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The second violin has you in her sights

December 22, 2017 by norman lebrecht

25 comments.


From our exhausted diarist, Anthea Kreston:

I am on vacation, relaxing in a rental apartment in Copenhagen, hearing Jason read Harry Potter to the girls in the other room. This last set of concerts of 2017 with my Quartet have been particularly exhausting. The final concert, in Rotterdam, like the previous night at the Elbphilharmonie), faced a packed hall, an eager audience.

As a performer, I look directly out to the audience because I am in the second violin position, my body set parallel to the edge of the stage, on firmly placed feet, balanced yet ready to twist, even travel a bit towards one or the other of my colleagues. I often catch the eyes of individual audience members, and I look around to the faces closely when I come and go from the stage. Beyond the first several rows, or first balcony close to the stage, the eyes turn into glistening pricks – as if I am looking into a dark forest into the eyes of a large pack of wolves. The blinding glare of the stage lights – often from above, the sides, as well as spotlights aimed from afar – never fails to shock me – like the light they shine on you at the dentist – this adds to this surreal visual effect – my colleagues in extra sharp relief, with shadows that cut to their cheekbones like a cubist painting.

The final concert was a different program – instead of Mendelssohn, the concert began with a Haydn (76/1) and the Große Fuge, that night standing alone instead of attached to the rest of the Op. 130 Quartet.

We had tucked rehearsals of this work here and there during the week, but nothing can ever prepare performer or audience for this piece – monumental in the physical demands on the performers as well as the seemingly endless statements of chaotic, beautiful brutalism. This piece tests all of us in that room. The blocks of sound that the writing demands, with the relentlessness of the series of fortes – I imagine him dipping his goose-quill over and over again into his bottle of ink – dip, blot, F – dip, blot, F – dip, blot, F – dip, blot, F……that fugal theme, almost like a tone-row – the clash and then the calm – so much calm that you have to steady yourself every bit as much to sustain the pianissimo as you had to sustain the wall of sound before – but now your whole body is shaking, your eyes dry from lack of blinking, and you are only 1/3 through. Stravinsky once famously said of the fugue that it was “an absolutely contemporary piece of music that will be contemporary forever”.

We played, making it through the treachery, the quiet solitude, the funny bits, the brutality, the intellectual stuff, but when we hit that final, soaring statement of quarter notes, Beethoven’s decision that goodness, in the end, wins; that after struggle is peace; that the chest fills not with anger or loneliness but with triumph and goodwill, I realized that all of us are here, as Beethoven was, and although he would never actually be able to hear the Große Fuge, he could send his deepest thoughts out to each and every one of us in this hall, almost 200 years after he put his quill down for the last time.

 


Comments (25)

  1. buxtehude says:

    Wow.

    Maybe it’s time though that management did something about all those “glistening pricks” out there in the dark.

    1. RW2013 says:

      I think she’s referring to the heads of the bald critics in the audience.

      1. Gonzo the Lead Guitarist says:

        The creative writing and journalese course must have got a bit out of hand with this author. I haven’t seen any pricks in concert audiences recently, let alone glistening ones. But then, I’m not into male beauty.

      2. buxtehude says:

        Off with em then.

  2. Pianofortissimo says:

    Great, this time the Artemis played the Grosse Fuge as it is to be played, as a self-standing work. The reason will never buy the Artemis recording of Beethoven’s op 130 is that they have thrown away the charming Allegro finale, shame om them and on others that did so (lately the ‘Mosaiques’).

    1. Bill says:

      “As it is to be played” according to? It was written to be the closing movement of the op. 130 quartet, and was first performed that way. It was later published separately as op. 133 (and the substitute closing movement written by Beethoven) at the behest of his publishers, who thought it would depress sales of the quartet, as it was widely criticized after the performance.

      Ridiculous to suggest it is incorrect to play op. 130+133 together when it was composed and published that way with the composer’s agreement!

