Life in a string quartet means never getting to say goodbye

Anthea Kreston has been on road and rail with the Artemis Quartet, and it quickly becomes a blur.



artemis quartet


It felt like the first real week of work together. The rehearsals are done, the house concerts as well. This is it. Packing of the suitcase, early mornings leaving for the plane before anyone wakes – not having a chance to say goodbye. Checking and always checking again all of the travel details – flight information, lists of things to bring.

The first concert was in the Netherlands – Eindhoven. We flew Berlin to Düsseldorf, then had a car service drive us the remaining 120km to Eindhoven. In the car we all had scores and pencils ready and had a talk-through rehearsal of our program. Balance, character clarification, intonation spots to re-work. We were left at the hotel, and had a chance to enjoy a walk in the city and a bite to eat before our dress rehearsal.

As I write this (it is midnight Thursday, and I have just returned to my VRBO in Amsterdam – Jason and the girls are asleep and I am too restless to go to sleep yet), I realize that details have already begun to blur for me. How is this possible?  I am mixing up the halls in my mind. From now on I will try to take photos of the inside and out so I can more easily remember. There has been so much information of every kind entering my mind in the past month – from the smallest details to the largest ones – emotional, technical, personal – I just don’t know how another little bit of information can possibly squeeze itself into my brain. But – of course there is always a little extra room (like the miraculous space that appears when a piece of chocolate cake is presented to one of my daughters).

So – back to Eindhoven – perfect first venue for me to get my feet wet – medium sized hall and comfortable. Now I am looking up what we played. Janacek, Mozart, Grieg. Good. Pretty good. A little stiff maybe, but good. Encore of Wolf Italian Serenade. And flowers at the end. Beautiful, large bouquet. Sorry to leave them behind. I decided to put them in my suitcase and see if they can last until I get back home. Hmmmm.

All of the hotels have been really nice – and the breakfasts are amazing!  I am used to the American-style included breakfasts – you know the kind I mean – the waffle maker, the small fridge with sugary yoghurts, the cereal bar, and some unsavory-looking eggs and meats. Not the case here, I tell you!  Cheeses, smoked salmon, cappuccino, freshly baked breads, fruits and juices. Puts me in a good mood for half the day! Love it.

So – dress rehearsal at 6, concert at 8, back to hotel by 11, asleep by 12, then up and in a car service to Essen – about an hour and a half in which we start to put together programs for the 17-18 season and begin to organize our next recording sessions for Warner. We arrive in Essen and have just enough time for a quick turn-around at the hotel before Ecki and I have a joint radio interview about our first concert together in Germany.  Then a dress rehearsal (Beethoven for this concert)  – it is always a bit prickly to play a Beethoven for the first time – a fine balance of intonation, minutiae, big shapes and and incredibly specific emotional plan.

The hall in Essen was incredible!  The sound was rich and inviting – just felt like heaven. The group is starting to feel more at home with one another on stage – the Beethoven was perhaps a bit rough around the edges, but I was transported by the slow movement. The sounds together began to be one sound – the flow of the music as one.

And – what fun! Volker came – the original Artemis violist and someone I have known for 20 years (lightly – but we always got along quickly and easily).  He brought his absolutely adorable 11 year old son, who is a master photo-bomber.  Volker looks just the same as 20 years ago at Juilliard, a handsome tall guy in a vintage tan motorcycle jacket, and sky blue eyes with a glimmer.

We took a train back to Berlin after the concert – first-class with a healthy amount of beer and wine, and we managed to get some Thai take-out before we boarded. We all went our separate ways and I got home around 1 am.

A day off (lots of things to do at home still) and a chance to see the girls and Jason before heading out for the next leg. Rotterdam, Bremen and now Amsterdam at the amazing Concertgebow.  Mixed programs and always flowers at the end. Glorious flowers that I hate to leave behind. My flowers from Eindhoven actually made it back to Berlin intact – I have devised a way of nestling the bouquet in my suitcase.

Tonight was the Concertgebouw.  This is the most imposing of the halls thus far, and the audience was packed. The beautiful rounded egg-shell hall with chandelier and engraved names of composers circling the ceiling. A living part of musical history. As I walked out, I was momentarily stunned, and it took me a little while to find my comfort zone. Maybe I never even found it tonight. The quartet, I believe, sounds marvellous – the comments have been great, there are standing ovations and encores.  They say we fit together perfectly, and sound as if we have been paying together for years. I believe them, but I know I still have a long way to go before I truly can feel like an integrated and confident member of this quartet. I always forgive myself in advance for mistakes that I know will happen – I enjoy the struggle and the series of teeny successes and failures. But, I do often become absolutely taken away by what we are doing together – the trust, the beauty, the creativity and sweep. Tomorrow I will spend some good hours re-working my part before we rehearse and play our second concert at the Concertgebouw. And now – to bed!  1 am and a big day tomorrow.

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  • Thank you so much for this wonderful glimpse inside the life of a professional quartet player. Best wishes for many more superb concerts.

  • A fascinating insight (even for a working cellist) in the day to day life of a quartet player. Thanks for writing this, I’ll keep an eye open for future chapters

  • Because of bombings in Brussels today the quartet is staying home in Berlin. We were scheduled to fly into that airport this morning. We have cancelled our concert tonight and are weighing options for our concert tomorrow in Luxembourg. We are feeling both sadly lucky and shaken – our thoughts are with the families in Brussels.

  • So very distressing yet again for Brussels and the world. Innocent people continuing to be murdered. Families distraught. Lives brutally disrupted. So much damage done by a few that impact so many. How can it be ended? For most of the population of the world, we want only to live peaceful lives, grateful for this beautful earth and its bonuses, especially the gift of music. Grateful that your quartet was spared and hope you will be able to continue sharing your gifts, bringing consolation into our lives.

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