It’s zero hour for Anthea Kreston, the new US member of Germany’s outstanding Artemis Quartet. She has dashed off her weekly diary instalment for Slipped Disc before plunging into the group’s opening concert.
I was invited to audition for the Artemis Quartet the last week of December, arrived in Berlin from Oregon on January 9, was asked to join on January 12, and moved with my family to Germany on February 8. We began rehearsing together for our March European tour and April USA tour on February 12. Our first concert is tonight, March 4.
The Artemis quartet normally plays a couple of house concerts in Berlin before going on tour. They (we – I am still getting used to thinking “we”) have a loyal following here in Berlin and house concerts are a way of both seasoning new repertoire and thanking the supporters by offering an intimate look at the quartet – both in performance and in receptions after the concerts.
Because I am new, Gregor has switched to the viola from violin, and we have two programs that we are preparing at the same time, we have decided to play three house concerts this week. After each, we gather and watch the video of the performance and decide what we like and what we would like to modify. Everything is analyzed, from the concept of the piece to the amount of vibrato, and all opinions are equally listened to. Next week we head off to concerts in Eindhoven, Essen, Rotterdam, Bremen, Amsterdam (two concerts), Gent, Luxembourg, and Wien. Then in April, we have a couple of more in Europe before heading to the States.
The rehearsals have been very well organized – each day has a plan for which movements will be rehearsed, spot rehearsals, and run-throughs (initially movements, in the past days, Durchspiels – full work play-throughs). In addition, meetings with the manager, publicist, photographer, secretary, and interviews fill up any remaining time. Every day we rehearse between 4-7 hours, and my commute is about an hour each way. I try to have personal practice and study 2-3 hours on top of our group rehearsals, and Jason and I are squeezing in bank meetings, looking at apartments and schools, and trying to navigate health insurance and work visas.
Last week I spoke in detail about my personal practice, and I would like to talk a bit about the quartet practice time. The Artemis is a purely democratic ensemble, which is one of the reasons I have always admired and loved their sound. Each member has a large personality and stage presence, and the leading of phrases and the sound is continuously being passed from one member to another. They also have their own language in rehearsals – every day I am introduced to many new terms – so far about 10 differently named vibratos (often named after former teachers) and as many named accents and types of bow techniques. One of my favorites is the “Autobahn” sf – one that starts after the note and sounds like a speeding car passing you on the Autobahn. It is a lot of information to process, but things are alway approached with emotion or character first. That is the primary focus.
There are often long discussions about one specific note – one that comes to mind went something like this:
“I think this second theme has to come from the first theme as if it always existed – the first ends like you are in a volcano which has erupted, but before anything settles, you can see the shape and hear the second theme through the smoke – it was there the whole time but you could not hear it because of the cacophony of the volcano”. I love the language that is used, the care and thought which every member invests in every turn of a phrase. This quartet lives this music and is never satisfied until all members agree exactly with the group vision.
I am burned out and we haven’t even really begun yet. I am sitting on the couch, Jason made me scrambled eggs and toast, and both girls are jumping on me. In one hour I leave for the concert. Oh dear.
I am nervous, excited, exhausted, and I can’t even think straight. But I know this is the thing I am supposed to be doing, and that this crazy journey is and will be the journey of a lifetime for me and my family.