Ever wonder where our Berlin-based string quartet diarist Anthea Kreston gets her resilience? Read this:
This week, I began my fourth season as the second violinist of the Artemis String Quartet. I arrived back in Berlin on Wednesday evening, after a month in the States – visiting our old small town in rural Oregon, seeing family and friends, teaching at Curtis and a final stop in Washington, D.C. By Thursday I was in full Quartet rehearsal mode, and on Friday, on the road for a three-concert tour as a part of the Schleswig-Holstein Festival, in beautiful Northern Germany.
I am alone for three weeks – Jason and the girls are squeezing every last minute from our once-a-year US visit. I have big plans for my remaining alone time – I run every day, am doing a full top-to-bottom house cleaning, studying German two hours per day (my tutor comes to work with me every day I am in Berlin), and hands-on practice minimum 3 hours a day. I have a lot of variety this season – in addition to a full Quartet schedule, this month I am playing in the Musethica Festival (a Marlboro-style festival with a different International location each session), and sitting concertmaster for Deutsche Oper. I have a lot of notes to get my fingers around (Quartet tour this week is Beethoven, Bartok, Schumann and the Schumann Quintet with Leonskaja), and we start new Quartet rep next week (Haydn Rider, Bartok 4, and Brahms 51/2).
One of the things that has always grounded me is growing vegetables. I am the granddaughter of an Appalachian farmer, and I grew up with dirt between my green fingers. EB Boston lived with us until he passed (when I was 6 years old), and for as long as I can remember, he helped me plan, plant and care for my own garden in the back, growing flowers and vegetables from seed inside during the cold Chicago winters. He had fallen, as a teenager, into the tractor at the homestead in Sulphur Wells, Kentucky. His leg nearly severed, the local veterinarian (there wasn’t a doctor) sewed it back on, with a sawed-off shotgun held to his head by my great-grandfather.
You see – he refused to do it – he didn’t know the first thing about re-attaching a human limb. But, it became abundantly clear, great-grandad wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. By the end of the year, using two canes, his family sent him on his way, with his 7th grade education – there were too many mouths to feed, and he was no use around the farm. And so, with his quick wit, effusive optimism, and natural opportunism, he set forth for the Windy City. He always walked with a cane – his right leg jutting out at kind-of a right angle (“that horse-doctor managed to connect enough of the right tubes to get me up and about”, he would say, rubbing the feeling back into his semi-cooperative leg). He was a killer on the poker table, could drink any man under the table, and would pack his pipe without looking down. He liked plaid (often wearing one plaid for pants, and another for a sports-coat, and made his fortune somehow between the card table and various inventions (rumor had it that he had something to do with the bandaid, Formica, and window air conditioners). At heart, he was always a farmer.
He bought a beautiful 80 acre farm in rural Wisconsin, an easy drive up from Chicago for us on weekends and long vacations. He set one of his friends up there to be the full caretaker, with the agreement that we/he could come to “work” the farm whenever he wanted – caring for the large vegetable plot, orchard and the full range of animals.
I am at my happiest when elbow deep in a vegetable garden – this year is our best garden yet in Germany. I have used an old ladder to trellis my tomatoes, and the zucchini are stretched almost to our front door. The apples are ripe, and I have plans to make cider and apple butter with the girls when they get back. Nothing brings me to my happy place like the smell of tomatoes on my hands after a good spell in the garden.