Will I ever get another chance to play Wagner in Berlin?

Will I ever get another chance to play Wagner in Berlin?


norman lebrecht

September 08, 2017

Our diarist, Anthea Kreston, an American string quartet player in Berlin, keeps getting offers she cannot refuse.


I am on the bus, heading to Berlin’s Tegel Airport for a concert in Italy with my quartet. This past week I had several concerts with the quartet, as well as a couple of mixed concerts (Jason and I stayed at the Bebersee Festival after the quartet concerts were finished to do some collaborative playing).  One absolute joy was to meet and play with Harriet Krijgh, an effervescent cellist with a high-powered career.  Both watching her play and playing alongside her, I was struck by her honesty, integrity, and absolute commitment to the deeply-felt, crafted character of every moment. Powerful, coy, beseeching, she cared not for what was outside of her, only to the truth of her vision. As so many women do (and as I once used to), decked out in finery and wearing a mask of colours upon our faces, Harriet shone as a radiant person, in simple clothing, flat ballet shoes, a clear face. Nothing was between her, her soul, and us. 

It made me take a step back – have I, somehow, become a caricature of myself – am I always honest?  Did I once have a sincere feeling for a very personal, quiet area, and now I exaggerate?  Sometimes as musicians, it is as if we are drug addicts – the first hit is wonderful, that first time we slide into a special note – but the next time we need more, and more again. This week was a moment for me to ask if myself to honestly assess my truth, to become pure, to find the root of my feelings, and to understand and appreciate what the music is telling me. 

Back home, I have enjoyed being the lead parent – packing lunches, getting the girls back and forth to school. Today was the opening ceremony at school – I noticed on the family calendar it was marked in red – BRING THE HUGE SCHOOL CONE THING WITH PRESENTS INSIDE TODAY!  VERY IMPORTANT! I had gone to the store to buy one – there was a vast array of huge cardboard cones with various movie characters on them, starting at 10 euros a piece. My goodness, I  can certainly make one myself, I thought, picking up a blue piece of cardboard for 1 euro. My daughter and I worked on it for several days, and today as I was at school, I felt decidedly bizarre, as parents around me carried School Cones covered in designer fabric, with names embroidered, some even with blinking or moving parts. Ours looked a little funny, lopsided and with packing tape holding bits of streamers on the side. But we made it together, and it was filled to the brim with school supplies, toys and dried fruit snacks.  

As I stood there, I recalled a conversation from last year. A mother was telling me how embarrassed she was that for the final class Picknick, she only cut up a watermelon and put it in her son’s bag. I said – “you cut yours up?  I just stuck the whole watermelon in her backpack, with a kitchen knife wrapped in a dish towel held in place with a hair elastic!”.  As I was listening to the Beethovens on my headphones last night at midnight, making smoked salmon and soft, herbed cheese sandwiches on dark bread for the opening ceremony at my daughter’s school, I was proud of the funny way we have made our way through school – we stick together and laugh at the goofy things mom does. 

The moments when they are at school are action-packed for me, between rehearsals for my upcoming Beethoven Sonata Cycle, this week’s start at the Deutsche Oper as fill-in Assistant (or is it Associate – I don’t know what the difference is) Concertmaster. Originally I was to play Lucia di Lammamoor, but yesterday they wrote again, asking for an additional program of portions of Romeo and Juliette as well as third act of Die Walküre.  I thought an hour before accepting the second assignment, and then realized – how could I turn down my possibly only chance to play Wagner opera in Berlin?  I said yes didn’t tell Jason – when I mentioned it this morning, he just raised his eyebrows and said – “how on earth are you going to do that”, and then we had a nice, proper laugh. How on earth do I do any of this stuff?

So here I am, headphones on, learning these pieces for the first time – studying on planes, in cabs and on busses, clocking tempi, my left hand learning the notes silently, following along on my IPad Pro as I make my way through yet another new world.  



  • bratschegirl says:

    Not at all sure if US and European orchestras do this the same way, but here in the States, Associate is a higher rank than Assistant. Some orchestras have only Associate, some have only Assistant, some have both. In those that have both, sometimes the Associate sits second chair and the Assistant third, sometimes the Assistant sits second and the Associate third (thus still on the upper divisi) but the Associate moves up to CM before the Assistant does in either case. Usually. YMMV.

  • Sue says:

    You seem to enjoy a busy, if not frantic, life. I would never have had the energy when I was younger for that kind of pace. Besides, one of my 4 children was constantly ill and we couldn’t know from one week to the next whether he would be in hospital again and for how long. That meant I couldn’t work. The good fortune of having flexible and very healthy children cannot be over stated!!! Best wishes.

  • Marg says:

    Anthea, so nice to have your latest diary entry. Ive missed you for a whole two weeks! I love the balance here between reflections on one’s true deepest self and seeking to express that in your playing, and on the other hand the balance of kids school needs and making sandwiches late at night. The first part reminds me of those wonderfully special times I’m in the audience and encounter that deep level of performance and am taken into a place beyond my everyday self.