Things they say when you quit a string quartetmain
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.