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Christian Tetzlaff: A Melodic Journey Through Brahms and Personal Loss

by Madonna

Renowned German violinist Christian Tetzlaff, known for his decades-long career and global soloist engagements, finds profound solace and companionship in the timeless compositions of Johannes Brahms. However, his connection to Brahms takes on an even more poignant note, intimately tied to the recent passing of his dear friend and musical collaborator, pianist Lars Vogt.

In a heartfelt interview with VAN magazine, Tetzlaff shared that Brahms played a pivotal role in bidding farewell to Vogt, who succumbed to cancer in late 2022 at the age of 51. Reflecting on their extensive collaborations, including a 2016 recording of all Brahms Violin Sonatas and Trios alongside cellist Tanja Tetzlaff, Christian emphasized the central position Brahms holds in their musical expression.

“Brahms has been core repertoire always – I’ve certainly performed the Brahms Violin Concerto well over 200 times,” Tetzlaff revealed during a phone interview in late November. The forthcoming performances on December 9 and 10 at the Vergennes Opera House with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra mark another occasion for Tetzlaff to showcase the Brahms Violin Concerto under the baton of conductor Jaime Martín.

As Tetzlaff navigates the depths of Brahms’ compositions, he finds a profound duality within the music. “Growing older, what we find about the music of Brahms is that it does talk of the pain and the joy of living. But even in his dark pieces, there is still a major element of solace, or companionship, or friendship that links you to him,” Tetzlaff remarked. He emphasized Brahms’ unique ability to guide listeners through both the shadows and the light, offering a comforting hand amidst the emotional complexities.

Discussing the Brahms Violin Concerto, Tetzlaff illuminated its fascinating narrative, oscillating between sunny tonalities reminiscent of Brahms’ Second Symphony and moments of wild intensity. The violinist shared his deep connection to the piece, highlighting the cadenzas written by Joseph Joachim, Brahms’ contemporary and the concerto’s original soloist.

Tetzlaff expressed admiration for Joachim’s cadenzas, considering them an integral part of the concerto rather than mere virtuosic displays. He underscored the historical connection, as Joachim himself played the cadenza during the concerto’s premiere in 1879, establishing a touching link to the past.

Amidst personal loss and the challenges of the current times, Tetzlaff sees the role of musicians as vital in connecting with emotions and providing solace through music. “Especially in COVID times, in war times – we see our role as musicians is more important than before. Brahms is a vital helping hand in this,” he expressed.

As Tetzlaff prepares to enchant audiences in Los Angeles, playing the Brahms Violin Concerto with a chamber orchestra, he recognizes the unique qualities brought forth by a smaller ensemble. Drawing parallels to Brahms’ preference for both intimate and grand settings, Tetzlaff acknowledges the distinct beauty and clarity a chamber orchestra can bring to the intricate architecture of Brahms’ compositions.

Addressing the question of keeping the Brahms Violin Concerto fresh after numerous performances, Tetzlaff’s response underscores his genuine love for the piece and his unwavering commitment to sharing its enchanting narrative with each new audience. “I’m not playing it to me, I’m playing it to a new audience each time. I love it to bits, I am totally immersed in the piece,” he explained, likening the experience to telling a timeless fairy tale with enduring conviction.

As Christian Tetzlaff continues to navigate the emotional depths of Brahms’ music, his performances serve as a testament to the enduring power of classical compositions and the profound impact they can have on both musicians and audiences alike.

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