Violinist Tetzlaff bows to youth

November 09, 1996|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,SUN STAFF

Christian Tetzlaff, who appears tonight with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in the last of three performances of Beethoven's violin concerto, was at the Bryn Mawr School yesterday to talk to students about music, the violin and his life as one of today's hottest young virtuosos.

"How much do you practice?" one of the ninth-graders in the audience asked.

Tetzlaff, wearing sneakers and jeans and still looking surprisingly boyish at 30, seemed momentarily nonplused by the question.

"Actually, now I only practice two hours a day," he replied almost sheepishly in pleasantly German-accented English.

Then, sensing he might be giving the wrong impression to any aspiring young violinists in the hall, he quickly added: "But of course, when I was 14 I practiced much more."

Tetzlaff had just finished a masterly performance of the slow movement from Bach's "Partita in D Minor" for solo violin, which he said expressed the composer's grief after the death of his wife.

And indeed, the piece's famously difficult double- and triple-stopped passages tripped off his fingers so effortlessly that the audience was completely drawn into the musical drama, making the violinist's extraordinary technique seem almost peripheral.

L Another student asked whether his violin was very expensive.

"Well, it's a 1713 Stradivarius, so it's from the exact same time when Bach was writing these suites," Tetzlaff said. "Of course, as a musician I could never afford to own an instrument like this."

Like Tetzlaff's playing, there's a kind of magical quality to the story of how he acquired the Strad, which the violinist related after the Bryn Mawr program.

One evening after a concert, Tetzlaff said, a complete stranger who collected rare violins and admired his playing walked up and offered to let him use the instrument whenever he wanted.

"It was fantastic for me," the violinist recalled. "It changed my life in a way, because of the power and the beauty of the instrument."

Tetzlaff said he commissioned an instrument builder in his native Hamburg to make an exact copy of the Strad he now plays. The maker produced a fine violin, but there's still a special quality to the Strad that makes it his favorite.

"It seems to reach out a little better into a hall," he said.

Tetzlaff comes from a music-loving family in which all four children have become professional musicians. His older brother is conductor of the Hanover Opera and his older sister is flute soloist with the Hanover Radio Symphony Orchestra. His younger sister is just embarking on a recital career as a cellist.

Tetzlaff said he was fortunate to grow up in an environment surrounded by music. "Music is a language that you learn as a child learns any language, by listening, imitating, being exposed to it," he said.

But he believes that the German tradition of "Hausmusick," under which at least one member of every household plays a musical instrument or sings, is endangered by the ubiquity of recorded music. "It's much better for a child to hear someone in the house trying to play a piece on the piano, even if they make mistakes, than it is to hear a perfect performance on record. Because no matter how good the recording, it's always more distant than live music at home," he said.

Regarding his own recordings -- Tetzlaff has recorded the complete solo works for violin by Bach as well as the violin concertos of Beethoven, Hayden and Bartok -- the violinist expressed similar mixed feelings.

"Sometimes people come to concerts only to see how it compares with the record, instead of experiencing the performance for what it is," he said. "Then, too, I've felt better afterward about some live concerts that I have done than after some of my recordings."

Pub Date: 11/09/96

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