I learned to be endlessly resilient from my years with Isaac Stern

Anthea Kreston, our weekly diarist, is having a normality hiatus in her new life in the Berlin-based Artemis Quartet.

 

It has been eight months, and in every way life has become more regular. Regular wake-up time, regular oatmeal for breakfast, regular quartet rehearsal schedule, regular bedtime. One of the things that I knew was coming was a “regular” feeling in quartet. It certainly isn’t regular in a “regular” way – but after eight months of observing and trying to absorb and integrate, I have begun to insert myself into the mix. Not completely, but a little at a time. I still strongly believe that it is I who must fit into the sound, philosophy and technique of this incredible group of musicians. It is not my place to change this group – it is my pleasure to learn from them, become them. At the same time, I know they like the way I play – and I can see that we are reaching out towards one another – creating something new.

I have always enjoyed taking criticism and comments and doing everything in my power, regardless of whether or not I agree, to try to make that idea or suggestion even better than the person could have imagined. I learned to be endlessly resilient from my years with Isaac Stern. His criticism was intense, ruthless, unkind, relentless, piercing, and always true. That was the thing – the truth of it would cut away the natural instinct to disagree – and because it was true, I wanted to be able to do it.

Because of my recent study of the members of the Artemis, and the frequency and high-expectations of performance, I have entered a kind of “golden age”.  I have had four golden ages before – times where all things aligned and intense growth happened. The first was when I was 12.  I was in a practice zone, a technique explosion and a new complete emotional commitment. It was during this time that I went on vacation with my best friend’s family, and woke up every morning at 5 am, practicing in the bathroom with my hotel mute for 4 hours before the family roused. I was addicted.

It has taken me by surprise that I would be capable of having another golden age – my last one was around 10 years ago when Trio was in the flurry of concerts and repertoire expansion. How wonderful to feel confident, powerful, vulnerable and expressive. Ideas and emotions flow and I am beginning to integrate the wide range of new techniques and performance practices that the Artemis has developed over the past 27 years – things which make them unique and easily recognisable in recordings and performance. In the era when different performers sound very similar in concert and recording (people thing this may be due to the increasingly high standards of perfection in classical music), I am proud to find myself in a group which has a specific sound. And I want to be part of it.

The week we got a great review – the reviews recently have all been fantastic.  I know I shouldn’t care. But still. This week they said something like “The Artemis is back at the top of their game – again amongst the greatest living string quartets – as good (or possibly even better) than they have ever been. And, they got there much quicker than any of us could have imagined.” Here we go!

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  • Wonderful! Congratulations.

    I’m not a big fan of the “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” approach (what about polio?), but people who can work with such teachers often get an enormous amount out of them.

  • Always so inspiring to read your thoughts – its wonderful to see how open you were to Stern’s tough critique of your playing, and how that helps you so much now in your new role in Artemis.

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