A review by Piet Bach
by Shira Anthony & Venona Keyes
Dreamspinner Press, Tallahassee, FL, 2013, 239 pgs.
David Somers and Alex Bishop don’t quite meet cute, as they say in Hollywood, but their initial encounter is a clear illustration of the problems both will have to overcome before love wins out. Somers is the musical director and chief conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and has been juggling his own preference for the more rational, less emotional contemporary repertoire against the patrons’ general desire to hear the sweeping romanticism of the nineteenth century. The concert where they meet is a mix of the two: a cool, contemporary opening followed by the Sibelius Violin Concerto in D, but the soloist originally engaged was taken ill and Alex Bishop is a last-minute substitution. That would be fine and dandy if Somers had ever heard him play, perhaps, but he hasn’t and Bishop’s career has not been solely focused on the formal violin literature. He’s a crossover musician who plays and records classical as well as rock and jazz, and Somers has nothing but contempt for the type – he expects rock star behavior, general crudeness, and lack of classical talent, especially when he notes the tattoos visible before Bishop finishes buttoning his formal shirt and mentally tags him as a thug.
Both have come from backgrounds that would not seem to lead to classical music. Somers is the scion of an East Coast family known for its investment firm and generations of puritanical New Englanders. Bishop escaped Child Protective Services after one too many roughings up at the hands of fellow orphans in foster care, and lived on the streets for several years before being taken under the wing of a musical mentor. Somers grew up with a bank full of money and a fleet of servants. Bishop started out with only the violin left to him by his mother, a nondescript instrument that had been her father’s, and which was cracked irremediably in one of the foster home fights. How they reconcile their differences, step by very small step, drives the very satisfying plot to its conclusion.
The story is told in a mixture of present-day scenes, flashbacks, and dream sequences that combine to give us a glimpse into both characters’ lives but also to illustrate the particular sensitivities of a man whose synesthesia is something he would suppress if he could but guides him in his one creative outlet, composing.
Anthony and Keyes are skilled tale-tellers, and give us sympathetic, well drawn characters. The story is mostly told from Somers’s viewpoint, and we get to see the world of the modern symphony from the inside – donors, foundation heavyweights, scheduling, and the myriad non-musical duties involved in making music available on a large scale, including a pivotal strike by the musicians. I read the book with interest and from my own experience with professional music-making can attest to the accuracy of the settings. This is one of four interlocking books in the Blue Notes series, a fifth is due to be released this month, and on the basis of this one I am sure readers will enjoy the others.
ISBN: 978-1-62380-596-8 / paperback $16.99: Go here to buy
Digital ISBN: 978-1-62380-597-5 / e-book $6.99: Go here to buy