Tetzlaff Plays Elgar

Fri, June 14, 2024 6:30 pm
Sat, June 15, 2024 7:30 pm


Grant Park Orchestra

Grant Park Chorus

Carlos Kalmar, conductor

Christopher Bell, chorus director

Christian Tetzlaff, violin

Lauren Decker, contralto


Edward Elgar

Violin Concerto
Allegro molto

Christian Tetzlaff, violin


Gustav Holst

The Cloud Messenger

Lauren Decker, contralto


Jay Pritzker Pavilion


Approx. 120 minutes including 20 minute intermission


This program is generously supported as part of the Dehmlow Choral Music Series. The appearance of Lauren Decker is graciously made possible with support from the David H. Whitney and Juliana Y. Chyu Next Generation Vocalist Fund. Organ provided by Triune Music/S.B. Smith & Associates. 


Christian Tetzlaff


Christian Tetzlaff has been one of the most sought-after violinists and most exciting musicians on the classical music scene for many years. “The greatest performance of the work I’ve ever heard,” wrote Tim Ashley (The Guardian, May 2015) of his interpretation of the Beethoven Violin Concerto with the London Symphony Orchestra and conductor Daniel Harding.

Concerts with Christian Tetzlaff often turn into an existential experience for both the interpreter and the audience; suddenly old familiar works appear in a completely new light. In addition, he frequently turns his attention to forgotten masterpieces such as Joseph Joachim’s Violin Concerto which he successfully championed, and he also attempts to bring important new works into the repertoire such as Jörg Widmann’s Violin Concerto, which he premiered in 2013. He has an unusually extensive repertoire and performs approximately 100 concerts every year.

Born in Hamburg in 1966 and now living in Berlin with his family, there are three things that make this musician unique, aside from his astounding skill on the violin. He interprets the musical manuscript in a literal fashion, perceives music as a language, and views great works as narratives which reflect existential experiences. As obvious as it may sound, he brings an unusual approach in his daily concert routine.

Christian Tetzlaff tries to follow the manuscript as closely as possible – without regard for “performance tradition” and without indulging in the usual technical short-cuts on the violin – often allowing a renewed clarity and richness to arise in well-known works. As a violinist Tetzlaff tries to disappear from the music – paradoxically this makes his interpretations very personal.

Secondly, Christian Tetzlaff “speaks” through his violin. Like human speech, his playing comprises a wide range of expressive means and is not aimed solely at achieving harmoniousness or virtuosic brilliance.

Above all, however, he interprets the masterpieces of musical history as stories about first-hand experiences. The great composers have focused on intense feelings, great happiness and deep crises in their music; as a musician Christian Tetzlaff also explores the limits of feelings and musical expression. Many pieces deal with none other than life and death. Christian Tetzlaff’s aim is to convey this to his audience.

Christian Tetzlaff played in various youth orchestras for many years. His teacher at the Lübeck University of Music was Uwe-Martin Haiberg, for whom musical interpretation was the key to mastering violin technique, rather than the other way round.

Christian Tetzlaff founded his own string quartet in 1994, and until now chamber music is still as important to him as his work as a soloist with and without the orchestra.

The Tetzlaff Quartett received the Diapason d’or in 2015, and the trio with sister Tanja Tetzlaff and pianist Lars Vogt was nominated for a Grammy award. Christian Tetzlaff has also received numerous awards for his CD recordings, including the “Jahrespreis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik” in 2018, the “Diapason d’or” in July 2018 and the Midem Classical Award in 2017. The new  Ondine recording of Beethoven and Sibelius violin concertos with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin and Robin Ticciati is highly anticipated in autumn 2019.

Of special significance is his solo recording of Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas, which he has recorded for the third time and was released in September 2017. The Strad magazine praised this recording as “an attentive and lively answer to the beauty of Bach’s solos”.

Christian Tetzlaff plays a violin made by the German violin maker Peter Greiner and teaches regularly at the Kronberg Academy.

Lauren Decker


Rising star Lauren Decker possesses a booming contralto with “amber low notes” that is in a league of its own—lauded for “pouring out a dark, chocolatey sound with a plushness of tone and amplitude of voice rarely heard in a young singer.”

Ms. Decker’s 2022/23 season ushers in impressive operatic debuts for nearly every venue and role: Toledo Opera’s Cavalleria rusticana / Suor Angelica (Mamma Lucia / Principessa), Madison Opera’s Salome (Herodias), Palm Beach Opera’s Falstaff (Quickly), Dayton Opera’s Das Rheingold (Erda),  and Haymarket Opera Company’s Marc’Antonio e Cleopatra (Marc’Antonio). She is also engaged to feature as a soloist in Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 with Richmond Symphony, Mendelssohn’s Elijah with The Florida Orchestra, and Handel’s Messiah with Camerata Chicago.

