There are 12 of us in this string quartet

It takes more than four to run a world-class quartet. Latest diary instalment from Anthea Kreston, American violinist in the Berlin-based Artemis Quartet:

 

artemis quartet new

Tomorrow we head out together for the first of our European concerts together. This week was a bustle as usual – with what I like to think of the “Artemis Family of 12”.  We, the four Artemis, three spouses, now 5 children, and we mustn’t neglect the vibrant and energetic Vineta entourage, which seems to be endless and completely eclectic. Between the 12 of us, we support, encourage, and look out for one another. There is not a rehearsal or meeting which passes without a home-cooked dinner being handed to a member with too much (or, I suppose, too little) on his or her plate, an offer for a ride, or some well-needed support of one kind or another.

This past week I was able to get a glimpse into the extended Artemis family, which has been in every way as supportive and varied as the immediate family. Our three house concerts this week were a great way to grow musically, to understand each other’s style on stage, and to begin, for me, the integration into this culture, language, and nuance of my job in this new world.

The three concerts were very different indeed. All hosted by dear friends of the Artemis who have been presenting house concerts for years. The first was in a suburb of Berlin, and the hosts were retired professionals with a passion as adult amateur musicians. At the last moment, I declined the generous offer for a ride, instead opting for an hour public transport and a 20 minute walk amongst the budding trees and bird calls heralding the onset of spring.  My solo trips on buses and U-Bahn are precious to me – a time for me to reflect on my own, to reconsider decisions or take in the sights out of the window (I love the double decker buses here) or the faces across from me on the subway. The walk took me down cobblestones trees, amongst what amounted to miniature palaces – replete with small crenelated towers.  When I arrived at the home, a wooden bridge lighted with votive candles lead me into a warm and inviting home, filled with antiques and original art – from paintings to ceramics. The program was Mozart K387, Shostakovich 5 and Beethoven Op. 59 #1. I must admit to a bit of a racing mind while I was psychologically getting my head around the fact that I was, indeed, standing amongst these three great musicians, playing alongside as an equal. What a heady experience.

The reception was lovely – people were warm and clearly knew this quartet well – eager to speak with me and to offer help in any way they could. The schooling options for our oldest daughter is not as straight-forward as we had thought, and several concertgoer have stepped up to help us navigate both this, health insurance, and housing. The reception food included a Greek tart, salads, cheeses and a selection of decadent deserts. Gifts for all of us and our families were given at the end – coloring books about Berlin for the girls and a compilation of short stories about Berlin for myself.

Following this was a day off to watch the video of the concert, reflect, and rest. Jason and I continued to look for apartments. Then a full day of reworking the repertoire followed by a second house concert.

The second house concert was held in the heart of old East Berlin – hosted by an impressive older woman who owns the top two floors of a historic building, in which she lives as well as owns and curates an extensive modern art museum.  The concert space was a large two story white room, with seating for around 150 people. The walls displayed large-scale paintings and sculpture and the backdrop of the performance space was a larger-than-life Frank Stella sculpture – about 20 feet tall and wide and jutted into the room by 10 feet. In this concert we played Janacek “Kreutzer Sonata”, Beethoven Op. 59 #1 and Grieg. I had gained confidence and was able to have my head more in the concert. The reception consisted of all vegetarian fare – a cold lentil salad, a green salad and a beet salad as well as a cold citrus pasta and breads and cheeses. The audience was varied – the young hip crowd mingled with the older established audience members.

Again there was a time to recoup, watch the video, and rework our pieces before the final house concert Thursday evening. I had my work visa appointment and now can legally work in Germany. The final concert was in Charlottenberg, an urban affluent section of town with many old beautiful buildings. Again a penthouse apartment – a full floor – and an incredible art collection.  In the living room, people pulled up chairs and the tables and couches were pushed to the side. The program was Mozart K387, Janacek Kreutzer Sonata and Grieg. Dinner after was a warm pasta and a dessert of fruit and chocolate.  This was the concert in which I finally felt in full stride – able to play with full sound and passion, to be able to look up easily from my part, and to be fully engaged from start to finish.

Now I am packing for our concerts – we meet at the airport early tomorrow morning. I am feeling confident and secure.  The feeling on-stage is of complete support for one another. No judgement, only encouragement. I am looking forward to this immensely! This time next week we will be in Amsterdam (Jason and the girls will be coming to Amsterdam with us) with five concerts under our belt. Here goes!

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