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Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra debuts some new faces

| Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Conductor Michael Francis Credit: Chris Christodoulou

More than fresh faces will be on display when two musicians make their Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra debuts at concerts over the final weekend of January.

The debut of German violinist Christian Tetzlaff is particularly overdue.

Now 46, Tetzlaff actively pursues the full range of repertoire, not only from old to new, but also from concerti to chamber music, including string quartets and recitals. His programming shows keen musical intelligence, finding new perspectives with unusual juxtapositions of repertoire.

Michael Francis will conduct the Pittsburgh Symphony, with Christian Tetzlaff as violin soloist, at concerts Friday to Sunday at Heinz Hall, Downtown.

Francis, a young conductor who took up the baton while a member of the bass section of the London Symphony Orchestra, will open with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Symphony No. 40 in G minor. After Tetzlaff plays Anton Dvorak's Violin Concerto, the concert will conclude with two colorful Slavic tone poems — “Sarka” from “Ma Vlast” (My Country) by Bedrich Smetana and “Taras Bulba” by Leos Janacek.

Tetzlaff comes to Pittsburgh at the end of a busy month in Europe during which he's performed Johannes Brahms' Violin Concerto, a mixed recital, Felix Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto and Brahms' three Violin Sonatas.

The violinist says he is the personal factor plotted against something big in nature in the Dvorak Concerto and that the piece begins with “a quite serious attitude, not devastatingly dark, in a proud, serious mood.” The concerto's form is not unusual, with a slow-moving second movement he characterizes as a beautifully sung aria and a joyous finale.

“It's all about the language of the music, (Dvorak's) language and orchestration,” says Tetzlaff. “The problematic part of the piece is that the violin writing is quite unusual, a bit more difficult than it sounds. We prefer it, usually, the other way around. But that doesn't mean it's not a great piece.”

Tetzlaff's wide-ranging repertoire developed naturally, fed over time by curiosity.

“I sampled one composer after another when I was 12 or 13, when I was playing all the time in orchestras — (Anton) Bruckner and other things for young people, which are overwhelming, direct and easy to grasp in an emotional way,” he says. “Later on, I got a strong liking for Mozart and (Franz) Schubert. At the same time, I was playing quite a lot of more contemporary music, such as starting with (Bela) Bartok and (Alban) Berg especially.”

Tetzlaff makes it a point to perform a world premiere every year. He likes having connections with composers.

Yet, he notes that, statistically, his core repertoire is mainstream: Ludwig Beethoven leads with 250 performances followed by Johannes Brahms with 180 to 190.

“I like to play and then the best pieces appeal to me more and more. I've never, never had the feeling that playing them so often takes away,” he says. “I get more confident and more in love with them when I play them.”

Mark Kanny is classical music critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or mkanny@tribweb.com.

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