An unexpected love story, a political parable, and an intimate portrait of regeneration, The Student Conductor is one of the finest debut novels in years. The story glides along in a language both smart and chiselled, while Ford shows himself in full control of the music on and off the page. Here comes a new voice, already fully nuanced. Colum ...Read MoreAn unexpected love story, a political parable, and an intimate portrait of regeneration, The Student Conductor is one of the finest debut novels in years. The story glides along in a language both smart and chiselled, while Ford shows himself in full control of the music on and off the page. Here comes a new voice, already fully nuanced. Colum McCann Cooper Barrow has returned to the competitive fray of the orchestral world after eight years of exile - bringing his prodigious talent and insecurity into Frankfurt and Berlin just at the moment that the Berlin Wall falls. Barrow is to study under the cruel hand of a capricious maestro, Karlheinz Ziegler - a man who carries boundless shame from his days in a Nazi concentration camp, and who will force Barrow to define himself within a morally ambiguous world. But when Barrow encounters the beautiful and boldly sexual Petra Vogel, an oboist with poisonous secrets, he sets in motion a complex psychological dance of guilt, music and love. With remarkable intensity and physicality, Robert Ford delivers a pitch-perfect debut, brimming with intrigue and revelation, where passion flowers into desire on every page.Read Less
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Publishers Weekly, 2003-09-22 A young American conductor goes to study in West Germany and is troubled by the country's unquiet past in this penetrating, intelligent first novel. Eight years after dropping out of Juilliard, 30-year-old Cooper Barrow makes a bid to restart his career, going to work with Karlheinz Ziegler, a legendary conductor from prewar days who now teaches at a provincial music school. A strongly antagonistic relationship develops between them, exacerbated by Barrow's continuing anxiety, Ziegler's brusquely authoritarian manner and the young American's romantic interest in Petra Vogel, a young oboist in the student orchestra, a refugee from East Germany. It is 1989, the time of the crumbling of the Berlin Wall and the first stirrings of East German rebellion, and life at the music school is shadowed by old rivalries and resentments. Petra is an enigmatic creature, tormented by dark mysteries in her past, and Ziegler turns out to have his own wartime crosses to bear. The book skillfully captures the bewilderment someone from a simpler world feels at the layers of cynicism and corruption that enfold tormented Germany, and Barrow's alternating exultation at his own developing skills and frustration at his failure to communicate are convincing. The novel can seem overschematic, with each character carefully fitted into place rather than springing to spontaneous life. But Ford's precise, thoughtful writing recalls the rigorous harmonies of musical composition, and his insights into the rarefied world of classical music are rich and often piercingly poignant. (Sept.) Forecast: Ford, who holds a master of music degree from Yale, writes with rare depth and verisimilitude about music, musicians and student-teacher relationships, which makes his novel well suited to handselling, particularly in college bookstores. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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