This week we started to sound really good. Really good

This week we started to sound really good. Really good


norman lebrecht

September 25, 2016

Our weekly diarist Anthea Kreston is getting the red-carpet treatment with the Artemis Quartet.

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The quartet has been awarded an ECHO Award – the European equivalent to a Grammy. It is the fourth for the Artemis – and will be my first time walking the Red Carpet.  I never anticipated that I would still be wearing dresses after age 40 which will necessitate sucking in – make my daily 22 push-ups, jump rope and jog critical.

The difference in rehearsal style these past weeks has been marked and exhilarating.  When I joined the quartet, I had three weeks to pack my family and move permanently to Berlin, as well as learning 6 new works (2 complete programs).  In addition to having intense culture shock and trying to navigate the shock of my family, the quartet itself was in shock – we had less than three weeks before we were to debut as the new formation. We were all under severe pressure – both self and other.  The world was looking, and we were all trying to rise to the occasion. Rehearsals were fast, long, and frequent. We didn’t have time to dig as deep as we wanted to – we had to rely more on instinct, flexibility, trust. If we hadn’t, we would not have made it – there was no time to indulge in a deep conversation over the sound differences in a phrase between looking back nostalgically or looking back with a tinge of regret.

This is how it has been for the first 8 months. The pace and expectations have been fast and high. But, finally we have the time to rehearse properly. It has been eye-opening, curious, and satisfying.  As I looked at the schedule a couple of weeks ago (people often ask if we rehearse standing – we are one of the few groups which performs standing – and the answer is yes – sometimes 7 hours a day), I was filled with a mixture of excitement and dread – blocks of 4 hour rehearsals were devoted to only one movement, with a duration of less than 6 minutes. Oh dear. What were we going to do?  Would we have enough to talk about (I remembered my mother telling me that she used to prepare index cards with conversation ideas before dates, and would excuse herself to the bathroom to review them during the date).  Should I prepare index cards?  Would we run out of ideas?

The answer became clear quite quickly. Day after day we failed to complete our work – a 6 minute movement proved to complex for a 4 hour rehearsal – we would add more time, work on it again for our “second and third washings”.  How were we to find a productive, organized group work model?  Who was supposed to speak next, how many ideas could be stacked on top of one another for a given phrase, how do each of us parse out and receive criticism?

One very interesting idea in this quartet is the electing of a president for each work. That person is in charge of time management, flow of rehearsal, preps the group score (making bowing suggestions, metronome markings, character ideas, then scanning and emailing to everyone before the first rehearsal) and has generally a wider grasp of knowledge about the piece than the others. After the first rehearsal of that work, the presidency disappears and democracy (or chaos?) takes over. I haven’t yet had a turn as a president, but I can’t wait.

So – because we have the time, and we all are very opinionated, the rehearsals have been animated, to say the least. Finally we are of four equal footing, and the quartet is eager to hear my thoughts. We have clashed, become closer. We have discussed ways of rehearsing, ways of speaking to one another. We have all changed – looking for the strength in one another – finding ways to become stronger together. It has sometimes been very difficult – I have regretted some of the things I have said, or the manner I which I spoke. I always strive to be my best person – and sometimes I am not my best. But I pick up, and move on – looking for a way to dig deep but inspire and get the best out of both myself and the others.

This week, we started to sound really good. Really good. A new sound has come in these recent rehearsals, and we all can hear it and feel it. Diplomacy and debate is key – trust and space to create.

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  • Britcellist says:

    Wow, this is getting deep! The realities of working with three colleagues. Bravo to you all, and Anthea, thanks for sharing this. Congratulations on your first ECHO award. Also of course to the others, but they are old hats at winning.

  • Marg says:

    Thanks so much for keeping this diary going. It’s the highlight of the daily blog for me – always love it when I see you have posted something. The insight into what goes into a few bars of music is so inspiring. And congrats on the red carpet experience!! Fabulous for you all to win this award. Brava!

  • Simon J Evnine says:

    I love your column. I know it’s about the quartet of course but it would be great sometime to hear more about your experiences with Isaac Stern.