Words

The Ensemble

No wrong notes

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

If you need a little extra inspiration before shelling out for tickets to one or more of the many performances taking place at the Bellingham Festival of Music next month, check out a copy of Aja Gabel’s The Ensemble from your nearest public library. 

The Bellingham Festival of Music is celebrating its 25th year during its Silver Anniversary Season June 30-July 20, and The Ensemble, with its warm, sensitive portrayal of up-and-coming chamber musicians, puts a human face on the performers behind classical music performances.

It’s the 1990s at a prestigious conservatory in San Francisco, and four top students have agreed to forgo solo careers in favor of forming a string quartet. Jana is a driven, motivated first violin. She recently realized that she’s at her most engaged and creative when playing with others. Henry is a childhood viola prodigy, deeply loyal to his friend Jana. Brit, the second violin, is sweet, sad and sympathetic. She fears that she wasted her time attending “regular college” instead of a music school. Finally, there’s Daniel, the cellist, nearly 30 and older than the others. Daniel has been diligently working and waiting for his big break. This quartet may be the answer to his prayers.

The Ensemble follows their chamber group, the Van Ness Quartet, as they head to music competitions and get their first taste of success as well as some failures. Jana will do anything to achieve her goals. Henry, objectively the most talented, may be seduced into a solo career. Daniel is angry and bitter, hard on himself and the women who love him. Brit, an orphan, is beautiful, quiet and steadfast. They are friends, they are lovers, and they are intense, committed musicians.

As they age and mature and their talents grow and refine, the musicians’ relationships with one another evolve as well. It’s not all happiness and light, as they struggle with their ambition, loneliness, tendonitis and jealousy. But their close working partnership ultimately binds them together into something more than a quartet—a family of sorts, connected by their passion for the music and the way that in playing together they create beautiful art.

Even if you’re not a musician, you’ll find yourself cueing up your Pandora list of classical selections to accompany you while you read. The author cleverly provides a selection of chamber music pieces at the beginning of each of the four parts of the novel to make it even easier for to you create a multi-sensory experience.

This book is more about feelings and friendships than plot, so read this if you enjoy character-driven stories or if you want to know more about the orchestral world from a behind-the-scenes perspective.  Gabel is herself a cellist and clearly has a deep understanding and appreciation for this milieu.

The Ensemble never hits a wrong note. Just like a talented, well-rehearsed quartet, this work of fiction is lyrical, moving and honest. 

Christine Perkins is the executive director of the Whatcom County Library System.

More Words...
Summer Reading
A reason for the season

After each of his three children turned 12, my father would bring the preteen along on an annual summer trip to visit one of his best friends in Washington, D.C. The aim was to broaden our horizons by showing us national monuments, taking us out to eat at internationally inspired…

more »
Tokitae
A sacred quest to bring a lost child home

With song and prayer, Lummi Nation carvers ask for the release of one of their sacred creatures.

Tokitae—as she was named by her captors—was taken in 1970 from Penn Cove at Whidbey Island and has been at the Seaquarium in Miami ever since. There, she is known as “Lolita” and…

more »
Educated
A voice reclaimed

In her time studying at Harvard and Cambridge, Tara Westover often discovered profound gaps in her knowledge. Teachers would refer to specific events or places that she’d never heard of; other students would make cultural references she didn’t understand.

These discoveries sometimes…

more »
Events
Today
Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Bellingham Dance Company's Hunchback

7:00pm|Majestic

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

7:30pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

Vanya, Sonia, Masha and Spike

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Open Air Summer Rep

7:30pm|Maritime Heritage Park

Chuckanut Writers Conference

9:00am|Whatcom Community College

Lummi Stommish Water Festival

10:00am|Lummi Nation

Whatcom Cultural Arts Festival

5:00pm|Historic Fairhaven

Keys for Kids

5:30pm|Stepping Stones Garden

Off Broadway

7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

Musicals and Brawls

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Plant Hike

8:00am|Hannegan Pass Trail

Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Hall

Padden Triathlon

8:30am|Lake Padden Park

March Point Run

9:00am|Andeavor Refinery

Mount Vernon Farmers Market

9:00am|Riverwalk Park

Twin Sisters Market

9:00am|Nugent's Corner, North Fork Library

Anacortes Farmers Market

9:00am|Depot Arts Center

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am| Depot Market Square

Welcome to Chickenlandia

10:00am|Blaine Library

Lynden Farmers Market

10:00am|Centennial Park

Lummi Island Saturday Market

10:00am|Islander Grocery Store

How to Renovate an Older Urban Garden

10:00am|Roeder Home

Imagine This! Home & Landscape Tour

10:00am|Whatcom County

Blaine Gardeners Market

10:00am|H Street Plaza

Sumas Writers Group

10:00am|Sumas Library

Inside the green building scene

10:00am

Apps & Snaps for iPhone Gardeners

11:00am|Christianson's Nursery

A Novel Affair with Nancy Pearl

11:30am|Maple Hall

Ice Cream Class for Adults

12:00pm|Lynden Library

Concrete Saturday Market

1:00pm|Concrete Community Center

Lynden Cemetery Tour

1:00pm|Lynden Cemetery

Tuesdays with Morrie

2:00pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

Nooksack River Walk

3:00pm|Horseshoe Bend Trailhead

Seafood Boil

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Seafood Boil

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Saturday Seafood Boil

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

Chuckanut Writers Conference Open Mics

7:00pm|Village Books Reading Gallery, Evolve Chocolate and Cafe, Lovitt Restaurant, and Magdalena's Creperie

Musical Reunion

7:00pm|YWCA Ballroom

Dudestock

7:00pm|Lincoln Theatre

An Evening with Ira Glass

7:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

2018 Cascadia Kids
Tomorrow
Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Bellingham Dance Company's Hunchback

7:00pm|Majestic

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

7:30pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

Lummi Stommish Water Festival

10:00am|Lummi Nation

Off Broadway

7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

Brunch on the Bay

10:00am|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

Skagit Symphony Garden Tour

10:00am|Mount Vernon

Junk in Your Trunk

10:00am|North Fork Library

Edison Farmers Market

10:00am|Edison Granary

La Conner Live

1:00pm|Gilkey Square

Women on the Water

1:00pm|Community Boating Center

Audubon at the Museum

1:30pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Trivia Time

3:30pm|Boundary Bay Brewery

Way North Comedy Triple Header

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Take Me to Church

8:00pm|Rumors Cabaret

Village Books 2018 Cascadia Kids
Monday
Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Rainbow Reads

12:00pm|Lynden Library, Ferndale Library

Plant Diagnostic Clinics

5:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

Hammocking Basics

6:00pm|REI

Hammocking Basics

6:00pm|REI

Monday Night Pizza

6:00pm|Ciao Thyme Commons

Cuban Salsa

6:00pm|Bell Tower Studios

Orca Month Kayak Tour

6:00pm|Zuanich Park

Books on Tap Two

6:30pm|Tino's Pizza & Pasta Co.

Open Mic Night

7:00pm|Village Books

Guffawingham

9:00pm| Firefly Lounge

see our complete calendar »

Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 Trove Web Village Books 2018 Cascadia Kids