Corrections or additions?

This article by Elaine Strauss was prepared for the January 23,

2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Classical Duo: Tetzlaff & Andsnes

Reflecting on my conversation with violinist Christian

Tetzlaff, who performs with pianist Lief Ove Andsnes at McCarter

Theater

on Monday, January 28, I realize that there are two main ways to plan

a recital program. Let’s call one of them repertoire-driven: in this

scheme of things the soloist, maybe a renowned soloist, looks over

the literature within his reach, decides what to play and searches

out an accompanist capable of a creditable performance. This is not

the way Tetzlaff does it.

Tetzlaff and Andsnes produce what I’ll call performer-driven programs.

The two of them, acclaimed soloists, and committed recital partners,

decide together what to play. From start to finish putting together

a concert is a manifestation of trust, teamwork, and joy.

The pair’s McCarter program consists of Beethoven’s Violin Sonata

in C minor, Op. 30 No. 2, Schumann’s Sonata No. 2 in D minor, Op.

121, and Bartok’s Violin Sonata No. 1. In a phone interview from his

home near Frankfurt, Germany, Tetzlaff explains the thinking behind

the program: "We wanted to pick pieces we like to play the most,

and we wanted to have a diversified program."

He moves on to a practical consideration: "For this tour we had

a limitation because one of the performances is in a big room —

Avery Fisher Hall. [The Lincoln Center hall seats almost 3,000,

compared

to McCarter’s 1,000.] It’s not good for intimate pieces. Scheduling

an intimate piece would be bad for the program, bad for us, and bad

for the audience. In terms of loudness, these three pieces can all

be played in bigger halls. It leads to a slight uniformity; still

they’re three different composers. The pieces are all in a minor key.

But the Schumann has a movement in G major before returning to D minor

so there’s tonal variety. All the pieces have lot of urgency, and

a fighting spirit, but every one fights in own way."

"The attitudes of Beethoven and Bartok are more similar than those

of Beethoven and Schumann," Tetzlaff says. "The confidence

and manliness of C minor for Beethoven contrast with the wondering,

uncertainty, and complexity of Schumann."

Tetzlaff and Andsnes play the same program in nine American cities

coast to coast, including Canada’s Vancouver, between January 17 and

January 29. In the course of this tour they get to sample two

recently-built

concert venues, the relatively new Harris Concert Hall in Aspen,

Colorado,

and the brand new Kimmel Center in Philadelphia.

How do Tetzlaff and Andsnes keep the music alive when they play the

same program repeatedly?

"I’ve never felt any concern about that," Tetzlaff responds.

"Every evening is a new event. When you tell the same story and

have new audience, that makes it different. If the audience heard

the piece four years ago, hearing it now makes it a new piece. You

have to bring the piece to the audience as something fresh. Even if

you play the Mendelssohn concerto and have played it many times

before,

when you play it again there is the new evening and the piece has

to click with the audience." In 1997 Tetzlaff performed the

Mendelssohn

24 times.

The Tetzlaff-Andsnes duo has played Beethoven’s cycle of 10 violin

and piano sonatas four times, and I wonder about playing one of the

sonatas out of context. "The 10 sonatas are not intended as a

unit," Tetzlaff says. "The three Opus 30 sonatas can be made

to belong together. But any of the 10 can stand on their own."

Does knowing the entire cycle influence the performance of a

particular

piece and provide some sort of background context? Tetzlaff shoots

back with candor, "I would overstate my intelligence if I said

that." Clearly, he is not only open, but modest, independent,

and thoughtful.

The Tetzlaff family is steeped in music. Father Tetzlaff, a Hamburg

minister, met his wife in an amateur choir. They still belong to it.

All four of the Tetzlaff offspring are musicians, three of them in

northern Germany. Stefan, 39, is Generalmusikdirektor and conducts

at the Bremerhaven Opera House. Angela, 37, formerly solo flute at

the Radio Orchestra of Hannover, is now a music professor in Lubeck.

Tanja, 28, is solo cellist of the Kammerphilharmonie in Bremen.

Christian, 35, who lives in Bad Homburg, a spa near

Frankfurt, started on the recorder by the time he was five. At six

he began lessons on both piano and violin. "When I was about 14,

I gave up the piano, although I liked it, because I became serious

about the violin, and was better and faster at it," he told one

reporter.

Tetzlaff studied with Professor Uwe-Martin Haiberg at the Lubeck

Conservatory,

whom he describes as "a very, very good musician, player, and

teacher." Tetzlaff calls Haiberg "my basic musical

influence."

Encouraged by Haiberg, Tetzlaff spent the academic year 1985-86 at

the Cincinnati College-Conservatory working with Walter Levine of

the LaSalle Quartet. "Musically," says Tetzlaff "Levine

is an interesting man and it was good for me to go to Cincinnati and

live on my own with a wonderful family."

