Things they say when you quit a string quartet

Our diarist Anthea Kreston on leaving the Artemis Quartet:

“You are brave”. That’s the only thing that Gregor, the violist of the Artemis Quartet, said to me after our final concert together last night. Our relationship consists mainly of zingers, one-liners that are flung back and forth so quickly that it’s hard sometimes to keep up. For an outsider, they may seem cruel – but that’s us. And I think they are hilarious. And so when he said, straight-faced, “You are brave” I waited for the next line – it could have been anything – “your shoes are so disgusting, it takes the strength of a gladiator to even be on stage with you“, or “nice choice of fingerings in the second movement of Brahms – stupid or brilliant – who knows?” But, he simply said “You are brave” and walked away.

And so, that’s it. I was brave. For wearing those disgusting shoes, for taking it up the G string for our final concert instead of just playing it just like I had the night before. Or maybe I was brave to audition for this job, or to take it, or to quit it. Or to take the job and make it my own, to not disappear into a very disappear kind-of position. Second violin in a string quartet demands a bit of disappearing – we are there to try to make everyone else sound better – to support and to not stand out.

I am thankful to a lot of people. To Jason and the girls for tossing our lives up into the air, to Norman for being my steadfast friend, to Sonia for not only being the manager of the quartet, but also for being the manager for each of the 4 of us. For Gregor and his stupid sense of humor, for Vinny and her emojis and our girl channel, for Ecki and his grandfatherly knowledge. For all of my friends and family back home in Oregon and Connecticut, who never stopped writing or calling or visiting. For our new friends – our house slowly filling with play dates and coffee and cake.

When I took this job, I knew it was something crazy. That it was something impossible. I was the first American violinist to be accepted into a European quartet. I wanted to win the job, and then do it so well, and improve at it every day. I am a fanatic worker, and have goals which constantly increase. I am never satisfied with myself, with my technique or my emotional complexity. I wanted to be accepted by the German musical society – accepted by the audiences and the teachers and the players. In my own right. With my own personality, with a personality that would compliment and enhance the personalities of the other members, but that would be honest and personal. I wanted Jason to have a chance to shine. I wanted Jason and the girls to learn German and for me to learn to speak it well enough that I could hold my own in a Visa appointment. I wanted the girls to become best friends and to excel in school.

Did I accomplish all of these things? Maybe. Maybe I did.

When I entered this group, it was under a dark cloud. A cloud of shock, an exhausted cloud which had hung so low for seven months since the death of the violist, nearly enveloping them in a static hopelessness. It had taken them some months to realize that they would be able to continue after the suicide, and after that, it seemed (to me) that they were stuck in a cycle of indecision. No one was the correct fit. And, when I came, it was, finally, the correct fit.

When a loyal audience member asked me last night why I had decided to leave, all of a sudden I realized. Because, like her, I had traveled with this quartet in my life. Had heard them (24 years ago playing Schubert, in NYC), befriended them. And as my life continued, my marriage, my children, my career, like with this woman, somehow was connected to this quartet. And, I realized, I still refer to them as “them“, not “us”. That maybe, my function was just the rebound relationship – a chance to find their footing again, and to rekindle hope. And, as the last remaining original member leaves, my job here is done. They are healed, and strong, and ready to take on the world again. And they will be great.

 

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      • No offence, but maybe the quartet needs somebody who is less disaster prone. In this very short tenure (as reported on SD), Ms K has

        (1) forgotten music “As we headed out to stage, I glanced at a program, and realized with a slight panic that I thought we were playing two Mozarts and a Bartok – but actually Mendelssohn was on the docket. With a feigned casual – “see you on stage in a second”, I quickly blue-toothed my phone and iPad (from which I read my music these days), and tried to download a copy from IMSLP, without anyone noticing….”

        (2) left her passport in another country and there was a massive drama and a concert was touch+go

        (3) had violin stolen when she was on a train

          • Are you also amused when a news channel says “the following images may be disturbing” and then show disturbing images? Because “no offense” means that what is about to be said may be misinterpreted as offensive, that’s all.

          • No, it means, “I may be about to cause offence, so I’ll begin by saying, ‘No offence’, to give myself a semblance of cover.”

          • It’s like “I’m not racist/homophobic, but…”, followed by something racist or homophobic.

          • “No offence [intended]” goes with “with the greatest of respect” and “please don’t take this wrongly “.

        • Moutrie makes a valid point about Ms Kreston’s history of being “disaster prone”. However, it should be taken into account that the Artemis Quartet is a very busy touring ensemble, so her “very short tenure” still encompasses a high quantity of performances and travel itineraries.

          Furthermore, Ms Kreston is unusually candid in describing “disasters”; I suspect that many musicians have had similar “disasters” (for example, I know a brass player who once lost his parts for an orchestra concert with two pieces under a very distinguished conductor: the player managed the 1st (short) piece from memory, while the orchestra manager rushed to print a part from the IMSLP for the 2nd (long) piece and got it on stage to the player without causing any noticeable disruption), but, quite understandably, do not mention them on a public forum. Of the three items Moutrie enumerates, many musicians would have publicised only §3, and then only if the stolen instrument were still “at large”.

        • No offence? How inoffensive are you trying to be? I am glad you have enjoyed Anthea’s diaries, but these are uncalled-for snipes.

        • I remember touring with you in Youth Orchestra , Nick…. didn’t you have a broken wrist and couldn’t play? 😉

  • “Second violin in a string quartet demands a bit of disappearing – we are there to try to make everyone else sound better – to support and to not stand out.”
    Look at me, I play second fiddle, waa waa.

    • Actually, it depends on the repertoire. Admittedly, many passages of Haydn quartets might be mistaken for a violin concerto (1st violin) accompanied by string trio (2nd violin, viola, ‘cello). However, when looking at the quartet repertoire as a whole, there are plenty of passages where the 2nd violin is equally important (same applies to orchestral music, by the way). Consequently, I think the expression “playing second fiddle” is a real misnomer (when comparing its commonly understood implications and the reality of playing a 2nd-violin part, whether in an orchestral or chamber context).

      Finally, it should be remarked that much of the quartet repertoire requires *all four* players “to try to make everyone else sound better — to support and to not stand out”.

  • BUT – as we read: you’re brave, Anthea, and right he is, Gregor … you may have accomplihed to make “the others sound better”, but you also kind of branded the new Artemis after you joined ‘them’ …

    • RW – I am just now coming up for breath – I have been flat out with a flu/total exhaustion since Sunday. How about early May? I am ready to see the town and catch some good concerts!

  • Wow — what a bunch of mean-spirited, petty commentary. I am continually surprised and dismayed by what the Slipped Disc commentariat chooses to focus on. For myself, I’ve enjoyed Ms. Kreston’s diary here immensely — personal, honest, and a true insider’s look at fascinating worlds. I look forward to more of her, both in words and in music, and to seeing where her life takes her.

  • Anthea I feel like i have journeyed with you all these months – Ive learned so much about what it means to play in a quartet, lots about music, about people, about musicians. Thanks for faithfully writing every week. I hope you will keep on doing so. And all the best for whatever lies around the next corner – because the new thing wont be long coming, knowing you!!

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