When a quartet violinist goes flat

When a quartet violinist goes flat


norman lebrecht

April 20, 2018

Our diarist Anthea Kreston gets stopped in her tracks:

I was driving in my rental car, heading from the Oakland Airport for the final leg of our strenuous 2 week tour of the United States. Exhausted, but thankful that for these last 4 concerts, I would be based out of my sister’s house in Berkeley, driving myself to concerts in the Bay Area and Napa. I have been squeezing in as much practice time as possible – immediately after returning to Berlin, in addition to our new round of Quartet repertoire and recording sessions for Warner, I am playing a piano trio concert and a string trio concert.

Last season, our manager had called saying that the ElbPhilharmonie was looking for a string trio to play the Schoenberg String Trio for their opening week of concerts. Jason and I immediately thought of Volker, the original violist of the Artemis Quartet, and our friend since our student days. After the concert, the conductor Ingo Metzmacher came to find us back stage, and hired us on the spot for his adventurous concert series in Hannover, KünsteFestSpiel. His repertoire of choice – start with the Schoenberg (an intense 30 minute depiction of his heart attack), followed by the Rihm String Trio (für Drei). We immediately said yes, happy that our fun collaboration would have a future. Over beer, Volker said – you know this Rihm (a modernist German composer who is all the rage here) is basically never performed – it is an hour long and nearly impossible to play. Haha – that’s what they always say!

So here I was, in the rental car, blasting the Rihm String Trio, heading into the final leg of our tour, so happy to finally lay my head down in the same bed for multiple nights, and to have good food and company. About 40 minutes in, I was in the 5th movement, at the part where Volker sounds like he is hacking at a frozen carcass with a cleaver while I am strangling a cat in heat, and I heard something curious. A long, sustained elephant fart. A couple of things went through my mind – “Wow – these car speakers are incredible!”, “how the heck is that notated?”, and, finally, “the audience is going to adore this part!”. Driving on the second from left lane on a 6 lane highway, I noticed the wheel was shaking and the car pulling to the right. I turned off the speakers, and low and behold, the elephant was still at it. It wasn’t the Rihm after all, just a flat tire.

I pulled off as quickly as I could, to the shoulder of the exit ramp. By this time I was close to one of the tent villages around Oakland, and thought that the exit ramp would probably be the smarter choice for a regrouping. I checked the trunk for a spare and tools, and called my brother-in-law to tell him I would be late. Finding a piece of concrete in the brush, I steadied the footing of the jack (I was on a dirt shoulder), and dug in. Two trucks pulled over, each one with a friendly man, asking if I needed help. I said I thought I had this – I was a reasonably intelligent adult and I had changed my share of tires in the olden days. After inspecting my work, they both told me to carry on – lookin’ good!

And so, my “free day”, which had begun in Houston, teaching a wonderful group of students from the Shepherd School of Music at Rice, and catching up with old teachers James Dunham (Cleveland Quartet) and Norman Fischer, finally ended at 11:00 PM, in the glow of a warm Berkeley kitchen, glass of California wine in hand, catching up with family that I see all too little.

The final concert last night, in Napa, wrapped up our tour – all four of us are bone-tired, emotionally exhausted, and nursing along arms and fingers barely hanging on after so many nightly performances. None of us gave less than our whole selves – 4 rings of sweat glisten on the stage after our final encore of our 2018 US tour. I am waiting for a flight to Los Angeles now – heading down to teach a masterclass before stopping by to say hello to old friends in Oregon, and then back to Berlin, where my Humboldt Streich Trio eagerly awaits our exploration into the strange and marvelous world of Rihm.


  • Ravi Narasimhan says:

    Is your LA masterclass open to the public?

    • Anthea kreston says:

      Dear Ravi –
      Masterclass was yesterday already at Colburn – what fantastic students! Some Slipped Disk people came – not sure how they knew.
      Have a great week!

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    A flat tire was a light punishment for strangling a cat. What a shame! 🙂

  • Jaime Herrera says:

    I’m a fiddle player and a pianist and I would NEVER change a tire, even if it’s in my driveway; even in the best of days. Way too risky.

    • Anthea kreston says:

      Jamie –
      Here you would find enthusiastic agreement from my sister. After calling my brother-in-law, who said – hold tight – I’m ubering over right now – my sister sent me a series of SCREAMING WHATSAPP MESSAGES. But – I could either do it myself, or spend hours waiting for the guys to come and then get the replacement car. I opted for DIY and an earlier bedtime….

      • David says:

        I think you were wise to change it yourself.
        First; as you had experience it is not that difficult.
        Second; as you state, there were a couple of friendly helpful people that offered help and noted that you knew what you were doing.
        Third; not changing the tire would have deprived us a great photo!
        Last; it is important for us all to appreciate the important and mundane mechanics that we take for granted every day. Knowing about tire changing is an important life skill.

  • Marg says:

    Rhim will ever be associated with an elephant fart. LOL!