What Bruch does to our students in lockdown

What Bruch does to our students in lockdown


norman lebrecht

April 30, 2020

An occasional diary from Anthea Kreston

For a while, I woke up every 45 minutes, checking the news, checking on the children and husband, organizing the pantry. Beans in one state or the other – soaking, boiling, burning, scraping off dishes. Naps during the day – some days so proud of myself – schoolwork completed, showers, fruit and ice cream. Happy children. Other days – the days when Jason and one of our girls were sick, the hallway blocked to stop the other daughter – delivering the food, taking the temperature, waiting on the health hotline for 4 hours. Tests came back inconclusive – they were basically unresponsive for 4 days – how am I supposed to create a normal life for the other child while I am desperate with worry over half of my family – I didn’t tell my friends or family – didn’t want to add to their worry – and I felt terribly alone and sick myself from uncertainty and lack of sleep. All is well, luckily. I can’t keep my mind on one thought for more than a fleeting moment. My friend just died of cancer. I planted tomatoes yesterday. I haven’t practiced in 6 weeks. Costco just delivered the groceries – I will spray them down and put them in the shed for 3 days. My daughter’s Country Report is due today and I just realized she has to make a Citations page.

I am one of the lucky ones. Jason and I have a huge studio of students, all online, and we have been teaching that way for years, so it wasn’t much of a transition for us. Our house is incredible – cosy, funky, with a garden that never stops its magic. We are healthy. Our families are healthy. I like beans. My family doesn’t hate beans that much.

My old friends and colleagues have been reaching out – and I have been guest teaching a bunch of studio classes for them online – it’s fun to see the Hollywood Squares of violinists, in their natural environments, cats streaming across the back, some students clearly in their PJ’s. Who cares? I mean, we are all in a state of disbelief. My old friends, in their squares – my daughter coming in with her white board which says “Where is the Peenut Butter?” – and a student playing the Bruch Violin Concerto from Texas. This is normal now. My lucky normal.

After she is done, I ask everyone to get a pencil and paper – they disappear, rummage, return. She plays that opening again – what a way to begin a concerto – what kind of state was Bruch in when he wrote this? We all write down words of how we feel when we hear those first bars. And we share.



She tried it again, faced away from us, eyes closed. And again. And again. Each time, she digs deeper. It’s not about the violin. It’s not about you playing the violin, or notes, or intonation or your vibrato or your bow distribution. It’s about you, as a human. If you feel it, we can feel it together. Separated by distance – we will never meet each other in our entire lives. But we can meet in our hearts. The sound waves, even through my crappy speakers – these go into my chest and resonate. Sad. Lonely. Anxious. Lost. Desire. Timeless. Waiting…….

I ask how many of these feelings they are feeling right now, living under Covid-19. How did Bruch know? Music is a gift to us, unlike any other time in my life. It will nourish, it will distract, it will allow pain and comfort to fully inhabit – it is private – and something we can share, in whichever creative way you are starting to share. It’s our way of processing and our line out of this. It’s our magical, mysterious, intangible gift. We are the lucky ones.



  • RW2013 says:

    I never had a chance to show you Bruch’s grave before you left Berlin 🙁

    • Jan Kaznowski says:

      The grave at the Alter St.-Matthäus-Kirchhof ISTR.

      Please, please can we refer to the work at the Bruch 1st concerto, as there are three. OK, #3 is a bit kitch and only really novelty value but #2 in d minor is a masterpiece (regularly played by Heifetz, Perlman, Accardo and others)

      • christopher storey says:

        And then there’s In Memoriam, and the ( best of all ) Scottish Fantasy

        • David K. Nelson says:

          I think In Memoriam was and is Bruch’s real accomplishment for violin and orchestra but it is so tender and self effacing that it takes a special frame of mind for a soloist to want to learn and play knowing he or she won’t be generating an excited ovation from the audience – just a collective sigh.

          I once brought in the op. 84 Konzertstuck to my lessons – my teacher had never heard it or heard of it – but we worked it through. Another oddity: it starts with a thrilling Allegro appassionato but closes with an Adagio, which in spite of some vigorous passagework (in some very unfriendly keys) closes with the solo violin ascending (depending on your fingering) from the G string to the heights, a long long trill high on the E, and then higher yet, pianissimo and a fermata, and then — silence. Gorgeous and glorious but the poor audience will sit there asking “OK, when does the third movement start?” And it never does. They’d never know when to applaud.

          It is known that Bruch became tired of being reduced to one work, the Concerto No. 1. One wonders if Bruch in his older years was telling violin soloists – sorry, children, no more easy applause for you.

          Somehow that reminds me of my first lesson with a different, earlier teacher, who began the lesson by asking “OK, where had you gotten with your prior teacher?’

          “Half way through the Bruch,” I answered.

          “What – you never reached the other shore?”