At concert 8, I was lonely, overwhelmed, homesick. The quartet saw me cry.

Anthea Kreston’s weekly diary on life in the international Artemis Quartet. Compelling, as ever:

anthea kreston

The North America tour is complete. 11 days, 9 concerts, one video session, one photo session, several interviews, two trains, one rental car, one cold, 10 flights, one massage, three HIIT exercise sessions, one visit to Niagara Falls, one Bikram Yoga. Chicago, NYC, Schnectady, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Toronto, Connecticut, NYC, Montreal.  Reviews were great, audiences fantastic, quartet grew in each concert – personalities flourished and group sounds meshed. To be totally honest, it was in some ways much harder than I anticipated. In other ways (such as a quartet flow and group cohesion) it vastly exceeded my expectations.

During tour, the daily schedule (of course every day is different, but this is a general schedule) goes something like this.

6 am wake up, shower and eat

7 am leave for airport (train/car)

2 pm arrive at destination city

3 pm arrive at hotel – options in this two hours and 15 minutes are: eat your most nourishing meal of the day, practice, nap, FaceTime family, exercise

5:15 pm leave for hall

5:30-7 pm Beast building and rehearsal

8 pm concert

10:30 pm break-down stage

11:30 pm back to hotel to pack

The obvious difficulties here are being able to be well-rested, focused for the concert (of which the first several are jet-lagged), and well-nourished. There is often not a good breakfast option (this is a big difference from the European tours), and dinner is not really possible either. Eating after the concert is too late, and before there is not time. Our back-stage rider includes things like fruit, cheese, crackers, nuts, and drinks. This happened more often than not, which is a life-saver. In Chicago, my mother delivered four emergency food bags for us with trail mix, powdered miso soup, and peanut butter and jelly.

I have gotten great advice from teachers over the years – two bits of which I follow religiously. Well, actually three. The first was from Phil Setzer from the Emerson Quartet. He told me to buy a new pack of underwear before every tour, because the endless washing in the sink every night is a real bummer. I can tell you that by the end of the tour I could smell my suitcase when it was zipped up. And I don’t even want to talk about how I smelled personally. Ok – that was gross. Second bit of advice – never get on a plane without an emergency peanut-butter and jelly. My teacher said – “you may not eat one of them for a year’s worth of flights, but one day it will save you like you never thought possible!”.  The third piece of advice was from Ida Kavafian. When I was studying with her I was just beginning to play professional concerts (read:getting paid to play violin). She said to me, “Anthea, you sound great, but from now on you can’t miss any more notes. People won’t pay you if you do”. Tell it like it is! Love that.

So – the hard part of tour. I had experienced, during our first tour in Europe, an interesting swing in the group rehearsal and atmosphere dynamic around concert number 5.  The comments during our dress rehearsal were shorter, more to the point, less finessed and with a frustrated tone of voice. There was even what I would classify as our first fight. I spoke to a quartet member after the rehearsal and they said – “oh – that always happens around concert number 5, I don’t know why”.  Incidentally, my brother-in-law had recently mentioned something like this as well – the 5th concert annoying rehearsal – which he has experienced a lot touring with a quartet. Hmm – I wonder if this is fixable?  I decided to bring fresh strawberries to the next rehearsal. Maybe that helped a little.

So – as we approached concert 5 on the North American tour, I decided to head it off and see if we could just sail through and not get testy. I wrote a Group Sworn Statement and asked everyone to recite it with me. It went over better with some than others, but I think it could certainly be a good thing to read together for any group – could even work for an entire orchestra, I suppose.

Here goes:

5th Concert Group Sworn Statement

Raise your left hand, and place your right on your music.

I, (fill in the blank), so solemnly swear the following:

  • I am tired
  • I am slightly annoyed at everyone
  • I wish my suitcase was better organized, like it used to be at the beginning of this tour
  • I am experiencing some slight digestive problems because of random nutritional inconsistencies beyond my control
  • I wish EVERYONE would FINALLY do my idea at (moment of silence to fill in the spot/spots)

I hereby pledge to

  • try to be positive as much as I possibly can under these extremely annoying circumstances
  • Only say comments that are uplifting and encouraging
  • Realize that we actually sound pretty good
  • Eat some more fruit

Optional group activity

So – this actually worked. We didn’t get annoyed. We stayed nice and generous. Fantastic!

I know that I am usually very optimistic and relentlessly goal-oriented and problem-solving. But this is not to say that I am always happy.  No one is. I had a hard time around concert 8.  I was lonely, overwhelmed, and home-sick. No one answered my calls for two days. I felt isolated.  I cried. The quartet saw me cry. But, this is normal. This is ok. I got hugs, Jason called, I made a list of things that were stressing me out, and gave the list to everyone. Some things can be fixed (Gregor has gone to Ikea and hired someone to begin installing our kitchen, I almost have health insurance, I hired a German tutor).  Some can’t (I miss my family, friends and Oregon).  And some will take time (finding our new family balance and adjusting to our new home). This is not easy at all. But we can do it. I know we can.

