One of the classical world’s most respected violinists, Christian Tetzlaff has little if anything left to prove, but he maintains a demanding schedule of more than 100 concerts annually. “I really love playing,” he said. “At the moment, it’s never been so fulfilling.”
In fact, Tetzlaff, 53, has actually cut back in the last year or two to have more time for his three children, now 6, 4 and 3. He used to stick to a schedule that was “quite a bit above” 100 concerts. “I’m trying to be a good father and be more at home,” he said. To make his work load easier to handle, he tries to schedule concerts together, so he has one intense week where he plays every day and then takes a week off to spend off with his family. “I feel like this is a good balance for me,” he said.
A regular visitor to Orchestra Hall, he will be featured as part of an SCP Chamber Music Series recital Oct. 27 with Lars Vogt. The two German natives met 22 years ago, and Tetzlaff calls it his “greatest joy” to perform with the keyboardist. “I adore his piano playing,” he said. “The sound world and the intensity and the depth is for me just absolutely amazing.”
Tetzlaff insists on keeping time in his schedule each season for chamber music. In fact, about 30 to 40 percent of his schedule is devoted to such pursuits. “It differs from year to year,” he said. He performs with the Tetzlaff Quartet, typically touring once or twice a year with the group, which includes violinist Elisabeth Kufferath, cellist Tanja Tetzlaff (his sister) and violist Hanna Weinmeister. Asked if it were difficult to keep such an ensemble viable when it performs so infrequently, he said the opposite was true.
“We have played for 28 years together,” he said. “For many quartets who do that professionally and rehearse a lot and play lots of concerts, that is actually really, really hard. For us, it is two weeks in a year when we are really eager to get together and perform the most amazing things. I think it is much easier this way to be a quartet.”
Because the four musicians have been together so long and are good friends, they are able to achieve the intense sense of ensemble so necessary to performing in a quartet, even though they don’t appear regularly together.
In early October, the Tetzlaff Quartet recorded two of the late Beethoven quartets, for an album that will be released in the spring on the Ondine label. “Of course, that requires a total commitment to each other and knowing each other, because otherwise that simply cannot work,” he said of such an ambitious undertaking. “But at the same time, we constantly reinvent ourselves because everybody develops on his own over a year and does many things, and then we bring our new selves into a quartet session.”
For 20 years, Tetzlaff has also performed in a piano trio with Vogt and his own sister. The group that has been nominated for a Grammy Award. Such a pursuit complements what Tetzlaff does in the quartet and allows him to explore a whole other slice of chamber repertoire.
For their Chicago recital, part of an eight-city American tour with stops in Washington, D.C.; New Orleans and Philadelphia, Tetzlaff and Vogt will present a program that begins with Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 6 in A Major, Op. 30, No.1, one of the violinist’s favorites. “It is a totally warm-hearted and gentle piece which contrasts, of course, violently with the Shostakovich [Violin] Sonata [in G Major, Op. 134], which is terrible, brutal and bleak in big parts of the piece,” he said. They belong together, he said, more in the sense of Monty Python’s familiar refrain, “And, now, to something completely different.”
Tetzlaff believes this juxtaposition of opposites will work well, because the Shostakovich sonata from 1968 comes out of a sense of loss. “If you play this Beethoven sonata,” the violinist said, “and then you start that, you think, ‘Oh, my god, what actually has been lost in the world for Shostakovich that his language goes in this direction?’”
In the second half, there is similar pairing of contrasts, with the “very, very beautiful sound world” of Gyorgy Kurtág’s Tre Pezzi for Violin and Piano (1979), which is “very quiet, short and mimimalistic,” set against the “constant singing” of César Franck’s Violin Sonata in A Major.
“I think the outer pieces in their life-affirming, A Major world, make a wonderful frame for the very intense utterances of the last century.”