Recent seasons brim with notable debuts at esteemed venues, including San Francisco Orchestra in Elgar’s Sea Pictures—a signature work for her, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, Opera Philadelphia in Rigoletto (Giovanna), and Aspen Music Festival as a Renée Fleming Artist in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, Die Zauberflöte (Third Lady), and Rodelinda (Eduige). She has also performed with South Dakota Symphony as Maria Aegyptiaca in Mahler’s Symphony No. 8, the Bozeman Symphony in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, Frankly Music in Brahms’ Two Songs for Voice, the Elmhurst Symphony Orchestra in Verdi’s Requiem, the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, and the Harare International Festival of the Arts in Zimbabwe.

As an alumna of the Ryan Opera Center at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Ms. Decker assumed an abundance of roles while working with a cadre of world-renowned leaders in the art form. After her company debut as the Third Lady in Die Zauberflöte, she would go on to perform in Die Walküre (Schwertleite), Dead Man Walking (Jade Boucher), Elektra (First Maid), Il trovatore (Inez), I puritani (Enrichetta di Francia), and La traviata (Annina). Covers included Das Rheingold / Siegfried (Erda), Götterdämmerung (1st Norn), Cendrillon (Madame de la Haltière), Les Troyens (Hécuba/Anna), and Faust (Marthe Schwertlein). She was also seen as Miss Todd in The Old Maid and the Thief at the Grant Park Music Festival, and featured in Harris Theater’s ‘Beyond the Aria’ series.

In competition, Ms. Decker was a quarterfinalist in the 2019 Operalia competition in Prague, is a recent recipient of the Richard F. Gold career grant, and was a national semifinalist in the 2018 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, after having received two Encouragement Awards at their Upper Midwest Region. Ms. Decker was a winner of both the 2019 Edith Newfield Scholarship from Chicago’s Musicians Club of Women and the 2018 Lola Fletcher scholarship in voice with the American Opera Society of Chicago. She has also participated in the Britten-Pears Young Artist Programme, Dolora Zajick’s Institute for Young Dramatic Voices, the American Wagner Project, and the Georg Solti Accademia di Bel Canto.


Edward Elgar (1857-1934)

Concerto in B minor for Violin & Orchestra, op.61 (1909)

Scored for: two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, three bassoons including contrabassoon, four French horns, two trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, strings, and solo violin

Performance time: 48 minutes

First Grant Park Orchestra performance

British composer Edward Elgar had a penchant for puzzles and ciphers and understood their power in drumming up publicity for his compositions. The most famous example is Elgar’s Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 36, popularly known as the Enigma Variations. Each of the fourteen movements presents a musical sketch of a person in his life. These figures are not explicitly stated, but scholars have decoded the hidden muses. For instance, the most famous movement, “Nimrod,” is a nod to Elgar’s publisher Augustus Jaeger (“Jaeger” being the German word for “hunter” and “Nimrod” being a hunter in the Bible). In addition to these musical characterizations, Elgar claims to have hidden an “Enigma” deep within the piece—that another famous piece of music is a musical counterpoint to the work’s theme. Numerous solutions have been proposed, but we will likely never know the definite answer, if there even is one. 

In a similar vein, Elgar deliberately created an air of mystery around his Violin Concerto in B Minor by inscribing it with the words, “Aquí está encerrada el alma de…..” (“Herein is enshrined the soul of…..”). These five dots have spurred as much discussion as the music itself. One theory posits that it references his friend Alice Stuart-Wortley, whom he called “Windflower” to avoid confusion with his wife, also named Alice. Alice knew her husband’s “friendships” with younger women and may have even encouraged them to fuel his creativity. He wrote to Windflower throughout the agonizing compositional process and even peppered the score with so-called “Windflower themes,” namely, the gentle second subject of the first movement. Regardless of the dedicatee(s), there are multiple musical allusions throughout the concerto that only Elgar and a select few understood. 

The Violin Concerto in B Minor opens with a long orchestral exposition. Bursts of short musical ideas churn as Elgar avoids defining the key. The second theme, full of pathos, builds in anticipation of the violin soloist’s entrance. The soloist restates the opening melody, finally ushering in some harmonic resolution. What ensues is contemplative but still restless. The transformation and recombination of the previous themes bring the movement to a powerful conclusion.  

After the gentle opening of the Andante, the soloist introduces a plaintive melody in the violin’s middle register. The movement is generally more static than the opening Allegro movement but still traverses various harmonic realms. If you listen carefully, you might spot one of Elgar’s musical allusions: the distinctive “Tristan chord” that opens Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. After a virtuosic leaping phrase, the violin lands on the soft bed of the Tristan chord in the low brass, which recurs a few moments later under the violin’s ascending chromatic scale.  

