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KELLY FERJUTZ enjoys Alice McVeigh's musical novel


The standard orchestra -- whether termed a Philharmonic or Symphony, or just orchestra -- usually consists of one hundred and five musicians. Some of these persons will be more talented musically than others, and some of them will play a variety of instruments. Some of them will be perfectly content as a member of the ensemble, to not be in the spotlight, while for others that sort of anonymity is anathema. They bloom only when in the forefront of the activity. It is somewhat of a standard orchestral joke that the musician who thrives in the limelight, but isn't a particularly talented instrumentalist, will then become a conductor. Of course, success is not guaranteed in that role, either.

A more diverse group of persons so closely engaged with each other would be hard to find in any other activity. Certainly an office may have more active personnel on a daily basis, but they seldom travel en masse to the far corners of the world, such trips frequently lasting several weeks, or even months. Under these conditions, it's remarkable that any music is ever performed brilliantly, however, such is the nature of the musicians involved that almost always performances away from home are more successful than those in a familiar location, or in familar surroundings.

Alice McVeigh: While the Music Lasts
Alice McVeigh: While the Music Lasts

While the Music Lasts captures this phenomenon perfectly, as it should, considering the author to be a symphonic caliber cellist, who has played (and toured) professionally for several years. Ms McVeigh knows whereof she writes -- as she does with grace, perception, humor, sensibility and absolutely wicked insight. If you've ever been in even a high school orchestra (or band, they're very similar) you will readily recognize the types she delineates so thoroughly in this book, and it's sequel Ghost Music.

Within this body of tempermental musicians -- plus the occasional spouse or member of the management staff or audience -- are smaller ensembles. In some circles, these are referred to as cliques but in this instance, it is really more of a nonet that gets the featured billing. It wouldn't make a very ordinary musical group, judging by the instrumention featured, but the personalities involved are a delicious cluster; each of them, by turns, having their own say. There are three cellists: the Israeli-born David, the new principal cellist of Ms McVeigh's imaginary orchestra, the Orchestra of London; the English William, the older and immensely more talented anchor of the section, and the volatile Russian, Piotr, who cannot resist the urge to tweak his fellows, in order to create havoc if at all possible, and as often as possible.

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Copyright © 19 August 2004 Kelly Ferjutz, Cleveland USA


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