This is where the quartet needs my Women’s Studies degree

The American violinist Anthea Kreston is adjusting to her new life in the Berlin-based Artemis Quartet. But almost everywhere she turns there is someone who raises an uncomfortable question. Latest instalment of Anthea’s candid weekly diary.

 

This week, Vineta was in Latvia playing concertos, and the rest of us busied ourselves with concerts with others (which are referred to as “Quartet Affairs”) and the business of life and quartet.

Jason and I had our second visit from family – it seems like we will have one visit per month in the next months. Some of our family members travel often and have lived overseas and have a fearless, easy-going approach to adventure. Others have stayed close to home for many years and see our move as a chance to branch out in a safe and comfortable way. In both cases, it is a chance for us to get to know our own city better, and we often learn about new things to do from our guests. This week we were also given a bunch of furnishings from IKEA, due to arrive any day. We are still living out of cardboard boxes, and now we just paint them and put glitter on them to make them more homey.

Our German tutor, Sebastian, has been coming twice per week, and spends 45 minutes first with me, then with Jason. He somehow can understand my babbling, I don’t know how, and asks me about Oregon. He can’t believe the differences and coaches Jason and I about cultural differences and how to relate and what to expect. For example, I was planning a little “gorilla gardening” adventure – these are very popular in Oregon – if there is a sunny spot, why not just plant some things – there are huge luxurious gardens planted between sidewalk and street (officially town property) and even chicken coops in town-owned property.  In our courtyard there is a prime sunny spot with some mangy, unloved plants. I have some tomatoes (in Oregon we left behind a huge garden and I love to have enough tomatoes to last through the year) that I was hoping to nestle in that spot. Sebastian, with a horrified look, said “oh dear Anthea, this won’t work in Germany!”.  In the mean time, our little balcony is starting to have a nice container garden.

I also had a wonderful time reconnecting with Fred Child from Performance Today (American Public Media).  This show is one-of-a-kind in America – it features live classical performance and Fred is a knowledgeable and passionate speaker. He happened to be on a two-week tour of Germany with three busses of classical radio music lovers, and asked me to come play and speak to his group. In 2003 my trio (Amelia Piano Trio) spent a week with Performance Today as Young Artists in Residence – an hour of live performance every day and interviews. This was an incredible experience for Jason (cellist in the Trio) and I – and more than 1.5 million listeners tuned in. To play a weeks-worth of concerts, note-perfect, and to speak eloquently was an overwhelming task for us as young musicians, and Fred made it feel easy and comfortable.

Performance Today was travelling with a fine young pianist, and they suggested we read the Kreutzer Sonata together for the group after Fred interviewed me. Because our things finally came, I was able to find my music (and a fun vintage gown from the 50’s) and spent a couple of days refreshing my Kreutzer Sonata.  We went as a family to a beautiful large banquet hall for a lovely meal of salmon and spargel – the white asparagus which is in season now.

Being interviewed by Fred is both comfortable and in-depth, and I was surprised to find myself quickly on the topic of being a woman in this field, at this point in my life. He introduced me as a violinist who also has a Women’s Studies degree, and spoke glowingly about the Artemis and their shared history. He spoke about the extreme schedule, and my adjustment to this. It is true that this has been a big adjustment, but none of it has been at all out of my comfort zone. I love it. But, as he pressed further, I began to talk about some of the comments I have received in the last months. Questions about if it was appropriate for a woman with young children to be doing this job, direct questions (and disapproval) that I would pull Jason away from his career.  These questions have been straight-forward and pointed, and I have always answered calmly and with an open mind. But I do wonder if people who ask these questions also ask male musicians about their female counterparts, and their careers.  I am one of three members of this quartet with children under age 6, and I don’t believe that similar questions have been asked of them.  All musicians come from different situations, and none of these are simple or easy.

anthea kreston

 

These questions must be coming from compassion, but still they rattle and confound. Also – and I might as well say it – I do read the comments from this diary (why do I do this?? – RW2013 I will have a standing ticket for you at every Philharmonie concert!) Many of the negative ones are centered around a premise that this type of journal is inappropriate or too mundane and refer to the Guarneri Quartet “Indivisible by Four” – but this diary is simply a diary of my journey – and for me it includes my family in every way. It was refreshing to recently read in an interview of YoYo Ma that he counted his family as the biggest accomplishment of his life.