In the finale, the suppressed tension of the Andante bubbles to the surface. The soloist proceeds with even greater virtuosity as themes whiz past. But this is all in preparation for the emotional center of the concerto: the cadenza. The extensive accompanied cadenza recalls themes from the previous movements. The soloist then completes the orchestra’s restatement of the opening bars, bringing the piece full circle.  


Gustav Holst (1874-1934)

The Cloud Messenger

Scored for: three flutes including piccolo, three oboes including English Horn, three clarinets including bass clarinet, three bassoons including contrabassoon, four French horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, celesta, organ, strings, chorus, and solo contralto

Performance time: 43 minutes

First Grant Park Orchestra performance

Before Gustav Holst looked to astrology for his most famous work, The Planets, he had another source of inspiration: Sanskrit literature. From 1895 to 1910, Holst composed many works derived from Indian mythology and subject matter, including two operas (Sita and Sāvitri), a symphonic poem (Indra), numerous settings of Vedic Sanskrit hymns, and the cantata The Cloud Messenger. His fascination paralleled the West’s increasing awareness of Indian art, literature, and philosophy, driven in part by world’s fairs. Published in 1895 to coincide with the Empire of India Exhibition in London, R. W. Frazer’s Silent Gods and Sun-Steeped Lands spurred Holst’s interest in India. In the book, Frazer argues that the fusion of Western and Eastern philosophies would lead to moral and intellectual advancement for all humanity. It also introduced Holst to the lyric poem Meghadūta (The Cloud Messenger) by the fifth-century poet Kālidāsa. 

With a few Sanskrit lessons under his belt, Holst began translating the poem and composing music for it in 1903. The process took seven years, plus two years of revisions, before the belated 1913 premiere. Holst based his translation on the story presented in Frazer’s book and made some edits for British sensibilities, excising some of the more overt eroticism. In the story, a yaksha, or nature spirit, has been banished by his master, Kubera, the god of wealth, for neglecting his duties. He sees a cloud floating northward toward home and asks it to convey a message of love and comfort to his wife, saying they will soon be reunited. 

The long orchestral prologue introduces the leitmotifs of the yaksha, his wife, and the passing cloud. Holst’s use of leitmotifs and chromaticism point to Wagner’s profound influence on his early works. However, in this piece, Holst starts to find his unique voice, showing glimmers of what is to come in The Planets. Exploring a foreign culture emboldened him to pursue new musical ideas. For instance, Holst’s direct and homophonic choral writing is miles away from the denser textures of 19th-century British choral music and allows the words to be understood. He also turns away from traditional symphonic development of musical ideas, instead juxtaposing them as if in a mosaic. 

Holst considered The Cloud Messenger his most important work to date, making the shambles that was the premiere even harder to bear. Through some massive oversight, organizers neglected to hire the semi-chorus in time for rehearsals, forcing the singers sight-read the last eight minutes. The performance was a disaster. After this shoddy first outing, the score to The Cloud Messenger fell out of circulation, and the piece languished for decades. After The Cloud Messenger fiasco, Holst lost interest in composing music based on Indian themes. 


Program Notes by Katherine Buzard


The Cloud Messenger

Gustav Holst (1874–1934), after Kālidāsa (fl. c. 400 C.E.), Meghadūta


O thou, who com’st from Heaven’s king, scion of a noble race, who wearest wondrous forms at will, O glorious cloud, I welcome thee. Where’er thou goest, lonely wives, who pine in solitude with close-bound hair, will arise and gaze along the road. Thou bringest home their absent husbands, who will loosen their tresses and fill their hearts with joy. Save one!

In the city of the Great God my wife sits alone, counting the days that creep wearily on. In his anger the Great One has banished me. For a year I must wander, bereft of her who is my second self.

Bringer of rain to the thirsty land, bringer of joy unto those in sorrow, thou goest to the city that lies amid the eternal snows of the Himalaya, the city whose groves are bathed in the glory of the Great God. Thou dost ride the wind proudly, thou art surrounded by wild birds who sing thy praises. With thee cometh thy dazzling bride, the lightning, joyously playing at thy side. O cloud, O harbinger of joy, bear a message to my love. Tell her of the longing that burns my soul.

Tarry not, O cloud, tarry not! Rushing northward through the sky thou seemest a mountain peak, torn from its roots and hurled onward by the wind. At the sound of thy thunder the hills rejoice. In gratitude they reach out toward thee. Veil their heads in thy embrace. Pour down thy rain in huge torrents upon them. Quench the fierce forest fires that assail them. At the sound of thy thunder the birds rejoice. They rise up hailing thee and fly with thee toward the Himalaya. At the sound of thy thunder the lonely worker rejoices. He leaves his toil in the field and seeks home.

