The Ensemble (Hardcover)

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Aja Gabel’s debut novel, The Ensemble, begins in 1994 and follows the Van Ness string quartet through 18 years of practice, performance, and competition. The characterization sings, knowledge of music is passed melodically to the reader, and the dissonance of competing egos and ambition is based on Gabel’s own exposure to the world of classical music.

The quartet is Jana, the first violin, and the ad hoc leader, keeping the group in check. Henry is a prodigy on viola and turns down offers of a solo career. Daniel, the cellist and oldest of the four, is the most critical, of himself and the others. And young, impressionable Brit is second violin.

Gabel’s inventive use of composed music is described to mirror life; our joy and serenity, the escalation and release of tension and stress, and the minor chords of melancholy. We’re shown how relentless rehearsals lead to worry over hand and arm overuse injuries, and the joys of a day when all the players are brilliantly in sync, and the desperation of a time when the players feel estranged to the music.

As I read The Ensemble, my classical music playlist grew; I wanted to hear the music that was either considered ordinary and tired, or challenging and exciting enough for the musicians in the Van Ness Quartet to get them to the extreme height of their performances.

Sarah's review first appeared on 89.1 KMUW. You can listen to her review HERE

— Sarah Bagby


"A riveting look inside the world of classical musicians and an intimate study of friendships." --Marie Claire

"Pitch-perfect." --People

The addictive novel about four young friends navigating the cutthroat world of classical music and their complex relationships with each other, as ambition, passion, and love intertwine over the course of their lives.

Jana. Brit. Daniel. Henry. They would never have been friends if they hadn't needed each other. They would never have found each other except for the art which drew them together. They would never have become family without their love for the music, for each other.

Brit is the second violinist, a beautiful and quiet orphan; on the viola is Henry, a prodigy who's always had it easy; the cellist is Daniel, the oldest and an angry skeptic who sleeps around; and on first violin is Jana, their flinty, resilient leader. Together, they are the Van Ness Quartet. After the group's youthful, rocky start, they experience devastating failure and wild success, heartbreak and marriage, triumph and loss, betrayal and enduring loyalty. They are always tied to each other - by career, by the intensity of their art, by the secrets they carry, by choosing each other over and over again.

Following these four unforgettable characters, Aja Gabel's debut novel gives a riveting look into the high-stakes, cutthroat world of musicians, and of lives made in concert. 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.

About the Author

Aja Gabel's writing has appeared in BOMB, The Kenyon Review, Glimmer Train, and elsewhere. A former cellist, she earned her B.A. at Wesleyan University, her MFA at the University of Virginia and has a Ph.D. in Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Houston. Aja has been the recipient of fellowships from the Sewanee Writers'' Conference, Literary Arts Oregon, and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, where she was a fellow in fiction. She currently lives in Los Angeles.

Coverage from NPR

Product Details
ISBN: 9780735214767
ISBN-10: 073521476X
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Publication Date: May 15th, 2018
Pages: 352
Language: English