The Downton Abbey side of a high-flying string quartet

Anthea Kreston, American violinist in the Artemis Quartet, discovers that, to paraphrase L. P. Hartley, Germany ‘is a foreign country:they do things differently there’. Here’s her weekly diary entry for slippedisc.com

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We have begun concerts on our new repertoire. What a civilized way to begin – with 2 “house” concerts in Berlin, then on to our regular touring schedule, which begins this week. Last night, we played in the ballroom of the Savoy Hotel in Berlin. Shimmering chandeliers shed light on the opulent wood and burgundy of the room, while guests sat at tables, their place settings meticulously set (I immediately thought of Downton Abbey and the precision of the measuring of wine/water/aperitif glasses).

This was a special occasion – the evening marked an anniversary of the parents of the cellist of the Artemis, and friends came from near and far to celebrate. Children had their own table (complete with fabric place cards, miniature paper castles filled with treats, and coloring books), and the Artemis concert was preceded by a verbal welcoming of certain guests, and their ties to the family (the elder Runge’s are retired diplomats, and their stations spanned the continents).

Playing for the public for the first time after intense, endlessly scrutinizing work, is an odd experience. The mind is over-sensitized – split between recollections of minutia, personal technique, expressive desires and communication with the quartet and audience. Funny things happen – I forget a bowing, and then notice someone else has compensated at the same moment that I get back on track. I look eagerly towards a colleague at the same moment they look towards me – which of us was supposed to cue that one?  A funny smile contagiously spreads across the quartet as a member FINALLY remembers that repeat. I go in and out of being incredibly aware of how out of tune I am, then refocus on vibrato or bow speed, or even – wait – did I just do a bizarre knee bend for some reason?  As a glasses-wearer (I used to wear contacts, but one time I had dry eyes and lost a contact early on – and spent the remainder of the concert in a semi-fog – after which I switched permanently to glasses), I slowly recognize the rests when I have enough time to push them up again, or which movement warrants more glasses or hair maintenance.

After our performance, the quartet (and their families) are seated and I have the chance to be with the girls. Jason is off to Hamburg for a concert of his own (leaving yesterday at 7 am and arriving back today in the wee hours).  As he begins to be more integrated into Berlin, our web of schedule becomes more complex – the need for outside help once again is a part of our lives. We have been in a cocoon for these 8 months, but now, as we begin to transition once again into a two-income house, a support network is beginning.

This week, both Jason and I were rehearsing at the University of the Arts – me with Artemis, and Jason directly below with a small, conductor-less chamber orchestra, lead by an old friend of mine from Curtis, the incredible Indira Koch (concertmaster of the Deutsche Oper Berlin). To go down to Joseph’s for a cappuccino break, and see Jason at a full table of musicians, laughing and talking, just made my day.

On another note, we have begun to host parties here. I love to have people over, and I am finally out of party hibernation. First a breakfast for our daughter’s friend and family, then a party for musicians (it was a beer and nacho party), and coming up our daughter’s entire first grade will be coming over for a potluck and clothing swap. A house full of guests this week (5 from Oregon), then a couple of days alone before my sister, husband and daughter come for 10 days. It begins to remind me of Oregon, when we were rarely alone in our homes – a revolving door of students, rehearsals, family and friends.

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