The addictive debut novel about four young friends navigating the cutthroat world of music and their complex relationships with each other, as ambition, passion, and love intertwine over the course of their lives.Brit is the second violinist, a beautiful and quiet orphan; the viola is Henry, a prodigy whos always had it easy; the cellist is Daniel, the oldest, the angry skeptic who sleeps around; and on first violin is Jana, their flinty, resilient leader. Together, they are the Van Ness String Quartet.In The Ensemble, each character picks up the melody, from the groups youthful rocky start through to adulthood. As they navigate devastating failures and wild success, heartbreak and marriage, triumph and loss, betrayal and enduring loyalty, they are always tied togetherby career, by the intensity of their art, by the secrets they carry together, and by choosing each other over and over again.Following these four unforgettable characters, Aja Gabels debut novel gives a behind-the-scenes look into the highly competitive, mysterious world of high-level musicians. The story of Brit and Henry and Daniel and Jana, The Ensemble is a heart-skipping portrait of ambition, friendship, and the tenderness of youth....
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The Ensemble Reviews
In May 1994, the members of the Van Ness String Quartet are completing their final graduate recital at a San Francisco conservatory and preparing for the Esterhazy quartet competition in the Canadian Rockies. These four talented musicians – Jana, first violin; Brit, second violin; Henry, viola; and Daniel, cello – have no idea what the next 15 years will hold for them: a cross-country move, romances begun and lost, and career successes and failures. Drawing on her own history as a violinist and ...more
This is a remarkable debut as much for its portrayal of ambitious musicians in the world of classical music, as it is for its depiction of growing into adulthood within that rarified world. I was surprised at how addicting I found the stories of these four friends and how captivated I became with the music they were creating. With no musical inclination whatsoever--unless you count baton twirling with the marching band--I was immersed in every note and I found so much of it deeply absorbing.
Added: 4.5 stars. A few weeks later I still can't stop thinking about this book and I now love to watch YouTube videos of quartets.
Wow. At first I didn't think I'd keep with this book, but I became completely immersed in Gabel's story of four musicians who form a quartet and then I couldn't put it down. She follows the quartet from conservatory to middle age as they grow and stretch in their professional and personal lives. Gabel shows how by necessity of their profession, their lives intertwine ...more
This cover is positively swoon worthy- right? Gorgeous!
This novel follows the four members of a chamber ensemble over the course of their lives and careers. It was truly a study in character and relationships. It was a unique example of how expectations and dreams can become intertwined. How friends/colleagues can start to feel like family. I thought the writing was stunning.
Okay. Okay. I was looking forward to reading this for months because I thought it would be like “The Interestings.” It’s not. I was about twenty pages in before I flipped to the author bio to see if Gabel had graduated from a writing program. She had. It’s a book that reminds me of everything I don’t like about literary fiction, MFA program fiction - you can’t even get into the story, loose as it is, without getting mired in backstory and interiority. It’s a book that’s supposedly about an ensem ...more
The Ensemble's premise is interesting enough: a story about the inner lives of the members of the Van Ness String Quartet from 1994-2009.
However, this novel suffered from a great deal of technical weakness. There's a certain lack of rhythm that makes for pretty slow reading for a novel with only 330 pages. (I've been noticing this lack of rhythm in a lot of debut novels lately!) I felt so distanced from the main characters, and ironically, it was because of the long digressions into ...more
As a former violist with a Master's degree in performance, I found that The Ensemble 's characters and situations felt true to my experience. I'm familiar with the personality types that make up the quartet, identifying with them in various ways, especially early on before their careers took off. That's not to say that they're stereotypical, just that Aja Gabel has a keen understanding of which types of people pursue a career in classical music and why. Also, it's okay that they start out a lit ...more
THE ENSEMBLE is a stunning debut, almost unbelievable in its range, lyricism and beauty. This book reminded me of character studies and coming of age novels like FATES AND FURIES and THE MARRIAGE PLOT, with the added complexity of a quartet of characters. Their entwined lives, drives and heartbreaks are set against the backdrop of the insular world of classical music, ultimately resulting in an epic meditation on competition, community, individuality and art, rendered by a writer whose talent is ...more