Our diarist Anthea Kreston is one of two players in the Artemis Quartet who will leave at the end of this season. The other is the last of the quartet’s founding members, Eckart Runge. So who, or what, makes a string quartet? Is it the musicians, or is it the name? These are trenchant questions. Here are Anthea’s thoughts:
Who are we? Are we the same person when we are a child, an adult, and at the end of life? Our values change, our situations and priorities change. The continuity of the self – is this a certainty? When did I become a violinist – will I still be a violinist after my hands permanently curl and can not grasp the neck of my violin (arthritis runs in my family, so this will certainly be my fate) – was I a violinist before I ever even touched my first instrument? Is being a violinist simply an extension of my base personality – does it exist separately from my physical self? If I become a paraplegic, I believe I would still identify as a violinist. What is our identity, and what is the identity of a string quartet?
The Ship of Theseus. Two thousand years ago, the Greek historian and writer Plutarch outlined a brilliant thought experiment – one which I believe relates particularly well to the news which was quite jarringly announced earlier this week. The news that the Artemis Quartet, that bastion of the German art form of the string quartet – my colleagues and dear partners for these past 2.5 years, will be, in 9 months time, traveling along different paths. The Artemis, like so many quartets before them, have weathered and become stronger through triumph and tragedy – through personelle change, the loss of a colleague by his own hand, the development from brilliant, idealistic youth to international road warriors, never compromising in their core beliefs and dedication to their art. They have pushed me, and themselves, every moment, to be our best, individually and collectively, and I have never felt more challenged, and more proud of my accomplishments as a member of this group.
So – back to Plutarch.
The founder of Athens, the famed hero Theseus, slew a Minotaur in a great battle, and returned triumphant to Athens in his magnificent ship. To honor this amazing feat, the citizens kept his ship in the harbor, every year taking it on a replicate voyage of Theseus to celebrate his victory. They painstakingly and lovingly repaired it, replacing boards, mast, until, 1,000 years later, the final board was replaced, and no original part of boat remained. Plutarch’s question is – is the „restored“ ship the same as the original?
So – is the Artemis Quartet the same group as it was in 1989, with Wilken Ranck, Isabel Trautwein, Volker Jacobsen and Eckart Runge? Was the ship that they sailed into victory the same ship that was sailed by Natasha, Vineta, Heime, Friedemann, Eckart, Gregor and myself? When I first boarded the Artemis, it certainly felt like a vessel which had seen many battles, which was both fluid and powerful, which had a crew that knew how to man the deck and a consortium of captains. And yet, through my tenure, boards were delicately replaced – a new feeling here, a slide which was once verboten now included. I am a very romantic, sentimental player, and my style was bent and formed into the forged steel bouts of this ship, while still allowing for a flexibility of a new approach. A great thing cannot stand still, it must be in constant flux – it must change and grow to survive and flourish. It must adapt.
And so – is the Artemis Quartet the same? Will it remain the same? The answer, like the answer to Theseus‘ Paradox, cannot be found. It is both the same and different. It learns from itself, follows the guiding principals of its youth, and it watches, listens and adapts, incorporates and expands. It gathers all strengths, all of the sweat and sacrifice of all of its members, past, present and future, to create something simultaneously new and old.
We must wait, we must be patient, we must give our hopes and dreams to the future. I, personally, will be in that audience for years to come, to watch not the re-enactment of the great virgin voyage, but rather the continued sailing of a ship, always searching for the next adventure, fearlessly forging ahead with conviction, the knowledge of the past, and the vision of the future. God Speed, Mighty Artemis!