The Ensemble

The Ensemble

The addictive debut novel about four young friends navigating the cutthroat world of music and their complex relationships with each other, as ambition, passion, and love intertwine over the course of their lives.Brit is the second violinist, a beautiful and quiet orphan; the viola is Henry, a prodigy who’s always had it easy; the cellist is Daniel, the oldest, the angry s...

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Title:The Ensemble
Author:Aja Gabel
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Edition Language:English

The Ensemble Reviews

  • Elyse

    Audiobook...narrated by the wonderful

    *Rebecca Lowman*.

    Author Aja Gabel completely won me over...

    ...A pitch-perfect debut.

    It’s filled with sharp observations about the choices one makes between love, work, and friendships.

    The interrelationships between Brit, Daniel, Jana, & Henry...members of the string quartet...and their outside relationships were complicated- yet that’s what made the book interesting.

    “The Ensemble” reminds me a little of the television series “Mozart in the Jungle”....a

    Audiobook...narrated by the wonderful

    *Rebecca Lowman*.

    Author Aja Gabel completely won me over...

    ...A pitch-perfect debut.

    It’s filled with sharp observations about the choices one makes between love, work, and friendships.

    The interrelationships between Brit, Daniel, Jana, & Henry...members of the string quartet...and their outside relationships were complicated- yet that’s what made the book interesting.

    “The Ensemble” reminds me a little of the television series “Mozart in the Jungle”....a show I loved.

    Other times, the ‘feel’ of “A Little Life”...a book I loved.

    The audiobook was a great!!!! REBECCA LOMAN just ‘can’t do bad’. She’s one of my favorite Audiobook readers...bringing the best out of novels.

    Gorgeous writing.

    I felt I knew the characters- flaws and all.

    **A bonus... this story takes place in San Francisco.

    The city that changes from block to block.

    Music 🎶 to my ears-enjoyable!!!

  • Taryn Pierson

    If you grew up playing a string instrument, The Ensemble will bring that dusty rosin smell right back to you. You probably knew people like Brit, Henry, Daniel, and Jana, the four characters who make up the titular string quartet--I know I did. Even if you’ve never spent any time with a bow in your hand, though, I predict you’ll get sucked into the cutthroat yet pristinely classy world of elite musicians. This is the kind of book where the shifting dynamics between the characters are the real at

    If you grew up playing a string instrument, The Ensemble will bring that dusty rosin smell right back to you. You probably knew people like Brit, Henry, Daniel, and Jana, the four characters who make up the titular string quartet--I know I did. Even if you’ve never spent any time with a bow in your hand, though, I predict you’ll get sucked into the cutthroat yet pristinely classy world of elite musicians. This is the kind of book where the shifting dynamics between the characters are the real attraction.

    Because how can there not be drama when four very different people walk a career path together for decades? Quartets are collaborative; they only succeed when every person is pulling their weight. When one person is off, or, say, when two people in the group aren’t getting along, it throws off the rhythm of the whole ensemble. And in order to stay together, the four have to make decisions as one, which can be complicated when each person is trying to live their own life.

    Although the passages describing music are admittedly a bit inside baseball, if you like literary fiction, you should give this one a go. Also recommended if you enjoy reading about unusual careers, complex group dynamics, and angsty artists making art.

    More book recommendations by me at

  • Victoria

    This is a remarkable debut as much for its portrayal of ambitious musicians in the world of classical music, as it is for its depiction of growing into adulthood within that rarified world. I was surprised at how addicting I found the stories of these four friends and how captivated I became with the music they were creating. With no musical inclination whatsoever--unless you count baton twirling with the marching band--I was immersed in every note and I found so much of it deeply absorbing.

    This is a remarkable debut as much for its portrayal of ambitious musicians in the world of classical music, as it is for its depiction of growing into adulthood within that rarified world. I was surprised at how addicting I found the stories of these four friends and how captivated I became with the music they were creating. With no musical inclination whatsoever--unless you count baton twirling with the marching band--I was immersed in every note and I found so much of it deeply absorbing.

