In this weather, a quartet needs its emergency wellness pack

In this weather, a quartet needs its emergency wellness pack


norman lebrecht

March 16, 2018

From our diarist, Anthea Kreston:

The weeks are a blur. I get disoriented by the waves of intense work and stillness. Since Milan last week, we have played in Arnhem (a wonderful town an hour outside of Amsterdam), and returned to play twice at the Concertgebouw. Jason and the girls met up with me there, and we spent three fun and silly days on a houseboat together. It still floors me when I see myself in Quartet photos in front of halls, or on marquees. And to have the luxury of performing two back-to-back concerts of the same repertoire, in halls such as the Concertgebouw, is miraculous. How does this even happen?

We are in the midst of the sickness season – so many musicians are falling ill, playing concerts with fevers, stomach flu, coughing fits. For the past couple of months, I don’t think we have had even one, completely well performance – usually 2 or 3 of us are in different stages of the same illness, or one of us is transitioning into the next illness. Playing while stifling coughs, bringing tissue on stage to mop fevered brows, managing digestive issues, adjusting intonation to the person with ear infections. Having to wake someone who has fallen dead asleep during intermission. Just today, one of our members was forbidden to fly – ear infections which are too advanced to allow for pressurized air travel. So – instead of going to Spain, we are staying put, gathering our strength for Bremen and Frankfurt early next week, and for our upcoming tour to the USA. I am so paranoid of getting sick I won’t touch door handles, and wash my hands so much they are red and chapped. Echinacea, vitamin c, Zink, and these odd tasting intense glass vials I get from the organic pharmacy kind-of store.

Our concert repertoire, two late Mozarts, a Mendelssohn and a Bartok, are simply what we play on stage. In between the concerts, we are preparing the Shostakovich Piano Quintet (our recording for Warner begins soon – Shostakovich 5 and 7 Quartets and the Quintet with Elisabeth Leonskaja, the formidable Russian pianist). We play many times together with Liza in preparation for the recording – playing the Dvorak Piano Quintet to round out the program. Munich, Berlin, Dresden, Vienna – and looking at her schedule right now on her website, it is a wonder to behold – concertos from Ireland to Shanghai, Schubert Sonata Cycle in Tokyo, Beethoven Sonatas in Spain – it is cram-packed. How does she do it?

In addition, our upcoming USA tour has totally different repertoire – these pieces we have to bring with us on tour in Europe, and fit them, little by little, into our sound-check rehearsals. A couple of Schumanns, Beethoven. We hit the ground running when we get there – there isn’t any buffer – Princeton, Library of Congress, Carnegie – a couple of mid-western concerts, Houston, then onto California. The concerts are back-to-back, so there will be early mornings, long travel each day, and interviews are jammed between flights and hotel.

When I saw the Emersons the other month, I prepared “emergency wellness packs” for them. Small, reusable shopping bags filled with fizzy vitamin drinks, chewable antacid, anti-stress tea, power-immunity drops, organic dark chocolate. They told me later that their tour was completely without illness – maybe thanks to those little health bags.

So – I am practising, preparing, napping, and, because of the cancellation, taking my youngest daughter (age six) on a spontaneous three-day trip to Helsinki tomorrow (with my violin). Should be fun!



  • Marg says:

    I’m breathless reading this! Do you really have to tour/play at this frenetic pace in Winter when illness and travel cancellations (=stress) are rife? I hope you all get your health back pretty soon, especially the ear infections which are no fun. Glad to hear new recordings are in the works

  • Bill says:

    One very plausible reason the Emerson 4 didn’t get sick is that they don’t have (so far as I know) little kids with them to act as founts of all sorts of microscopic attackers. It was certainly the case when we and our circle of friends had our children start being exposed to large groups of other children at school that the frequency of the parents getting sick spiked. All part of the fun, right?

    Btw, pressurization of aircraft does not create issues for those with ear infections, rather the opposite. Cabin pressure decreases in flight, but less than it would if the aircraft was not pressurized at the same altitude. Commercial aircraft are required to maintain a cabin pressure equivalent to that at 8,000’ above sea level, and most newer aircraft do appreciably better. The difference in pressure between the air outside pressing in and the air trapped inside (by blockage of the duct that normally equalizes the pressure) pressing out can cause substantial pain, which is a common reason why infants often cry during takeoff and descent. It is predominantly a comfort issue, but understandable that a musician should take care of their ears! Also understandable that the other passengers would prefer that those who are sick with communicable illnesses stay home rather than sharing…

  • Judith says:

    Hey Anthea, here are two additions I suggest for your wellness packs. One is “procedure face masks with ear loops,” those blue rectangle fabric masks that hospital staff wear. Wear them in crowds and on the plane and subway to avoid breathing germs. 20 cents each. The other is a travel pack of antiseptic wipes to wash down airplane tray tables and arm rests or your hands before you eat.

  • buxtehude says:

    I was going to suggest magnets, aroma therapy and maybe homeopathic distillations but I imagine you’ve thought of these already. Maybe more from the alternative medicine cupboard for the back-up wellness pack.

    My remaining suggestion is for instrument-wellness, products I’ll soon be offering, namely: large-format case stick-ons announcing “Puppy on Board!” with photo-realistic paintings of popular breeds — so far, weimaraners, dachshunds, shepherds plus visuals of breathing holes.

    I wish these weren’t so expensive, but they’re going to be worth it, at least one day.

    • Anthea Kreston says:

      Hello Buxtehude,
      This sounds wonderful! Please keep us updated. I just love getting to have a glimpse into our Slipped Disk community, and all the creativity and energy that is in all of us.
      Best wishes,