If you’re not meant to operate heavy machinery, how about playing the viola?main
From our quartet diarist, Anthea Kreston:
Cologne, Amsterdam, Munich, Vienna – big halls, big repertoire, big expectations. Now that the news of the quartet going different directions is out in the open, I can feel a different kind of vibe from the audience, a mix of nostalgia, scrutiny, and tremendous support. Standing ovations before intermission kind of thing, and long hugs at the after-parties. Lots of questions – from presenters, audience, and in my email box. It’s hard to dance around these pointed questions, but the truth of the immediate music-making is clear. Four musicians at their prime, fully committed to the moment, even as off-stage, our minds and lives race with the myriad possibilities of the future.
Exhausted from tour, I was looking forward to seeing my family and hosting a birthday party. When I walked in, Jason was in the backyard, burying clues for a treasure hunt with a miniature yellow shovel. He called into the house with final instructions just as people began to arrive for the party. I put down my backpack and violin, and was stuffing the gift bags as I noticed my phone screen lighting up – how had 17 messages appeared in the last 20 minutes?
As I greeted the gaggle of little girls, I scrolled through the messages. The Metamorphosen Chamber Orchestra was in a pickle. Their principal violist was in the hospital for emergency surgery, and my dear friends, power couple cellist/conductor Wolfgang Emanuel Schmidt and violinist Indira Koch needed a hand. Starting first thing the next morning. Of course I said yes – we musicians stick together! I said count on me – if you can’t find anyone. After many more updates, by the girls’ bedtime it was clear that I was going to be pulling double-duty this week – learning and daily rehearsing the next round of repertoire for Artemis, then running across town to prepare for the Metamorphosen concert in the Gendarmenmarkt Konzerthaus this week before heading out to Latvia and Brussels for the next quartet engagements.
At 10 pm, I was knocking on the door of my friend Walter Küssner, a Curtis-trained violist in the Berlin Philharmonic – he had a viola for me. It was a big one, he warned me, but it was clean and sounded good – good enough to have won the principal viola audition for Berlin Phil (did it used to belong to Amihai or Máté?). I noticed the extra hole in the scroll – at one point it must have been strung as a 5-string. I didn’t have a moment to try it out – I was sick with a cold, and had to try to get a decent night sleep before sight-reading the rehearsal on an unfamiliar viola. That night, I had that kind of sleep, when your head is bursting – mine with not only a cold, but with all the things I had to juggle in these coming weeks. Touring, learning the new set of quartet repertoire, piano trio concert in Brussels, and somehow preparing for my Oslo Concertmaster audition. Well, that last one was going to have to sit on the shelf for the rest of the week – there are other, more pressing matters.
That night I had that “first day of a cold” kind-of sleep. Nose running like water, you tip your head at a 45% angle towards the ground, so it runs out, not back to your throat, and then you have to shove your little home-art-project toilet-paper plugs into your nostrils, and breath through your mouth, but then you drool so much you have to put Kleenex down by your mouth and then it gets to dry and you wake up coughing and your tongue feels like a dehydrated piece of broccoli scraping against a welcome mat. And then, you have to repeat the whole process, starting with new nose plugs. A series of 7 minute naps.
I arrived at the rehearsal, and my first attempt through the Elgar I sounded like a bewildered hedgehog. I couldn’t quite play the notes, and I was silly from my medication (the kind where you aren’t supposed to operate “heavy machinery”, which is the very definition of a viola). Wolfgang looked at me, clearly trying to override his panic with a sheen of optimism. But, by that time I had snapped to it, figured out how to play in tune on this huge monster, and remembered how to read the clef. All will be well!
So – I am just trying to make it through the week. It is a lot of fun playing with this orchestra – and to meet new and old friends. And, by this time next week, I will be in Greece on holiday with my family (of course practising furiously with my violin while there). Should be fun!