What every quartet player needs to remember: it’s called spouse time

What every quartet player needs to remember: it’s called spouse time


norman lebrecht

June 17, 2016

This week, Anthea Kreston of the Artemis Quartet suffered the theft of her beloved violin and spent more face time with German police (pictured) than anyone expected. The violin has not yet been recovered. Anthea, an American in Berlin, has much on her mind. But one concern must never be neglected. Here’s her weekly diary for Slipped Disc:

anthea with cop

When Jason and I first talked about my contacting the Artemis Quartet to talk about the idea of me coming to audition, we spoke for hours about the implications of a possible move – from the minuscule to the tremendous. One subject we both knew well, from our own experiences being members of string quartets, is the all-consuming nature of this job. It is not a job, actually, it is a commitment to a new reality – a completely new life. It consumes, it obsessed, it challenges, it breaks you down and lifts you up higher and lower than you thought possible. Days and weeks of frenetic highs punctuated by a stillness and a quiet.

What does it mean to be a member of a string quartet? Many people believe that this is the highest form of classical music making – every composer’s dream configuration – every player’s dream of the perfect balance of technical and musical challenges. It is bigger than any of us alone – you can never be good enough – honest enough with your emotions – in tune enough, in control enough, able to abandon yourself enough on stage. It is the ultimate quest, and one that can never, ever be attained. It is based on mutual respect and the ability to draw the best from you colleagues – to ask the impossible, to demand it from them and yourself. To never be satisfied. It takes a stomach of steel and a heart of putty.

It is exhausting – physical injury is a constant worry – the irregular schedule makes regular nutrition and sleep impossible, and private lives are subject to this erratic swing. I don’t know why I started this week thinking like this. I am sitting on a train, heading south to tonight’s concert. Concert number 30. Lots of time to think, I suppose.

Our travel plans changed this week. We were supposed to be heading to a concert – a fabulous concert with a fabulous guest – and the city we were going to sustained a terrorist bombing – a second attack within the short time I have lived here. I heard of it first from Jason. He sent me a link. We called a quartet meeting to discuss it. My plan, since joining this quartet, has been to take a back seat in quartet decisions. I need to understand these personalities, respect their flow, allow them to still be themselves. I need to join the quartet – in all ways. To observe. So, when we talked about this concert, we had three different opinions. One strongly for keeping the concert, one strongly for not going, and one who could see both sides. There are so many feelings and rationalizations that happen when one contemplates a reaction to a terrorist attack. Stay strong – don’t let them dictate my life – respect your gut – make sure your family feels comfortable with your choice…..

It became apparent that I needed to weigh in. This is one decision that must have all of us. I was heavily leaning towards not wanting to go – and I can’t, with a clean conscious, ask someone to do something they feel uncomfortable doing. So I voted to cancel. Stay home. Stay with family.  And then, Orlando happened. How can we feel safe?  What can we do?  This is everywhere, in the smallest and largest doses. In the States, I had been close to enough mass shootings that I would not go to malls or movie theaters. In kindergarten they have drills where 5 year olds practice hiding under desks and being quiet. What can we do?  What can we do?

But – my three magical days at home were just what I needed.  What my family needed. It was the week that Jason took flight. The Eagle Has Taken Wing.  He got a call to play with the Deutsches Sinfonie Orchestra. And on Saturday he was asked to play a trio concert with an old Curtis friend of mine – Judith Ingolfssohn – an amazing violinist who was the winner of the Indianapolis International Violin Competition.

We were able to rush his work visa through just in time. I was able to take over my old role of primary parent for two days – seeing him leave the apartment with cello on back, briefcase on shoulder – was as bittersweet as seeing Tzippy through the window at Kindergarten. We have all begun to sprout here – each finding our own light and nutrients. Relying on one another, finding our independence, our inner strengths, and coming together to share our sadnesses and triumphs. This is the week of “The Jason” and the first of many new and exciting adventures for him – his week to take flight. It is what I have been waiting for.


  • britcellist says:

    Another poignant weekly diary. Thank you for taking the time to share your amazing life adventure.

  • Marg says:

    I’m just loving these regular postings. What an insight into the back-stage life of a quartet. So wonderful that you share this. I think you should consider having these published in a book when you finally get to an end of writing about this. And I still have my fingers crossed for your instrument’s safe return.

  • Allan Green says:

    Anthea, I am enjoying your posts very much indeed, and I think that the suggestion of a book is an excellent one.

    I hope you will get your beloved violin back…or at least that you are offered the loan of a marvellous instrument that will delight you (and others too).