Tetzlaff now provides the opportunity for a different young violinist

each year to live with his family as an au pair. As part of the au

pair arrangement Tetzlaff gives the aspiring violinist lessons. The

fortunate au pair is the only pupil that Tetzlaff teaches. He finds

possible candidates in musical circles. "I already know them,"

he says, "so it works out well as an au pair arrangement."

At the moment the waiting list is two years’ long.

Tetzlaff’s wife is Diemut Schneider, a clarinetist in the Frankfurt

Opera. Schneider, like Tetzlaff’s flutist sister Angela, is a member

of the Albert Schweitzer Woodwind Quintet. The couple has three

children,

ages nine, eight, and four. Plenty of work for an au pair.

Tetzlaff, whose concert engagements run to roughly 90 a year, has

made it a point not to be away from home for more than 14 days at

a stretch. For the first time he finds it necessary to break the rule

during his nine-city tour with Andsnes. Because Andsnes appears with

the New York Philharmonic just before the recital tour, Tetzlaff and

Andsnes must rehearse in New York, and Tetzlaff will be away from

home for 17 days.

The Tetzlaff-Andsnes partnership dates from 1991, when the two first

performed together at the Jukmo Chamber Music Festival in Finland.

Norwegian-born Andsnes, 30, now lives in Copenhagen. "It’s closer

than Oslo," says Tetzlaff. "We get together mostly when we’re

in the same place at the same time. We’ve played each of the pieces

for our American tour in different programs during the last five

years.

So our rehearsals are more a matter of refreshing the pieces and

finding

new ideas in them than rehearsing. When you go back to a piece you’ve

played before, you find a new sense of freedom because you have

already

digested the piece. It’s always a wonderful feeling."

As Tetzlaff tells it, the duo has an exceptional capacity for

absorbing

disagreement. "The one who feels stronger will take the lead,"

he says. "If it goes against the grain strongly, I will say, ‘I

can’t do that.’ But we never disagree in manner that says, ‘We can’t

play this piece.’ If Leif comes up with an idea that I’m not fond

of, I know that it’s a well-thought-out idea. Two weeks later, I’ll

think, maybe he’s right. Both of us trust each other."

"Take tempo," he says. "At any particular moment one is

always convinced that there’s only one right way. Then a month later

your perception of speed changes. It changes with the time of day

and how you feel physically. Sometimes one of us wanted a piece

faster,

and the next time we played, it was the other way around. Tempo is

a mysterious thing."

"For instance, with Beethoven, we’ve seen the music enough that

we have a clear picture of it. It’s important to believe very much

in his statements that are on paper, such as metronome markings. It’s

not true that Beethoven misjudged speeds. If a Beethoven piece is

not playable because the metronome marking seems impossibly fast,

it’s important to try and get a sense of the urgency that Beethoven

indicated by the speed. In the ’50s and ’60s Beethoven metronome

markings

were considered rubbish. Now Beethoven’s metronome markings are

followed."

One thinks of the time when it was believed impossible to run a mile

in less than four minutes.

Overall, Tetzlaff is wary of metronome marks as an absolute dictum.

"It’s unwise to tie yourself to exact metronome markings. That

limits your imagination. Schoenberg provided a good guide when he

said, ‘You don’t need to take my metronome markings seriously.’ You

have to find what a composer’s looking for."

Tetzlaff and Andsnes search for the composer’s meaning

in tandem, constantly honing their sense of ensemble. "We try

to be always in sync with each other," he says. "Working on

ensemble is not just hitting notes at the same time. It’s making

phrases

in the same way."

The result of their common efforts is vivid in their 1995 recording

of sonatas by Janacek, Debussy, Ravel, and Nielsen for Virgin

Classics.

So tight is the ensemble that the listener is conscious of the music,

rather than the individual instruments. Sometimes it is hard to tell

whether piano or violin is the percussion instrument. Sometimes one

has the eerie sensation that the piano must be playing pizzicato.

The first movement of the Ravel is a model of refinement with both

artists contributing to an infinitely persistent crescendo that grows

seamlessly.

Tetzlaff and Andsnes know each other well enough to relish the risky

pleasure of surprising each other as a performance unfolds. "You

shouldn’t plan precisely," Tetzlaff says. "We have so much

experience and partner so well that we know how to go along in concert

with something that one of us invents at the moment. Hopefully, every

measure has that kind of surprise. While you’re playing a concert,

every measure should sound invented. If we don’t listen very carefully

we will not be an ensemble."

The performer-driven programs of Tetzlaff and Andsnes grow from roots

of a confident frankness. "We give each other a lot of musical

advice," Tetzlaff says. "That’s the great thing about our

long-term relationship. We don’t hold back. Each of us just says what

he thinks will better the performance musically and technically. When

we meet six months or a year later, it’s very good to have someone

who speaks freely. That goes for both of us."

— Elaine Strauss

Duo Recital, McCarter Theater, 91 University Place,

609-258-2787. Christian Tetzlaff, on violin, and Lief Ove Andsnes

on piano. $27 and $30. Monday, January 28, 8 p.m.


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