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Violinist Christian Tetzlaff says ‘I am a family man’

“Mostly, I am a family man,” said violinist Christian Tetzlaff in a phone interview ahead of his upcoming debut concert as the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra’s artist-in-residence this year.

“Family, of course, is the most important thing in life,” the father of six continued. “But the support in really difficult and desperate times -- yes, playing and listening to music can really give a lot to most people -- to know that we are sharing grief and that sharing joy in concerts. This is the reason I am doing it,” Tetzlaff added. 

Violinist Christian Tetzlaff, the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra’s artist-in-residence this year (SPO)
Violinist Christian Tetzlaff, the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra’s artist-in-residence this year (SPO)

Tetzlaff will hold concerts from Saturday to Monday. During his two visits to Korea this year -- one this month and another in September -- Tetzlaff will introduce a wide range of classical music, including Szymanowski’s Violin Concerto, Suk’s Piano Quintet and Beethoven’s Violin Concerto. 

“We hopefully will manage to get the people really close to the music,” said Tetzlaff, who also expressed gratitude for the opportunity to build “a bit more of contact with the audience than just coming for one concert, going back home and not coming back for three or four years.”

On Saturday at Seoul Arts Center, the German violinist will perform Szymanowski’s Violin Concerto No. 1 -- “one of our great violin concerti of all time,” known for its visceral and “erotic” sounds -- and Strauss’ Alpine Symphony, with conductor Markus Stenz conducting the SPO.

“Stenz is an inspiring and confident musician,” Tetzlaff said. “When we were together (collaborating in the past), I really liked it, this is why I am very happy to start the residency with him.”

“The role of a soloist in a concerto is slightly different because one is leading a bit more in terms of the more important part,” the violinist said of being a soloist in different settings.

“But still the only person of interest is the composer -- let’s say Ludwig Van Beethoven. If the orchestra, oboe, clarinet or flute have soli, of course the violinist is also (one of many) musicians who is just accompanying or listening and following other members of the orchestra.

“It is not about only the soloist and how well he is loved by the audience. It is only about the meaning of the composition,” Tetzlaff said.

“There are some soloists who stand in front of the orchestra and dictate everything and say what I do is the most important. But that does not have anything to do with the music of freedom and connection with the orchestra, and especially has nothing to do with serving the composer,” he continued.

His appreciation of composers started when he was very young: It began with a thick encyclopedia of great composers his parents gave to 10-year-old Tetzlaff.

“They have always been my heroes,” said Tetzlaff.

The violinist admires “the idea of creating and sharing your soul with other people” as well as passion to share innermost feelings.

“You have to make the composers speak to the audience. You grasp the emotion and the story of the pieces you are playing and make the audience really involved with it,” Tetzlaff said, emphasizing what a musician should focus on while performing.

Looking back on his childhood, Tetzlaff shared memories of how he became a musician. He also expressed concerns about youngsters preparing to become musicians. “One shouldn’t go too fast,” he said.

“I always stress that practicing a lot is not very good for young people. I remember that when I was 11 or 12, I would practice one hour or 1 1/2 at the most. I really enjoyed playing in a youth orchestra or in family. It was never the training for, so to say, to become a soloist. It was more a training to be a musician.” he said.

“When I was 15, I remember that I -- for the first time -- practiced three hours, and I thought, ‘Wow how brave.’”

“I know that the current tendency is for very young players to practice like mad, and I see that not so happily because I think many of those develop physical problems in their arm and also develop problems in their hearts. You should only do what you only like to do and work only as much as you feel is good for you. Some parents and teachers forget about that,” Tetzlaff added.

“In the long run, it is only about a person. How deep a person feels, and how sincerely a person expresses a composer.”

Tetzlaff, who is also the first violin at the world-famous Tetzlaff Quartett, also spoke about his expectations for his chamber music concerts with the SPO members.

“(Another) thing I am looking forward to a lot is performing with orchestra musicians in the quintet pieces. Because I don’t know them, we will have such a wonderful opportunity to get to know each other closely.”

Tetzlaff will perform Dvorak’s String Quintet No. 3 with SPO members at the Seoul Anglican Cathedral in central Seoul on Monday. On Sept. 7, he will perform Suk’s Piano Quintet with pianist Kiveli Dorken and SPO members at the Sejong Center.

“We only do it in one performance, and it has to be right away. (It’s) not like we are planning for the next five years, we would work on this piece and try to get one secured interpretation. This has come to be necessarily very spontaneous. We would have our ears wide open to listen to each other and to make this work within a short time,” Tetzlaff said of his expectations for the upcoming chamber concert at the Anglican cathedral.

Chamber music can offer the audience a more intimate and extreme experience, according to Tetzlaff. “The involvement of the audience in chamber music concerts sometimes happens to be even bigger (compared to the involvement in concertos by orchestras),” he said.

Monday’s concert program also features Bach’s Partita No. 2 and Sonata No. 3.

“They are (an) epic poem and constant inspiration for me to work on. The six together tell the most amazing story. They are unique in all the centuries of our music. The big structure of two hours and fifteen minutes tells one long story of loss and regaining hope. It is so deep and touching and immediate in the response of the audience,” Tetzlaff said.

Having performed the Bach pieces for decades, Tetzlaff said, “Now I feel like I really can talk with them and walk through them.”

Asked about his favorite composers, the violinist named Brahms as his all-time favorite.

Among composers of the 20th and 21st centuries, he chose Bela Bartok, Alban Berg, Jorg Widmann and Gyorgy Ligeti, who died in 2006.

Covering a wide range of music, Tetzlaff, however, says he is very “picky” in selecting his repertoire.

“I only play the pieces that I am really crazy about. I am very picky because I only play what I can really live in,” he said.

“I am not into a special period, usually. But now at the moment I am adding a piece to my repertoire, which is the Elgar Violin Concerto, which I first played in May 2018. This is a big joy. I am just starting to look at it and liking what I see,” Tetzlaff said, adding that he plans to put that piece in his repertoire for the concerts scheduled this year.

By Shim Woo-hyun (