The Fiddler's Pavarotti
I walked out of the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) concert at Davies Hall after intermission last Sunday afternoon. It wasn’t because I hated what I had just heard; it was because I loved it!
I’ve discovered after long experience that if you leave the concert hall after a great performance –and I had just heard a great performance of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Violin Concerto #3 played by Christian Tetzlaff and the SFS—you leave on a high that can last for many hours.
But if you stay, not only do you risk that high but if something mediocre or bad follows, you might wind up leaving the concert hall on a sour note.
Bad can contaminate the good in music as elsewhere.
And there was so much good to protect at last Sunday’s intermission.
SFS’s artistic management deserves high praise for matching Tetzlaff with the Mozart #3.
The German violinist has a distinct story-telling quality to his playing. “Telling a story is the only thing that interests me in music,” Tetzlaff confided in a recent telephone interview from Kansas City on tour with the SFS.
What could be better suited to a concerto that has a strong opera bent to it than a musician who loves telling a story.
The opening theme of the first movement appears in the aria, “Aer tranquillo e di serena” in Mozart’s opera, ‘Il Re Pastore”-- and the music breaks into a brief recitative for solo violin just before the recapitulation section of the first movement.
Tetzlaff referred to the “aria quality of the soaring melody” of the second movement, labeling it a “clear love story followed by a short serenade”.
If only today’s opera singers could sing like Tetzlaff plays, I might start going to opera again.
The third and final movement of the concerto (Rondo Finale) is bright and happy like the first but the main narrative is interrupted by tempo and meter changes that create a certain balletic and ‘other room’ feel often encountered in the operas of Mozart’s day.
But though Tetzlaff might be considered an opera singer with a fiddle, the German violinist is the opposite of the stand-and-deliver singers one often encounters on the opera stage.
He dances, gesticulates and rocks to-and-fro when he plays, putting his whole body and amazing technical virtuosity to work in what seems to be a holy process of communication between composer and public with Tetzlaff intermediating.
Communication is everything to Tetzlaff who went out of his way to note that it’s not only the old masters that have interesting things to say. He mentioned the violin concerto of Gyorgy Ligeti he recently played that was filled with stories to tell. “It is wrong to think that there are no stories in contemporary music”.
Towards the end of our conversation we talked about the current music scene in Germany. I pointed out that there were precious few German conductors presently making their mark on the world’s concert stages.
Tetzlaff offered the interesting theory that maybe the scarcity was a reaction to authoritarian figures of the past like Herbert von Karajan that younger German musicians were not picking up the baton.
And he spontaneously countered that while the supply of great German conductors may have dried up there has been a virtual boom in the number of outstanding German violinists currently making the rounds.
He pointed to Anne-Sophie Mutter, Frank Peter Zimmermann, Julia Fischer, Isabelle Faust and I told him—don’t forget yourself, perhaps the best of them all.
In truth, the two great German stars of the violin are Anne-Sophie (whom I call the ‘Queen Mutter’ of the violin) and Tetzlaff.
It would be negligent not to mention the absolutely first-rate accompaniment offered Tetzlaff last Sunday by the San Francisco players led by Michael Tilson Thomas.
When there is a great artist on stage with MTT, he never lets them down!
Listening to this performance I couldn’t help but think that the soon-to-be departing SFS music director should have done more Mozart during his long tenure in San Francisco.
On April 27th, Mr. Tetzlaff will appear with the Tetzlaff Trio, which includes the pianist Lars Vogt and his sister Tanya Tetzlaff on cello, at SF’s Herbst Theater under the auspices of San Francisco Performances.
Be there or be square!