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.
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!