Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Prime of Christian Tetzlaff

The San Francisco Symphony concert this week was extraordinary, thanks to the German violin soloist Christian Tetzlaff above who gave a performance of the Bartok Second Violin Concerto that was instantly historic and legendary for anyone who had the good luck to hear him live. The piece is late Bartok, fiendishly difficult and fragmentary, with what seems like about 90 seconds of rest for the soloist in the entire 40-minute work. Tetzlaff played the long concerto from memory, with his eyes closed most of the time, and used just about every technique possible to bring out the expressive qualities of his instrument.

There was a stunned silence after the first movement on Friday evening that rippled into a smattering of applause by a few audience members, including myself, which Tetzlaff briefly and charmingly acknowledged before Michael Tilson Thomas turned around and gave a sidelong look at the audience clearly communicating, "Don't you dare interrupt this piece."

The concerto and the performance just kept building over the exquisite slow movement and the wild, glittery finale until you wondered what the hell Tetzlaff was going to do next. A woman writer friend said at intermission, "He's probably the best violinist in the world right now. And he's getting better looking every year as he gets older. How does that work?" We already knew Tetzlaff was a god after his performance of the Ligeti concerto in 2012, but this was total confirmation. We are not worthy.

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