Reed Tetzloff – worthy heir to the American spirit of pianism

Critics don’t easily assign adjectives like: “enthralls audiences with his magical tone,” (The Cincinnati Enquirer) and “ebullient virtuosity,” (Gramophone Magazine) unless marking a mature artist, concertizing for the better part of an established career.

Such praise associated with the merely twenty-seven-year-old American pianist Reed Tetzloff from Minneapolis, Minnesota, is a telltale sign of how extraordinarily this young artist’s talent evolves within today’s classical piano presence, densely populated with numerous ascending protagonists of the art form.

As a semi-finalist during the XV International Tchaikovsky Competition in 2015, Tetzloff was dubbed by Russian media as the “lyric hero of the competition,” comparing him to the young Van Cliburn, a notion that since struck a chord with critics and audience alike.

But unlike in the times of the 1958 Ticker-Tape Parade that celebrated Van Cliburn, Tetzloff felt that his talent rather disconnected him from his peers at school: “Piano playing was not regarded as ‘cool’, and I tried to adapt and hide my true affinity for the piano,” he describes. “When I started attending a new school in the seventh grade, for the entire first year, none of my classmates even knew I was playing the piano.”  While he, at that time, occasionally struggled to see his identity in light of his musical talent, the turning point came when he attended a summer music festival directed by his teacher at the time, Dr. Paul Wirth.  “I made many friends there, with whom I was finally able to share my passion,” he explains. These friendships continued away from the festival, providing the social framework he had been missing. There was a whole world out there to connect with, and other young people who cared deeply about music, just as he did. And then, of course, there was the entire repertoire of masterpieces, guiding him in a philosophical understanding of his own humanity and the world around him.

The more deeply the inspiration of the music led to recognizing the scores’ wisdom and truth, the more compelled Tetzloff felt to perform and express that truth. Refining his expressive skills during his studies with Pavlina Dokovska, the Mannes School of Music’s Piano Department Chair, he also explored the Schenkerian method under the famed Carl Schachter, and credits Fred Fehleisen, a professor of music history and of a memorable Bach-intensive course, with encouraging his search for rhetorical truth and context in a score.  Tetzloff often reaches for extra-musical mediums: poetry, literature, art, for inspiration. “I often read a line and come back to the piano, knowing how to play a phrase,” he says.

“Charles Ives’ Concord Sonata, for example, was a piece that I could sink my teeth into, and it changed who I was,” he says. “It’s based on the American Transcendentalist literature of the mid-19th century, such as Emerson—whom I love—and both that writing and Ives’ music carry a message of self-reliance and of the connection between nature and the inner world—all of which inspire me deeply,” he says.  “Ives explained that the score of the ‘Concord’ was only an approximate guideline, that the performer is responsible for playing it in whatever way the philosophical and literary ‘hints’ move them.  This can—and should—vary dramatically from one performance of the work to another.  In the process of searching for my own truth in Ives’ music, I began to further discover my own voice in everything I play.”

“Scriabin has also been an important composer for me.  Playing his music required me to emotionally let go and dive into his wild mysticism—one can only play Scriabin well when willing to do so, otherwise one should not play him at all, I feel.  Of course, what I learned from Scriabin is true for all music.  We have to understand and enter the world of the music and of the composer.”
Scriabin Valse in A flat major, Op 38 | Reed Tetzloff

When preparing a piece, I don’t like to listen to recordings, as I don’t want to be influenced too much; I would hate to affect my instinct and conception. I first like to come to my own conclusions, but I might later listen to an existing recording of the piece. I do find it important to listen to as much of the composer’s entire oeuvre as possible, to understand how a piece stands in relation to other works of that composer.”

His recently released debut recording, mindfully titled:” Sounds of Transcendence,” is a remarkable compilation of works by Scriabin, the relatively unknown American composer Charles Tomlinson Griffes, and César Franck’s Prelude, Chorale, and Fugue. “I always marvel at how music expresses every possible aspect of the human condition,” he describes in the liner notes.  “Through the music on this program, I hope to hint at some of the encounters with transcendence which come, at some point or another, to all of us,” he writes.

Its sublime otherworldliness, apparent in Tetzloff’s deep and securely anchored musicality, is expressed through his emotive quality of coloration, poetic lyricism, and a sense of reverent spirituality.

A big fan of the theater pedagogue Konstantin Stanislavski’s ‘system,’ which cultivates what Stanislavski calls the “art of experiencing” (to which he contrasts the “art of representation“), mobilizing conscious thought and will in order to activate less-controllable psychological processes, Tetzloff believes in this kind of activated spontaneity of approach: “The best analysis of a play”, Stanislavski argued, “is to take action in the given circumstances.”

Perhaps that explains, despite all its deeply felt characteristics, Tetzloff’s always fresh and spontaneous sound.

Lately, Tetzloff had opportunities to broaden his experience in collaborative performance. In two extraordinary exciting events, he joined forces with cellist Alexis Pia Gerlach and bass baritone Mark S.Doss, with refined sensitivity, yet sovereign power.  He looks forward to a solo recital this July in the Grand Piano Series of Naples, FL, as well as his fourth tour of Belgium, with solo and concerto performances in the fall of 2019.