Christian Tetzlaff: interview

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Christian Tetzlaff is in London next week for the premiere of Turnage’s ‘Mambo, Blues and Tarantella’. He reveals the secret of keeping it real to Time Out

  • Christian Tetzlaff: interview

    Works old and new receive equal respect from Christian Tetzlaff © Alexandra Vosding

  • Christian Tetzlaff is at home near Frankfurt, snatching as much time with his wife, Diemut, and their three children as he can, for as one of the world’s leading concert violinists he is very much in demand. He is also about to turn his attention to learning ‘Mambo, Blues and Tarantella’, the violin concerto by Mark-Anthony Turnage, which receives its world premiere on Wednesday.

    His initial impression of the piece is reassuring. ‘It doesn’t look very difficult,’ he reflects. ‘It looks enticing and fun to play, but it is not about some weird pyrotechnics.’

    Obviously, working with a living composer is an advantage. Isn’t it? Tetzlaff doesn’t seem to think so, believing that a composer’s intentions are clearly marked on the page. In fact, he will only meet Turnage two days before the concert – once to work together and the next day with the orchestra. Despite the style implied by the title of the concerto, he doesn’t have a jazz or blues background, but as he was chosen by the composer to play it, if his style isn’t appropriate then that will be Turnage’s fault for asking him.

    ‘Exactly,’ Tetzlaff laughs.

    Although the 42-year-old violinist has premiered many concertos – he premieres one new violin concerto a year – he still finds it an exciting process. His repertoire is therefore vast, but at its core is Bach, Brahms and Beethoven. Does he think he has an affinity with these composers because he is German? ‘No. Why? That would mean that I shouldn’t play Czech or British music or whatever.’ The mild-mannered musician is genuinely perplexed by this idea.

    But surely performers have a cultural sympathy with their countrymen’s music. Again, the violinist is sceptical. ‘I am always suspicious of this,’ he says. ‘Some people believe so strongly that they know what to do with a piece of music that they dare to do everything with it.’

    It is clear that Tetzlaff is a bit of a maverick. He plays a modern violin, made by Peter Greiner, and he ignores the interpretations of the classical greats, going back to the ‘original source’ – the score – each time, at the service of the composer, rather than himself. ‘I hope that I bring something very special to every piece that I’ve played,’ he says, qualifying this modestly: ‘That is not to say I’m going to make something out of a piece, for I am convinced that what Schubert, for instance, intended and wrote down is far above my musical creativity.’

    Christian Tetzlaff plays with the LPO on Wed Sept 24 at the Royal Festival Hall.

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