As I left the Performance Today group, a woman raiser her arms and shouted “courage!” to me. She came over to speak and I mentioned that Jason and his kind of supportive husband (giving up his university position and orchestra for this move) should not be a spectacular exception – women do this all the time. Rather it should be the norm. But – we are still a long distance away from this.

And – if Clara could do it with 9 kids, an unstable husband, and in a buggy, I can do it too!

 

 

robert and clara schumann

 

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  • Bravo! Bravo to you! I admire your temperament in not treating the people asking questions with disdain. Their questions are indeed insulting even if they come from biased, unworldly people. It seems as if some things will never change in our society. Do you find that Germany is even more “standard family unit centered” than America?

    I have so much enjoyed every episode of your diary and hope it continues for a long time.

  • The attitude towards working mothers is a lot more negative in Germany and Austria than elsewhere, such as the UK and USA. It is noticeable that the top German orchestras only have around 20-25% women in them and the VPO will hit this barrier, even after the last dinosaur has shuffled off into retirement. They have a word for it – Rabenmutter or ‘raven mother’ – because ravens (supposedly) neglect their offspring.

    • I’m not surprised by your statement about the German (and Austrian?) attitude towards working mothers, since only 40% of female graduates in Germany have any children at all. That’s why the country is into ‘population replacement’. My issue is that they’ve forced everybody else in Europe and Scandinavia to join in the same program.

  • I am loving reading this diary. What makes this diary really good is the personal details, the personal-is-political character of it, and a large dollop of musicianly decision making at points we are not privileged to see, mostly, not to mention a peak at the finished product.
    This diary is a little dust devil refresher from the writing about music that ONLY says, “and then we played the Carnegie Hall and did these compositions”.
    May the diary spawn other upstart dust devils.

  • Good for you Anthea! Women in every profession have long been asked questions that are totally irrelevant because they are never asked of men, and are based on an assumption that somehow the male is still the more important half of the partnership. But in fact in an equal partnership sometimes one steps back to allow the other to progress, and then at a later time it may be the other who does. So continue to live your dream and speak out! I do so enjoy the ‘behind the scenes’ details. I lived in the US for 22 years and used to listen to Fred Child every day before returning to Sydney – I’ll bet I heard your trio in 2003!!

  • The era of Facebook has facilitated many millions of people who want to share their daily lives in a very public way. I am not one of these.

    As an aside; undertaking Women’s Studies – and other such degrees – is certainly a great way to achieve wage equality with men!!!

  • Clara Schumann was known as “raven mother”. She didn’t care much of her nine children. Piano career was first priority. Not a great role model for A.Kreston.

  • So, she lives in my suburb, teaches at the school where I studied and worked, offers me tickets to her concerts, mentions me in her diary. I’m starting to feel stalked!
    But will nonetheless make use of the ticket offer for May 25…

  • Within my relatively small circle of friends & acquaintances, I’ve known women who were called selfish to their faces, and/or informed that their reported happiness is a delusion, for having:

    – no children.
    – a husband but no children.
    – children but no husband.
    – only one or two children.
    – a lot of children.
    – children and a career.
    – no children and a career.
    – children and no career (because staying home to raise them doesn’t count as a career, apparently).

    Draw your own conclusions.

    • I can honestly say that during my whole life I have never heard any woman insulted – especially to her face – about any of those things. None at all.

  • I think it’s guerilla gardening actually, though gorilla might be more interesting to watch (perhaps from a distance?). I’d ask around about the tomato spot — I’m sure if you get permission(ish) from someone and are willing to share the tomatoes everyone will be happy.

  • A, you are amazing! I continue to be in awe. Just last night at youth symphony rehearsal, I said to those assembled, “white men rule the world.”

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