I saw so many old friends on this tour – old students, colleagues, family, friends. I even had a friend fly from Oregon to see our Carnegie concert. This was a great boost to me – thank you all for coming!  Sunday I head back to Berlin with Jason and the girls. We are in Oregon for a short vacation and to wrap up the things we didn’t have a chance to finish before- sell the car, etc.Tomorrow we go to the Saturday Market and meet friends at our favorite bakery. Our footprint here is nearly erased, but I have every confidence in the shape of our new family footprint in Germany. With patience, all things will come.

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  • Boo friggin hoo. Life is hard, sweetheart. You, compared to most, have it very, very easy. Grow a spine you pampered millenial.

    • Doug, I imagine that anyone who makes it far enough in this dogfight to play with the Artemis Quartet has spine aplenty.

      Her point is that she also has a heart.

      And that her spine carries a central nervous system, “all the most important wires” as Kurt Vonnegut put it, powered by a brain vulnerable to the physical and psychological ravages of the touring life, bio-neurology tasked never to “miss a note” – because that is what music is about, right? – to play as if for the first time, tired or not, nourished by a hotel vending machine or not, happy or not, connected to family or not, lonely or not, melancholic or not.

      Perhaps she is trying to tell you that success itself is a meaningless construct, and that its real manifestation is an ever-swelling burden of responsibility and pressure, and, far from guaranteeing an “easier” life or bestowing “privilege”, creates its own set of extreme challenges.

      Or maybe I have it all wrong, and “boo friggin hoo” is indeed the most elegant response a thoughtful mind can muster.

    • Really – if you don’t have to add something relevant, you should not bother to type anything at all. What a waste – of bits, of time of space.

  • Thanks for writing this. I love the honesty. The Carnegie concert was sublime- so interesting to hear what happens behind the scenes!

  • Doug, you’ve obviously never toured. You should probably refrain from any more asinine comments regarding things about which you evidently know nothing..

  • “Anthea, you sound great, but from now on you can’t miss any more notes. People won’t pay you if you do”.

    Reminds me of my wonderful teacher who, when I kept missing notes in a lesson, said “Bruce! Don’t do that any more.”

    Good advice. I realized that if I quit playing wrong notes I would be a lot better… 😛

    • Or, to quote the wonderful Sarah Willis of the Berlin Philharmonic: “They don’t pay to hear you TRY…..”

    • As always, people with no frame of reference have to chime in, speaking from a place of ignorance. So how much do you or your colleagues complain about your job? A lot? Ok. The Artemis Quartet is one of the finest in the world and these days seem to be on the road over half the year.

      Anyone being away from home for over half a year and being confined in small areas with the same 3 other people (no matter how much you love them) would experience these things. I don’t see this as complaining as much as just talking about the touring life.

      Nobody in this position feels entitled, and I guarantee you don’t understand the sheer amount of work it takes to get to the level to even be considered for a position in a group like the Artemis.

      We are privileged that we can make a living with our craft, yes, but that doesn’t make it any less difficult than any other job. After all, it’s still a job.

      • So unless you know my CV, my opinion isn’t valid? And yet without knowing my credentials, you go as far to say , and I quote: ” I guarantee you don’t understand the sheer amount of work it takes to get to the level (…)”.

        Being a classical musician on a world tour, is a privilege. It is a job, but also a job that most musicians dream of but didn’t have the same career opportunities, there are many talented people out there who simply didn’t have the right PR.

        • “Being a classical musician on a world tour, is a privilege.”

          This is true. Therefore, one should avoid being — or, much more importantly, APPEARING — lonely, overwhelmed, homesick, sleep-deprived, ill-nourished, irritable or anything other than perfectly happy at all times.

          “[T]here are many talented people out there who simply didn’t have the right PR.”

          Also true. There are also many who did have the right PR, but didn’t have sufficient charisma or the right personality type to succeed — at least in a big way — once they had their chance. (For example, see the continued obscurity of many winners of famous competitions.)

  • I would give my left arm to go back to my former life as a struggling musician, instead of the joy of teaching, underwhelmed and unacknowledged by almost everyone… Now THAT would make for an interesting lifestyle comparison article…..

  • Sam, you are amazingly articulate and erudite. Thank you for your intelligent reply to Doug’s meaningless comment.

  • I enjoy reading these musings from Anthea. The nasty comments are likely from folk who are feeling bitter, unfulfilled, frustrated or just plain bored and annoyed with themselves for not having the will power, talent, work ethic and balls to get to a similar position in their lives. And seriously, if you don’t enjoy reading about the behind scenes and the reality of quartet life, then STOP reading about it. Sheeeesh.

  • I am constantly reminded and surprised that there are a lot of negative people in this world. Anthea Kreston is NOT one of them. Snarky is as snarky does. Thank you, Anthea, for letting us in so close.

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