For many international artists, playing chamber music is associated with the holidays. With the hectic city-hopping season left behind, the summer is a time to settle down for a week or two in a beautiful location – Aspen, Verbier, Tanglewood – and perform in temporary ensembles.
The members of the Tetzlaff Quartet also enjoy busy careers of course, but their dedication to chamber music, and indeed to each other, means making time within the season itself. ‘Every year we do one or two tours,’ says Christian Tetzlaff as he explains that, while the quartet only meet rarely, they continue to grow together as an ensemble.
The group has been doing this for 16 years, but it is not a set-up without challenges. Rehearsal periods are hard to organise, for example, and as second violinist Elisabeth Kufferath says, ‘We all live in different cities, so there are logistical issues’. But for Tetzlaff, there are distinct advantages to coming together only sporadically. ‘We have been playing together for a long time now but we are still eager for those few weeks together,’ he says. ‘I am not saying that full-time quartets lose that eagerness, but we feel that we gain a sense of spontaneity and a good feeling on stage, precisely because we have so few opportunities to do it.’
Inevitably, the quartet’s repertoire is selective. Choosing works to perform from such a large catalogue is, Tetzlaff says, ‘done on instinct’. It is interesting to note that many of the composers to whom the quartet often return are less regularly performed by other string quartets. This trend began on day one. ‘We first met at a festival in Austria and played just one piece there together, the Schoenberg D minor quartet,’ he says. ‘We worked on it for a whole week.’
The ensemble’s most recent recording pairs the Schoenberg quartet with another D minor (and rarely heard) work, and the final piece performed in the quartet’s concert at Queen Elizabeth Hall on Thursday 21 October, Voces intimae by Sibelius. It is not a particular surprise to find Tetzlaff championing Sibelius’ music; he has recorded the composer’s complete works for violin on the Virgin Classics label. ‘For us it is one of the great quartets,’ says Tetzlaff of Voces intimae, ‘but it has been completely and utterly neglected for the past 100 years. For many famous string quartets, Sibelius was a persona non grata.’ Elisabeth Kufferath agrees. ‘It is a piece that is not played very much, and even among our musician friends, there is a feeling that the Sibelius is a strange piece. For us, it is strange in such a deep, wonderful and emotional way.’
Tetzlaff is similarly passionate about Dvořák. ‘The chamber music works of Dvořák mean a lot to me,’ he says. ‘I have performed vast amounts of his music at the Heimbach Festival. Dvořák’s late works especially are some of the best chamber music we have.’
It is not just the personal choice of repertoire that makes Tetzlaff Quartet tours so eagerly anticipated by the players, but also friendship. ‘We enjoy playing together and inspiring each other but, more than anything, we’re great friends’ says Elisabeth Kufferath. She is certainly inspired by Tetzlaff, whom she describes as ‘a wonderful musician, the best you could fathom and more.’ For Tetzlaff, chamber music itself is a ‘medium for friends to speak to each other of intimate things’. Such camaraderie, musical and personal, will certainly sustain the quartet as they perform the seven European concerts that precede their appearance at Southbank Centre on 21 October, the final of the tour.
© Tim Woodall, 2010
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Filed under: Chamber music, Classical season 10-11, Get to know..., Misc, Queen Elizabeth Hall | Tagged: Christian Tetzlaff, Classical, classical music, Dvorak, Haydn, International Chamber Music Season 2010-11, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Sibelius, Southbank Centre, string quartet, Tetzlaff Quartet, violin | Leave a Comment »