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This review is from: The Conductor (Hardcover)
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It is fact that Dmitri Shostakovich wrote his Symphony No. 7 at the time of the World War II siege of Leningrad and it became a symbol of defiance to Germany. The Leningrad premiere was by the Radio Orchestra conducted by Karl Eliasberg which was the only Leningrad orchestra remaining with just 15 of its members surviving the blockade plus a variety of volunteer musicians. These were called on to make up numbers to perform the symphony's premiere which was broadcast throughout the city to boost the Russians, and also played via loudspeakers as a form of psychological warfare to demoralise the Germans. With a degree of literary licence author Sarah Quigley constructs a poignant and dramatic story around this piece of history, though in doing so she perhaps causes music to block out the sounds of war.
If anything `The Conductor' underplays the horrors of the German actions and the appalling consequences for citizens of Leningrad by concentrating on music together with people associated with its composition and performance. In pulling together history and fiction Sarah Quigley concentrates on Shostakovich's inspiration and creative processes for his work, and Eliasberg's feelings of inferiority as the conductor of an understudy orchestra yet his determination to succeed. Evocatively brilliant narrative makes these characters totally credible, as are all other individuals whether real or fictional. Everyday experiences and occurrences are skilfully dovetailed whether alluding to admiration and love between characters, or heartbreak, outrage and fear, or the always present deprivation. Sarah Quigley's writing is often lilting and rhapsodic to match the music theme, and though there is some coarse language there is scintillating dialogue with much humour throughout. Some readers may feel emphasis is misplaced and the pace of the novel is set deliberately sedate for what in reality is such an emotive and eventful chapter in history - but `The Conductor' tells a wonderful story.