LSO International Violin Festival: Meet Christian Tetzlaff

To continue the LSO International Violin Festival Christian Tetzlaff will perform Beethoven's sublime Violin Concerto. We find out more about him, and the concerto he has performed a staggering 280 times, in this blog.

Christian Tetzlaff

Christian Tetzlaff was born in Hamburg and began playing the violin at the age of 6, making his concert debut aged 14. He later studied at the Lübeck Conservatory with Uwe-Martin Haiberg and in Cincinnati with Walter Levin. He made his breakthrough as a soloist in 1988, at the age of 22, when he performed Schoenberg's Violin Concerto with the Cleveland Orchestra and the Munich Philharmonic.  

He offers this advice to aspiring musicians: 'a healthy attitude to violin-playing and music-making can only be achieved by a love of music-making. Practising like a madman is a possible way of destroying that love; be careful of wrecking that joy.'

LSO History

Christian Tetzlaff made his LSO debut in 2009 performing the Widmann Violin Concerto under the baton of LSO Principal Guest Conductor Daniel Harding, who will also be conducting the concert this Sunday. Harding and Tetzlaff have a close working relationship and have recently released a recording of the Widmann Concerto with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra. Tetzlaff has performed with the LSO on numerous occasions, including several European tours; 'I love performing with the LSO and I love being on tour with them,' he says. 'Its sheer fantastic quality aside, the LSO is also an orchestra that I just enjoy being with.'

The Concerto

Tetzlaff has performed Beethoven's Violin Concerto a staggering 280 times! 'It might sound weird to somebody who is not doing it all the time,' he says, 'but it is a total joy, because it is a complex, big and difficult piece. The background of all those performances makes me very happy – it makes me freer – than I have ever been ... I've played it in so many different settings, and with so many different conductors and orchestras and places that it, well, it's a big part of me and I have gained freedom through that.'

'Each performance is different, even if you play it with the same orchestra on tour ten times. The frame is the same, but every single line, how you feel – it’s not about ‘today, I’m going to do this or this’ ... it’s about how your body works and how your heart is at that moment ... you will find different interpretations. People may think ‘he has done it too many times; what’s the point for him?’ The point is to really convince this audience, on this night, of the total beauty of the piece, and that job never changes ... the challenge is always the same.' 

The Violin

The only modern violin in the festival, Tetzlaff's fiddle was made in 2002 by Stefan-Peter Greiner. It is his third instrument by the German luthier, whose instruments he has played since 2002 when he gave up the Stradivarius he had been loaned. 'If I were to play a Strad and a Guarneri in a double-blind test with my Greiner, I am sure that no one could tell which was the new instrument,' he told the Strad. 'When I play with orchestras, if they don't know what I'm playing, they always ask if it's a Strad or a Guarneri.' Tetzlaff switched to this 2002 Greiner two years ago because he 'found this one to be more sweet and soft than the one before.' 

Tetzlaff told the LSO: ‘[The violin] is incredibly powerful ... it’s good to have a violin that cuts through easily, but I’m happy that this instrument also offers a lot of shading and good, sweet colours. I think we always strive for a balance between those two, because the halls, of course, are bigger than they used to be before Stradivarius made his violins – and so we need to find a compromise.'

Some excerpts originally printed in The Strad and re-printed with permission.

Christian Tetzlaff appears in the LSO International Violin Festival at LSO St Luke's on Thursday 21 May, performing work by Bach, and at the Barbican on Sunday 24 May, performing Beethoven's Violin Concerto.
Buy tickets to the concert on Thursday 21 May
Buy tickets to the concert on Sunday 24 May - RETURNS ONLY

We'll be getting to know the stars of the Violin Festival on the LSO blog throughout the Festival, so keep checking back to read our latest interviews and behind-the-scenes stories.