Thursday, April 9, 2009

50BC09 #7: The Student Conductor

Student Conductor Student Conductor by Robert Ford

rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm often very skeptical of novels with music as a centerpiece for their story line. I find the musical descriptions contrived and overwrought, as if the author is trying to convince the reader that he/she is an expert in all things musical. One of the benefits of this first novel by Robert Ford is that the author has the skills and experience to write convincingly about music without the pedantic, over-researched feel so present in other works.

Ford successfully creates vivid characters who are bound together not only by their relationship to music, but by their secrets. The author sensitively weaves historical elements (the fall of the Berlin Wall, for example) into a multi-layered narrative. The main protagonist, thirty-year-old American conductor Cooper Barrow, embarks on a quest to face his fears by studying with a master conductor in Germany. What he finds is a Germany built on secrets and fears, trying to demolish and rebuild at the same time. In the middle of it all is the enigmatic oboist Petra Vogel, whose own dark past comforts Barrow with its refreshing relativism.

These characters dance together to a soundtrack of Brahms, a composer who is subject to their idolatry, historicism, and emotional baggage. Ford unapologetically navigates through the conducting and orchestra worlds, framing the shades of the human soul with the best of its potential.

1 comment:

Thomas said...

This book is one of my alltime favorites. Mainly because of what you say in your first paragraph. I love classical music and felt that Ford's novel does an amazing job making it a part of this very interesting story.