The Guarneri String Quartet (photo by Erwin Fischer) and Charles Avsharian
Ever wondered just how crazy and/or avant garde your favorite composer was? SHAR Apprentices James Engman and Josephine Llorente have put together this handy graph! It displays, on X and Y axes, the relative sanity and aesthetic taste of your favorite compsers. Agree, disagree, or think the graph needs a slight change? Leave a comment for the SHAR Apprentices below!
I'm not sure how many of you all out there read Jeremy Eichler's profile in The New Yorker on the German violinist Christian Tetzloff. If you have, good on you. If you haven't, you should pick up a copy soon. Most likely the article – and Tetzlaff's approach to music – will challenge your notion of how a violin should sound. However, it's an exciting and important challenge, no matter what you decide about Tetzlaff. Tetzlaff is an well-respected soloist, but he's not a soloist who's found success and recognition by being flamboyant, a crowd-pleaser, or a crossover star. Rather, his success comes from his ability to play "an unusally wide range of tones, from the refined to wild" (Eichler). To put not too fine a point on it, Tetzlaff even once told a a group of students, "Beauty is the enemy of expression!"
Even though many fellow musicians admire Tetzlaff, critics have occassionally been impatient with his playing. This is, of course, because Tetzlaff is upsetting the conventions of the instrument. If Tetzlaff wants to include harsher sounds in his playing, it comes with a price: beauty, and perhaps the ire of listeners who expect the Romantic composers to be played a certain way:
Most important, he [Tetzlaff] refuses to embrace what might be called the School of the Big Tone: the broad, velvety sound, sustained with uniformly wide vibrato, that many listeners in the age of Izhak Perlman have come to think is how a violin should sound. Tetzlaff's palette extends to harsh or crushed tones, even to sounds that he has purposefully leached of color. And older French musician of my aquaitance dislikes Tetzlaff's playing precisely because such ugliness is allowed in the door.
Rather than exhaust Eichler's article, I want to end to send you toward it with a hint of its praise for Tetzlaff. As Eichler demonstrates, audiences do respond to Tetzlaff. Eichler ends the essay with a description of Tetzlaff playing a Bach concert in a medium-sized church (and only two-thirds full) in Dresden. Eichler expresses a quiet but intense admiration for Tetzlaff's playing, and he senses that most of the concertgoers feel the same way as him:
A marathon Bach recital could easily try the endurance of people seated in hard pews, but the concertgoers in Dresden sat in rapt silence. I attributed this to a distinctive aspect of Tetzlaff's charisma. Onstage, many violin soloists adopt a confident swagger, but in Dresden Tetzlaff, as whenever he plays Bach, seemed to expose layer after layer of vulnerability, creating an atmosphere of naked confession.
I'm squirming a little bit in my seat as I write this, but I can't imagine a better concert. Beauty is only one register of expression, and it's a shame that artists often stay there too long. I can imagine other responses to Tetzlaff though. What do you all think? How central is beauty to your playing? How important is a wide range of expression?
Over the years I have purchased sheet music, borrowed violin sheet music from the library, and given away scores upon scores (pun intended) of other pieces of violin sheet music. But of all the pieces that have been given and taken away, I have found that the following five books will stay with me.
As of Wednesday, J.S. Bach would be 327. In honor of his special day, I thought it would be fitting to give homage to one of his greatest works – arguably one of the greatest masterpieces of all time, especially for a stringed instrument – the Chaconne.
One of my favorite bars in Ann Arbor is Old Town Tavern: it's laid-back, unpretentious, and while the food isn't anything to write home about, it's decent bar fare. The drinks are reasonably priced, but not so cheap that you get college students passed out in the corner booths. As one Charles Dickens character from Little Dorrit likes to say, "There's no nonsense about it." In short, it's comfortable.
But now that I've heard about Classical Revolution, a collective of musicians who bring Mendelssohn and Bach and so on to bars in cities like San Francisco and Detroit and Atlanta, and who have a chapter in Ann Arbor, I'm wondering: would a string ensemble belong at Old Town? Is my favorite bar the right place for this music?
I'm not sure if I'd be more worried about the bar losing its atmosphere or the music losing its impact.
SHAR Apprentice Megan Fedor takes delight in Bach's St. Matthew Passion. Part of the joy of this piece, she argues, is its specific, musical representation of the Gospel of St. Matthew.
When asked the question, “What sacred music do you find compelling?” my mind instantly goes to Johann Sebastian Bach and his St. Matthew Passion. What makes this work a masterpiece goes back to Bach’s upbringing, understanding and involvement in the church, and his musical genius.