By Sebastian Spreng, Visual Artist and Classical Music Writer
Had Christian Tetzlaff’s second concert not measured up to his first, it would be tempting to call Tetzlaff’s April 26 recital at the New World Symphony the high point of the 2012-2013 season. But that would be unfair, because for the second straight year the American Orchestral Academy’s programming has set a high bar and blazed new trails.
Tetzlaff provided an unforgettable evening. It was a privilege to be overwhelmed by this “musician of musicians,” who alone onstage seemed to be at the center of his universe. He became the center of our universe, engulfing the audience in his music and the Frank Gehry’s concert hall, which served as a fitting cathedral to Bach’s music.
They say Michelangelo was once asked how he managed to turn a block of marble into a magnificent statue. The master replied, “It’s simple; I just removed everything that wasn’t statue.” And the anecdote – so juicy it doesn’t matter if it’s true – well applies to Tetzlaff, as it seems there is nothing in him that is not a musician. With absolute rigor and robust elegance, the German violinist radiated seriousness and honesty combined with flawless virtuosity.
Planted, literally, like a noble oak tree in the middle of the stage, artist and instrument became one so that Bach could be the beginning and the end. The impeccable technical aspects were almost superfluous. Beyond the notes, pure music took over and the audience was led on an inner journey, stirred by the intimate dialogue between performer and composer. In that healthy mixture of asceticism and vehemence, Tetzlaff tends to disappear. His approach to the two Bach Partitas (2 and 3) set out from the noblest tradition and arrived at another – more inquisitive and venturesome – shore, finding at the crossroads the timelessness essential to the composer. Between the two ends, which he tied with natural skill, Tetzlaff captured an endless spectrum of colors and nuances resulting in an amazing choral “a capella.”
Rounding out the program was Brahms’ Second Quintet, in which the violinist led four members of the orchestra. A fitting ending that showed Tetzlaff’s commitment to and affinity with chamber music. No wonder he heads the acclaimed Tetzlaff Quartet, one of the world’s premier chamber music ensembles.
The following night the orchestra joined in, and Brahms continued to lead the way with his Violin Concerto, in which Tetzlaff again displayed his superlative talent, maturity and technique.
Both natives of Hamburg, composer and performer convey expertly the particular nostalgia of that rainy Hanseatic city. The Old Germany that Brahms embodied gained new luster from Tetzlaff’s modern perspective. The unmistakable melancholy and emphatic expression so dear to the Brahmsian spirit could not have been better rendered. And the orchestra, masterfully conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas, matched the soloist’s efficiency and majesty, from the famous oboe theme to the tonal splendor of the strings and brass.
In response to the audience’s fervor, the violinist played a calming Bach piece that served as the perfect introduction to the grand finale, performed by the orchestra.
An outstanding rendition of Mahler’s Fourth Symphony marked Michael Tilson Thomas’ last concert of the season. The conductor shone with a special aura that night, as did his orchestra, which finished the 2012-2013 series displaying enviable preparation and output.
As if that weren’t enough, the Fourth Symphony’s dreamscape is ideally suited to the musical group’s youth and style. Changes in atmosphere and mood, playful moments and a wealth of fresh emotions are the hallmarks of this work inspired by the collection of German folk poetry Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Magic Horn of Youth) and composed during the last summer of the 19th century. Thomas succeeded in capturing that summer clarity, full of Mozart-like pastoral elegance, which is nevertheless – in color and spirit – absolutely Viennese. He imbued each of the first three movements with just the right touches of lyricism, mockery and serenity and set the scene for delicate soprano Kiera Duffy’s performance of the Das himmlische Leben (The Heavenly Life), an appropriate epilogue for an evening that provided a taste of celestial delights.
Living proof was the audience that filled the theatre, plus the more than 2,000 music lovers who enjoyed the wallcast from the park on a Miamian moonlit night that seemed almost too perfect. It was another unexpected element that justifies filing more of a report than a review and that reflected, like no other, Das himmlische Leben.