Parents at my child’s school start a string quartet

Parents at my child’s school start a string quartet


norman lebrecht

October 06, 2017

Anthea Kreston’s weekly diary:


I am in bed, surrounded by an ocean of books, papers, electronics, coloring supplies, with a cup of tea precariously balanced upon the corner post of the tall, queen-sized upper deck of a loft. I am supposed to be staying down, giving my incision a chance to fully heal this week. Quartet starts up again soon, with a schedule which puts last year’s to shame. We will be pounding out the new repertoire, as well as recording our next (my first) album for Warner. In the mean time, I am taking full advantage of my time stuck in bed, getting a long laundry list of overdue items taken care of, one painful item at a time.

On this list is our US taxes, German taxes (both had extensions which are expiring soon), working to get my Professorship at the University of the Arts turned into a concrete, long-term appointment, cramming German grammar (my tutor comes three times a week), working to extend our work visas for the next 5 years, and turning our Oregon Vacation Home over to a rental company for long-term rental (gutters repaired, heating and power wash, new furniture).

Also, this past Tuesday Jason and I had our debut of the Kennedy String Quartet – three of us are parents to JFK students, and we put together a concert for a National Public Radio tour passing through Berlin, performing on the top floor of a deluxe hotel, a wall of windows overlooking the Berlin Dome, and on the other side the famous Radisson Blu 4-story aquadome (the elevator slices through an amazing vertical aquarium). The only rules we had were that we weren’t allowed to talk about bowings or intonation. Oh my god, I need a break from all that “Quartet” stuff!

In the mean time, Jason and I are beginning a concert series at the JFK school – a mix of formal concerts and family-friendly concerts (which I would also like to present at the US Embassy – I am working on it). Besides the Kennedy Quartet and the Beethoven Sonata concert, I could do everything else this week from bed.

There are endless emails for quartet – rehearsal schedules, travel choices, meetings being organized – and as I see my google calendar for November turn dark with obligations, I am steeling myself for my toughest year yet. I have had time to reflect on my mistakes from this past year, from my unrealistic expectations, think about what realistic expectations might be, and to think of ways that I can anticipate struggles and head them off before they become solid and permanent. With this in mind, I have jotted down some ideas for basic intonation preparation – intonation being a constant issue which can easily create tension and misunderstandings.


The third pillar of the three-legged stool of quartet playing – the other two being interpretation and analysis.


To make sure we are working with as much fundamental group consensus as possible.

1- list of keys and general rules for each – this can serve as our flexible “intonation bible”

2- decide on several ways of practicing tuning, then specify which way we will be practicing

3- warm up as a group in a certain key, to start to build a library of intonation. Bach Chorales work well for this.

4- remain humble, flexible, patient with oneself and others, fix your own house before fixing others, agree on group ideals of intonation (expressive vs. just, horizontal vs. vertical, as the situation calls for)

5- frustration and tension are the enemies of technique and will affect all technique, including intonation, negatively


  • Marg says:

    Glad to read Anthea that you are heeding advice to lie low and heal … and it is a good time to catch up on all that stuff that gets pushed to the “when Ive got time” folder. Loved the end of your post when you Write about quartet playing and begin to share some of the approaches to the mystery of intonation. Who knew playing with others was so complicated, LOL! Hope you are soon fully recovered and ready for the coming year of musical activity with the Quartet.

  • Scotty says:

    Consider having a professional do your German taxes. Three advantages:

    1. If a Steuerberater prepares your taxes, the deadline to file is the end of the year, no extension required.

    2. A Steuerberater is more likely to identify possible deductions and which ones won’t be allowed.

    3. You won’t have to do your German taxes.

  • Jim says:

    I would be really interested to have you expand a little on this innocuous little line:
    1- list of keys and general rules for each – this can serve as our flexible “intonation bible”

    It looks like it could turn into a really useful guide to help with that ever-vexing problem of tuning

  • Anthea Kreston says:

    Hi you guys – I will work on the list of key rules, and I do have a Steuerberater, but I am just putting together all of the travel costs and expenses for him – did you know that here they have per diem for 6,12, and 18 hour increments? Hi Marg – I missed you!

    • Scotty says:

      Ah, good. The first year that I had to file taxes here I made four attempts, each radically different from the others. Finally the Steueramt said that I was longer permitted to prepare my own taxes.

      As for American taxes, among my friends who are ex-pats, I’m the only one who files his US return, although sloppily and as much as 18 months late. It appears that the IRS doesn’t pay that much attention to overseas returns from people who don’t exceed the foreign earned income exemption.

  • esfir ross says:

    Post-operative suggestion: eat a lot of red or black caviar. It speed up healing of cut and wound.