So I asked my student if I could call his mother…

So I asked my student if I could call his mother…


norman lebrecht

November 24, 2017

In a packed international schedule, our diarist Anthea Kreston squeezes in time to see students – and their mothers.



The taxi picked me up a moment ago – it is 5:45 AM – this week I have been to Brussels twice, now I head to Geneva and will also have played in Cologne, Berlin and Munich before I write my diary again. In-between these concerts, some of my quartet colleagues go directly to the next destination, but I always opt to go home, if at all possible, to even spend an afternoon or portion of the day with my family. Yesterday was such a day – arriving home the night before, after midnight, from two days teaching at the Queen Elizabeth Chapel in Brussels (where the Queen Elizabeth competitions are held, as well as a flourishing year-round residential program for top soloists and chamber groups). I snuggled with my daughters – to even have those moments to share sleep, to hear their little breaths coming in and out, shifting and resettling after I climb in – this is worth the extra effort to come home. It was Thanksgiving – how could I not come back?

We spent the morning lazily, going shopping and peering in on the progress of our local Christmas Market (built upon a long blocks-worth of wooden platforms – including an ice rink, train, multi-story wooden cabins, mulled wine and trinket shoppes).  We got ingredients for our meal, and I left directly for some teaching and meetings at the Universität der Künste, where I am still agog at walking the same hallways as the Schumanns or teaching in the Carl Fleisch Hall.

My mother is here for these weeks – I am gone much more than I am here – to help with the day-to-day ins and outs. Our daughters played a little concert for us before dinner – when I got back from work, they were in the kitchen with grandma in their new aprons – making a cake. Next to our place settings, each of us had a card from our older daughter, with drawings and things she was thankful for. They had made a centerpiece of colored papers surrounding votive candles. It did feel like Thanksgiving- so far from our home, friends and family – we have made a nest for ourselves here – slowly and with many missteps and small victories.

After dinner, I had promised one of my old Corvallis students a FaceTime lesson – as the call was answered, the familiar faces of his parents were in the screen as my student wandered in, yawning in his pajamas. They were in the midst of preparing a meal for 30 guests – a lovely Persian family who became close friends during our time in Oregon.

After our lesson, I asked my student if I could talk to his mom for a moment. Calling into the kitchen in Farsi, his mom came in, wiping hands on her apron. She and I spoke for some time – things have not been easy recently here for us, and I was eager for a sympathetic ear, some advice or understanding. So many of our friends and students have made a similar move to ours – coming to America with suitcases and children in hand, to make a new life in a foreign land and with little knowledge of the culture or language. And yet, through fits and starts, we all flourish.

She listened, resisted offering advice – just explored options and solutions with me. By the end of the conversation, we were both crying a little, and gave each other a hug over the computer. I read this week about a scientific research project on happiness and wellbeing. There was one simple question that caught my eye – it was – “is there anyone in your life you would feel comfortable calling at 4 AM to talk about a problem”? If there is, your life expectancy is greater. I thought of this person, expecting 30 guests in a matter of minutes, who took the time to listen, to connect. And I can think of a handful of people who I would be able to talk to this way. I do, indeed, have a lot to be thankful for.


  • Scotty says:

    When and where in Cologne? I live here but can’t find an Artemis gig in local listings or on the quartet’s concert page. It must be my fault; it’s common knowledge that I’m slowwitted. But can you help a brother out?

    • Anthea Kreston says:

      Scottie – I see here that we go into Cologne but looks like we play in Weiden. Must be somewhere close….can you find it?

      • Meal says:

        Er, not to sure whether you are going to play close to Cologne. According to the webpage of the Artemis Quartett you are going to play at the Max-Reger-Halle in Weiden. Although there is a borough “Weiden” in Cologne there is no Max-Reger-Halle in that borough. Unfortunately for Scotty and me you will be playing in Weiden (Oberpfalz) (, at least 5 hours away from Cologne …

  • Scotty says:

    Yes indeed. It’s barely out of town. Straight west on Aachener Straße. Thanks, Anthea.

    • Meal says:

      I do not believe that she is going to play in Weiden (Cologne) (cf. above). At least she should double check whether she has got the right address and booked the right hotel.

  • Anthea kreston says:

    Oh ha ha. Typical for me. I am sure you are right. I am in intermission in Geneva now – last night at midnight I was checking into my flight (i was in Berlin) and I noticed the flight was going from Brussels to Geneva, not Berlin to Geneva. I had to quickly buy a new flight! Oh my gosh sometimes it is scary. Too many details!

  • Marg says:

    I moved from Australia to the US, just me and no-one else in tow, and it was difficult enough to really arrive at the point where I felt pretty integrated into the life. I cant imagine how it is when you have totally different customs, food, language, etc to deal with, as well as caring for the well being of very young children. I think you are all amazing.

  • Rachelle McCabe says:

    Anthea, your blog article brought tears to my eyes. We miss you in Corvallis! Our best to the whole family. Rachelle and Philip