When Tanya Tetzlaff was 5, she had a small cello, "a one-sixteenth size," she said.
She also had a big brother, 12-year-old Christian, who played the violin.
"He was my big hero. He took care a little bit of my musical education. He would practice with me every day. Of course, I got angry very often when he told me things, but in the long run I really learned a lot."
Christian and Tanya Tetzlaff are now colleagues.
They will perform Brahms' Concerto for Violin and Cello with music director Paavo Järvi and the Cincinnati Symphony at 11 a.m. Friday, 8 p.m. Saturday at Music Hall.
For Christian, 39, a Grammy nominee famed for his brilliant, insightful playing, it will be a return visit, not only to the CSO (last in 2002) but to Cincinnati, where he spent a year in 1985-86 as a student of Walter Levine at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.
It will be 32-year-old Tanya's CSO debut and her first time in the city.
Emerging from Christian's shadow took a while, she said, from her home in Bremen, Germany.
Although they played together as children in their father's church in Hamburg (he is a retired Evangelical Lutheran minister), it was difficult performing side by side when Christian became famous.
"It was not so easy when we began playing concerts together because, of course, everybody was always referring to me as the sister. In the last few years, as I am doing much more on my own, I get more self-confident. It's easier to work together because now we are really equal."
The only wrinkle in Tanya's visit to Cincinnati is leaving 6-month-old son Aljoscha behind. "This will be the first time I leave him at home with his father. I will be six days without him and that will be pretty hard."
Being with Christian will make it easier, she said. "It would be horrible, sitting in a hotel room and crying my eyes out."
Tanya is one of four musical Tetzlaffs. Brother Stephan is music director of the opera house in Bremerhaven. Sister Angela is a flutist and professor at the conservatory in Lubeck. Christian and Tanya have their own Tetzlaff Quartet with violinist Elisabeth Kufferrath and violist Hanna Weinmeister.
Having parents who loved music and were amateur musicians was an advantage, said Tanya.
"When the parents are not professional musicians, there's not so much pressure. They were very supportive, but they were never asking us to give up our lives for music."
Christian, who began violin at 6, knew "very early" that he would be a violinist, he said, from his home in Frankfurt.
But he was not rushed into it. "First of all, I don't think I was a wunderkind. Second, I did school absolutely normally. I couldn't pursue something like a solo career because the other things were as important to me."
He made his debut at 14 performing Beethoven's Violin Concerto. Studies in Lubeck with Uwe-Martin Haiberg, a former student of Levine, brought him to CCM.
With a repertoire spanning the centuries, Tetzlaff is noted for his versatility as well as his virtuosity. He will record "a real virtuoso piece," the Violin Concerto by legendary German violinist Josef Joachim, next year.
Tanya picked up the cello from their mother.
"My mother was a 'hobby' cellist and, as I was the fourth sibling, she probably didn't know what to do with me. and when she had her cello lessons, I always had to go with her. One day her teacher had this very small cello and asked me if I wanted to try it. I was immediately enthusiastic."
Tanya studied at the conservatory in Hamburg and at the Mozarteum in Salzburg with cellist Heinrich Schiff. She took top prizes in several international competitions and now has a wide-ranging performance career. She is a member of the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen (of which Järvi is artistic director) and performs and records with them whenever she can.
Christian remembers their early interaction as "something between a teacher and a brother." Later, as an emerging artist, it was necessary for Tanya to "go her own way," he said, and there were times when they didn't play together. "Now that we see each other more on an equal footing, it's easier for her to do things with me."
How do they handle the differences that inevitably arise in a musical relationship?
"Like anybody else," he said. "I mean, I don't play with people where one isn't allowed to criticize, so it's a very open, direct musical relationship that has nothing to do with being siblings."
Like Tanya, Christian combines a close family life with his musical career. For every two weeks on tour, he spends two weeks at home with his wife and three children. He loves to cook and has "a wide repertoire" there, too.
Christian and Tanya Tetzlaff perform the Brahms Concerto for Violin and Cello with the CSO conducted by Paavo Järvi at 11 a.m. Friday, 8 p.m. Saturday at Music Hall. Also on the program are Schumann's Symphony No. 3 and Weber's Overture to "Euryanthe." For tickets, call (513) 381-3300.
Visit Mary Ellyn Hutton's website at Music in Cincinnati.