See how all greet thee. Yet stay not, let not each hill beguile thee with the scent of the flowers thou hast revived. Tarry not, O cloud, tarry not! Leave the highlands, sweep down on to the plains.

Behold the villages, the hedges white with flowers, the trees in the sacred groves whose branches hang down heavy with nesting birds. Village wives gaze on thee with tender pleading eyes that know not how to woo thee wantonly. Here you may rejoice in the fragrance of the earth newly ploughed.

As the rain descends, green shoots appear. On marshy banks the plantains arise. Sprinkle the buds of the jasmine that grow near the forest rivers. Spread thy cool shade over the burning cheeks of the maidens who gather flowers. The birds fly up in thousands, circling round, drinking thy raindrops, filling the sky with thy praises. The sound is wafted by the south wind filled with the fragrance of the opening lotus.

Tarry not, O cloud, tarry not. Behold her lying there, yearning for thee who hath been absent so long: a poor thin wandering stream, like the braided tresses of one early widowed. On her banks the trees shed their withered leaves in silent sympathy. Let not her pleading glances be in vain. Pour down thy rain on her, fill her heart with gladness. Yet beware, lest the sight of her beauty tempt thee to forget thy high purpose, to forsake thy journey and, drinking in her loveliness, sink down in deepest oblivion.

Tarry not, O cloud. Bow thy head. Thou art come to the foot of the Himalaya, from whose peaks, white with everlasting snow, springs the Holy Mother Ganga. Tarry not, O cloud, ascend the mighty pass. With thee come those that are freed from sin, journeying to their last home in the sacred city on Mount Kailasa.

(Ah –) And hark! Afar off thou canst hear the singing maidens, chanting the praises of their Lord. The sound is mingled with the music of the wind-blown reeds growing at the riverside. Ascend ever higher! Tarry not, O cloud! Lo!

Thou hast reached the snowy peaks of Kailasa. Behold the sacred city, round which flows Ganga like a maiden’s robe clinging to her form. There the vast temple spires reach up to kiss thee, glittering with jewels that shine like thy rainbow. There the gentle breeze that bears thee onward is heavy with incense and the fragrance of the lotus. There in the temple are the dancers, fair as thy bride the lightning, their tresses bound in jasmine, their dark eyes flashing with joy as they greet thee. There at even the minstrels assemble to sing the praises of their Lord.

And see! The Great God himself, whose tread shakes the mountains! He descends, and begins his solemn dance. O cloud, great is thy honour! Join thy deep voice to those of the singers. Let thy thunder, rolling o’er hill-tops, echoing through caves, beat out the measure for the dancing of Him who holds the Three Worlds in His grasp.

(Ah –) Yet tarry not, O cloud, tarry not!

When the dancers are weary, and the minstrels sink down to slumber, when the temple drum rolls out its deep voice for the last time, steal o’er the roofs of the palaces, covered with gems and swaying lotus leaves. From afar thou wilt see an arched gate, in front a pond with swans, eagerly awaiting the coming of the rain. Sink gently down, let thy lightning gleam faintly as ’twere the glittering of fireflies: for there is my love’s home, joyless as a lotus bereft of the sun. Therein is my second self, pining as a storm-swept flower. Wearied by sorrow, she seeks relief in slumber. As she smiles, let thy voice be silent, lest in her dream my arm should be unwound from her neck.

Wait near her flower-covered window until her eyes, half opened, rest on thee. Let thy cool breeze, scented with the moist earth and the jasmine blossom, play gently on her cheek. Then, with the soft voice of thy thunder, breathe these words in her ear:

I, the bringer of the rain, who with deep-sounding thunder call the traveller to return to his home, to hasten and unbind his wife’s braided hair; I, the cloud, bring thee tidings of him who is ever thine. Men say that love perishes through separation, but loneliness increases his love. At night time in his dreams he comes to thee and knoweth joy again. But in the day his form is wasted like thine, his face tear-stained like thine, sighs deep as thine fall from his lips. The days crawl on wearily for him as for thee. He who once whispered words of love in thine ear, now sends thee a message from his heart’s grief.

Beloved! In the forest creeper I see the tender grace of thy form, in the startled look of the doe the glance of thine eye, in the ripple of the waters lies the loving play of thy brow. I fain would paint my remembrance of thee on a stone. But the tears fall fast and blind me: only in my dreams can I behold thee. Yet who hath perpetual joy or sorrow? Our lot doth go now up, now down, like the rim of a wheel. No yearning can shorten the days of my exile that still remain. Let this my message bring thee comfort, as the Messenger bringeth comfort to the parched earth.