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The Conductor
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The Conductor (2011)

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Title:The Conductor
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The Conductor by Sarah Quigley (2011)

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A wonderful portrayal of an elite group of Russian musicians at a time of incredible hardship and horror. Also a great character study of the challenges and dilemmas artistic people face who are driven to achieve their best no matter what the circumstances. I loved it. ( )
  limoncello | Mar 2, 2014 |
A stunning and beautifully written novel, which delves deep into the heart of Leningrad during what must have been their darkest period - the siege. This book is stark and beautiful, intermingling the tales of the different characters and bringing forth the bitter experience they all shared. It is evocative, bittersweet and overall a fantastic read. My only complaint is that the ending seemed rather abrupt and I did not want to lead the tale go. ( )
  LemurKat | Sep 12, 2013 |
I must confess that I have never particularly enjoyed works of 'faction' - until now.

Karl Eliasberg is to conduct Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony during surely one of the cruellest episodes known to man - the siege of Leningrad. On 9 August 1942, with loudspeakers broadcasting the performance throughout the city as well as to the German forces in a move of psychological warfare, Eliasberg and his scratch orchestra of starving, exhausted, miliatrary-rejects, kept going with additional food rations, play as though their lives depend on it.

Sarah Quiley's book describes the lead up to this point during a period of cold and chaos. Shostakovich struggles to compose, what with the fire-watching duties and over-crowded living conditions. Eliasberg wrestles with his inferiority complex and tries to cope with his aged mother. Other personalities with their stories move in and out of the narrative.

This is a seriously good book - well-researched, well-written and a gripping, intelligent read. Excellent! ( )
  Stromata | Nov 20, 2012 |
The Conductor brings to life the siege of Leningrad, and the difficulties faced by those who remained behind once the city was surrounded and under attack from Hitler’s army. Told from the perspectives of Dmitri Shostkovich, Karl Eliasberg and Nikolai Nikolayev Quigley evokes three strong personalities and their shared passion for music against a backdrop of harsh deprivation and uncertainty.

The first half of the book focuses on Shostakovich, Russia’s most celebrated composer of the time, as he battles to write the score for his Leningrad Symphony while doing fire watch duty and digging trenches to aid in the defence of his beloved city, as his scared family slowly starve around him.

With Shostakovich and his family eventually forced to evacuate it falls to Eliasberg, conductor of the second rate Radio Orchestra, to lead the performance of the completed symphony which the Russians hope will lift the spirits of the nation. With a limited number of musicians still alive, but so weak they cannot play their instruments properly, Eliasberg struggles to produce the performance demanded of him by the Russian authorities.

Contrasted with the genius Shostakovich and Eliasberg, who for one performance rises above his own mediocre talents and achieves something great, is Nikolai, a musician tortured by the uncertainty of his daughter's fate after she is evacuated from the city with hundreds of other children. While we can see the almost unendurable hardship faced by Shostakovich and particularly Eliasberg, it is Nikolai who brings a more human side to the story.

I have no knowledge of classical music, and only a small understanding of Russia’s role in WWII, but Quigley transports her readers to another time and place completely.

The Conductor has a subtle power which comes from Quigley’s understated style, and the characters, while flawed and human, are compelling. This is a gripping read, and one I’d highly recommend. ( )
1 vote SouthernKiwi | Nov 3, 2012 |
An evocative account of the siege of Leningrad and the composition of Shostakovitch's symphony, and most successful at evoking the privations of hunger and winter. It didn't quite ring true for me though; partly the odd mixture of anachronism and Russianesque language, partly characters disappearing from the stage (probably from the dictates of history). ( )
  adzebill | Aug 24, 2012 |
Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
It's a mark of Sarah Quigley's sympathy that she not only brings Shostakovich and Eliasberg back from the dead – and writes like a virtuoso about music – but that she manages to light up something of the Russian soul.
added by avatiakh | editThe Observer, Bella Bathurst (Jul 15, 2012)
 
For the magic of a novel two things are required: beautiful writing and brilliant storytelling. Too often authors manage one but not the other. Sarah Quigley has proved herself gifted at both. A novel from her is a relatively rare thing. This is her fourth - she hasn't published one since 2004, according to the Book Council website. But The Conductor was worth waiting for.

It's an extraordinary book set during the siege of Leningrad and weaves fact with fiction. Quigley follows three men: celebrated composer Dmitri Shostakovich, orchestral conductor Karl Eliasberg and a fictional musician Nikolai Nikolayev.
 
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Book description
In June 1941, Nazi troops march on Leningrad and surround it. Hitler's plan is to shell, bomb, and starve the city into submission. Most of the cultural elite are evacuated early in the siege, but Dmitri Shostakovich, the most famous composer in Russia, stays on to defend his city, digging ditches and fire-watching. At night he composes a new work. But after Shostakovich and his family are forced to evacuate, only Karl Eliasberg - a shy and difficult man, conductor of the second-rate Radio Orchestra - and an assortment of musicians are left behind in Leningrad to face an unendurable winter and start rehearsing the finished score of Shostakovich's Leningrad Symphony
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June 1941: Nazi troops surround the city of Leningrad, planning to shell and starve the people into submission. Most of the cultural elite is evacuated, but the famous composer Shostakovich stays behind to defend his city. That winter, the bleakest in Russian history, the Party orders Karl Eliasberg, the shy, difficult conductor of a second-rate orchestra, to prepare for the task of a lifetime. He is to conduct a performance of Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony, a haunting, defiant new piece, which will be relayed by loudspeakers to the front lines. Eliasberg's musicians are starving, and scarcely have the strength to carry their instruments. But for five freezing months the conductor stubbornly drives on his musicians, depriving those who falter of their bread rations. Slowly the music begins to dissolve the nagging hunger, the exploding streets, the slow deaths, but at what cost? Eliasberg's relationships are strained, obsession takes hold, and his orchestra is growing weaker. Now, it's a struggle not just to perform but to stay alive.… (more)

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