      1. Pianofortissimo says:

        ‘As it is to be played’ according to Ludwig van Beethoven’s final decision. Op 130 is to be concluded with an Allegro movement that seems to be the last completed composition by Beethoven. That Allegro is by the way very fine at the end of a quartet that have quite light thematic character, almost like a Baroque suite with dances and a very ‘cantabile’ Cavatina. If one wants to play the Grosse Fuge in the same concert it should be quite OK, it is a complete work per se, really one of the Master’s best. 🙂

        PS: Yes, we all know that the first performance of what later became opp 130 and 133 consisted of op 130 without the Allegro and with op 133 as finale, and if you are a spiritual disciple of Adorno and other weird people around him you may think that it is OK to delete that Allegro. The Lindsays, a quartet that I appreciated very much, used to play both ‘versions’ in concerts, and in their CD recording they make possible to chose what you want to listen to. The recordings by the Hagen, the Artemis, and lately by the Mosaiques quartet deleted the Allegro; bad!

        1. Bill says:

          Again, I maintain Beethoven agreed to his publisher’s economic importuning, nothing more. This is not the only example that comes to mind of his making changes at a publisher’s request. Don’t get me wrong, I think the substitute finale is a fine piece of music, and I happily play it when my companions are too drained to do the GF, but I do not for a moment think that Beethoven preferred the substitute finale.

          If you want to bear a grudge against any group for only playing one of the two possible endings, knock yourself out. Feel free to point out some correspondence where LvB says he thinks the allegro is a better conclusion than the GF on musical grounds and I’ll take up your cause.

          1. Pianofortissimo says:

            You play it as it pleases you, and I listen to the Grosse Fuge in every occasion it is possible, no matter if alone or together with a mutilated op 130, I just love the GF. As for recordings, the concurrence is very hard in the Beethoven quartets and I do not see any reason to buy those versions I just named, nor any other that deletes the Allegro.

            We can never know if Beethoven preferred the GF as finale to op 130, since he died very soon after composing the Allegro finale.

  3. Geoff Cox says:

    an interesting master class with Anthea https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lsY8UKVC4eE

    1. Bruce says:

      I love this moment:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5-Sl8asGzLg, skip directly to 16:11

      “I’M UNSATISFIED WITH YOUR EMOTIONAL COMMITMENT.”

      1. buxtehude says:

        Too much coffee perhaps?

        This session looks more than strange to me.

        1. Bruce says:

          Nah, she’s just American. We’re all like that. 🙂

          1. buxtehude says:

            Slander! Check out New Jersey’s own Barbara Bonney’s master classes on YT, she plays on a different lute. (Thanks for the opportunity to slip this in.)

    2. Tyrone Knotts says:

      I’d have left after 15 minutes. Too shrill. Compounded by the baggy pants and mop hairstyle.

      1. Bruce says:

        Agree — that stuff is much, much more important than any musical insights that might be offered. (Although I agree with you in advance, that nobody with hair like that is likely to have anything musically worthwhile to say.)

        (wish I knew how to put one of those “laughing till I cry” emojis on here)

  4. Phil says:

    Great writing Anthea! Thanks!

    1. Linda McDougall says:

      Just love all those facile arguments of the music experts re. the Fugue when the real point is: Anthea does a wonderful job of expressing her deepest feelings not only about the music, but the musician (her) and the audience. I’m glad a few others abhor the silly nitpicking that Beethoven would have detested! I thank her heartily for letting us stand in her shoes, and for the rest of you negative nitpickers: can’t you say anything positive instead of showing off your absolutely impeccable knowledge of Beethoven’s soul and intentions?

  5. Marg says:

    Thank you Anthea for another year of wonderful blogs week by week. I dont know how you keep it up given the frenetic schedule you have. But I love reading them and have learned so much about quartets and playing. Have a peaceful and gentle Christmas with family and enjoy sitting still for at least one day!! M

  6. margaret koscielny says:

    I’m amazed that the chit chat above is so petty in comparison to the obviously heart-felt expression of Anthea’s description of ther performance.

    Beethoven and Anthea deserve more respect.

    1. marg says:

      Absolutely agree. Some people cant see beyond their own nitpicking mindset

      1. RW2013 says:

        Sydney housewives unite!
        If you think that the above discourse about the interesting history of Beethoven’s quartet (the discussion of which I’m sure Anthea would fully approve) is “nitpicking” how do you rate the rest of the “chit chat” on this site?

        1. Anthea kreston says:

          RW – be nice to Marg! Without her and Bruce, I would be absolutely crushed by the comments section every week. But of course I love you all….. greetings from the National Museum of Denmark, where my whole family is dressed up in vintage clothes, pretending to roast large pieces of meat over an open fire.

    2. Linda McDougall says:

      You are absolutely right. Anthea is a gem.


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