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
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,
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
concert venues, the relatively new Harris Concert Hall in Aspen,
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
when you play it again there is the new evening and the piece has
to click with the audience." In 1997 Tetzlaff performed the
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
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,
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
Tetzlaff studied with Professor Uwe-Martin Haiberg at the Lubeck
whom he describes as "a very, very good musician, player, and
teacher." Tetzlaff calls Haiberg "my basic musical
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
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
So our rehearsals are more a matter of refreshing the pieces and
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
digested the piece. It’s always a wonderful feeling."
As Tetzlaff tells it, the duo has an exceptional capacity for
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
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
were considered rubbish. Now Beethoven’s metronome markings are
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
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
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
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
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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