A music organization in Washington is hosting a world-renowned German musician, who will hold a concert on Sunday, April 3 at the Immanuel Lutheran Church to celebrate the city’s 155-year connection with Franz Schwarzer, a giant among the instrument’s fans of the zither.
Anne Prinz, who moved to Washington in 2019 and has been playing the zither for several years, said welcoming Tomy Temerson to Washington is like seeing a rock star perform live.
“It’s the Yo-Yo Ma of the zither,” said Prinz, referring to the Grammy-winning cellist who recorded more than 90 albums after graduating from the famed Juilliard School.
Just as Yo-Yo Ma started playing various stringed instruments, 49-year-old Temerson started playing the zither at an early age. He said his first introduction to the instrument, which gained popularity in the 1800s, came when he was about 6 years old after seeing his father’s zither.
“I could just put my fingers on it,” Temerson said. “(What interested me) was the possibility of being able to play both the melody and the accompaniment. If you imagine, a violin can play a beautiful melody, but you rarely see a violin playing alone. You need a pianist or an orchestra, playing an accompaniment for the violin.
“With the zither I have 37 open strings where I can play both,” he said. “That’s wonderful.”
That introduction, he said, sparked a passion in him that eventually led him to lessons at the age of 10, traveling about 40 miles round trip once a week to meet a private teacher. He has been playing the folk instrument for 40 years, but still remembers his first concert.
A neighbor, Temerson said, asked him to play the zither for his elderly mother, who was celebrating her birthday. Temerson had only played the instrument for about four years.
“I played three or four songs and I could see how happy that lady was,” Temerson said during an interview with The Missourian at the Washington Historical Society.
“I played those old melodies that she remembered when she was young. It brought her so much joy,” Temerson said. He added that the elderly woman also enjoyed seeing the folk instrument played again.
“(The zither) has a deep connection with the German countryside, especially with the southern part of Germany,” Temerson said. “A hundred years ago, people couldn’t go on vacation by taking a plane and going far away. No, they all vacationed in southern Germany, in the mountainous regions and the zither reminds them of that time.
Temerson’s musical journey blossomed when at the age of 16 he won a national music competition in Germany.
“I was a very shy boy, but I realized that when I was performing on a stage, people were clapping,” Temerson said.
The experience allowed Temerson to meet Gernot Sauter, a renowned composer of zither music who has some 4,600 arrangements and songs to his credit.
“I learned a lot from him,” said Temerson, who started conducting at the age of 18 with a debut with the Frankfurt Orchestra. Since then he has conducted and performed with orchestras around the world, including at Tokyo’s famed Suntory Hall, which is Asia’s largest concert hall and described by Temerson as the continent’s Carnegie Hall.
Temerson and other members of the zither orchestra will perform some of Sauter’s music as well as several other musical selections at the April 3 concert.
Among those expected to play alongside Temerson are Wynn Scheer, president of the Washington-based Franz Schwarzer Zither Ensemble, and Prinz, who has been tasked with coordinating the international gathering of zither players in Washington. Prinz’s efforts were recognized Monday by Washington Mayor Sandy Lucy, who declared April 3 Franz Schwarzer Day in Washington.
Scheer and Prinz said the experience of performing alongside the man known as “Master Zither Soloist” is “awesome” and “inspiring”.
“It’s just great to be able to observe someone of Tomy’s caliber and learn more about the zither,” Prinz said. “That’s what it’s about for Tomy and for us – it’s about education and really helping to continue to develop the zither, opening the door for new generations.”
Scheer, who has played the instrument for nearly five years, said she sees the upcoming concert as keeping the spirit of Schwarzer alive in the Washington community, where the Austrian-born musician was known to organize shows on Sunday afternoons at his house.
Next Sunday’s concert will be Temerson’s second in Washington. He previously performed for an audience of 300 at Washington High School’s CJ Burger Fine Arts Center in 2018. He said he was happy to be back to “play the music I love.”
“This town has a long tradition with the zither and I’m always happy to be back here, and of course to support the zither ensemble,” said Temerson, who will play alongside other zither players who have traveled through the United States and a musician who comes from Japan. Temerson will also perform a few solos as part of the concert.
Tickets for next week’s 90-minute concert are on sale now and can be purchased by calling the Washington Historical Society at 636-239-0280. As places are limited this year, the organizers encourage those interested to buy their tickets early. Tickets can also be purchased at the door.
Temerson said he hopes his performance in Washington will spark renewed interest in the zither, which less than a dozen people in a town of 14,500 know how to play.
“I’m not doing this for a living. The gigs I do in Germany or on river cruises, that’s what I do for a living,” Temerson said. “The reason we’re all putting in so much work is the fact that we want this instrument to have a future here in the United States, but especially here in Washington.”