is exactly Beethoven. For me, that’s the obvious choice.
“It is an incredibly strong piece,” Tetzlaff says. “Everything comes to a point of death and resurrection. It seems to be a fight between an innocent, fragile soul and a violent world. During moments in the first movement, it looks like that fragile soul will not win. But toward the end, we get a feeling of reconciliation and great beauty.”