    It is that intertwining of their lives that I found the most fascinating, how they arranged their lives around the chamber ensemble, subverted their private dreams and desires, yet found the same ebb and flow as all lives do. What begins as a percussive piece in their 20s, picks up momentum when they reach their 30’s, and eventually comes together as a beautiful melody in their 40s.

    Rich characterization, lyrical prose and a captivating narrative about life, love, friendship and music as art form made for a deeply satisfying and enriching read. I highly recommend this noteworthy debut.

  • Diane S ☔

    A while back I decided to quit reading most of the summarys posted for books. The reason I stopped doing this is that I felt too much of the book was being given away. I do, however, read the first paragraph of these summarys, just to get a general idea of the book. I was drawn to this one because it stated it was an addictive read, plus it was about music, and seemed a little different from that which I usually read. Surprisingly enough I did find this addictive.

    The lives of four member of a mu

    A while back I decided to quit reading most of the summarys posted for books. The reason I stopped doing this is that I felt too much of the book was being given away. I do, however, read the first paragraph of these summarys, just to get a general idea of the book. I was drawn to this one because it stated it was an addictive read, plus it was about music, and seemed a little different from that which I usually read. Surprisingly enough I did find this addictive.

    The lives of four member of a musical quartet, two men, one a prodigy on the viola, one a cello player and two women violinists. How they came together, their hopes for their careers, how they try to balance having a personal life while maintaining and rising in a career that takes everything. It is divided into four sections, the heading of each section includes a musical score. I looked for these on YouTube and played them as I read along.

    In the beginning I was quickly taken by two of these members, the other two were more difficult for me to like. One had a giant chip on his shoulder, and one of the woman seemed cold, unbendable, but as I read, as the characters grew along with their careers, matured in their playing and personalities, I embraced all four. I loved how the author marked the passage of time, eighteen years they would play together, knowing each other better in many ways than their partners in life. I enjoyed so much about this book, following these very flawed characters, their love for their music, the difficulties in maintaining a relationship with each other, and lastly how far they progressed emotionally and musically after all those years.

    "It had to do with time. Time looked different when you were young, and whatever foolishness you engaged in was undiluted-thsre was always the possibility that the next promised moment would carry you somewhere else,always the possibility of more flames, more beats, more life. Time, when you were older,was smethng different, irregular."

    ARC from Edelweiss.

  • Jennifer Blankfein

    The Ensemble is a great summer read – a wonderful debut about four quartet musicians and their lives together from right out of school to adulthood – what they gave up and what they earned, the love they developed and the family they created. The Van Ness Quartet consists of Jana, first violinist and leader, Brit, the quiet, second violinist, Daniel the older cellist and playboy, and Henry the violist prodigy. Author Aja Gabel skillfully links them together by their shared musical experiences, e

    The Ensemble is a great summer read – a wonderful debut about four quartet musicians and their lives together from right out of school to adulthood – what they gave up and what they earned, the love they developed and the family they created. The Van Ness Quartet consists of Jana, first violinist and leader, Brit, the quiet, second violinist, Daniel the older cellist and playboy, and Henry the violist prodigy. Author Aja Gabel skillfully links them together by their shared musical experiences, emotional connections and their intertwined lives.

    Through musical and personal challenges, emotional and physical relationships and breakups, private and career successes and failures, this foursome grows into their own as individual musicians and human beings as well as a group, making beautiful music together that just gets richer with age. These friends and music partners experience harmonious relationships along with plenty of friction, but they are committed to their craft and each other to live the lives of professional musicians…together.

    This book gives us an inside look at what it is like to be a classical musician and play in a quartet for 20 years…a wonderful story – very enjoyable!

    Follow all reviews on Book Nation by Jen.

  • Fareya

    is a gorgeously written contemporary about four very different people brought together by the common dream of being recognized in the field of classical music.

    With excellent character development and an insightful portrayal of the intricate relationship shared by quartet musicians, Aja Gabel has woven a beautiful story about what it is like to be a professional classical music player and part of a quartet for almost two decades.

    Although, a lot of musical reference throughout the b

    is a gorgeously written contemporary about four very different people brought together by the common dream of being recognized in the field of classical music.

    With excellent character development and an insightful portrayal of the intricate relationship shared by quartet musicians, Aja Gabel has woven a beautiful story about what it is like to be a professional classical music player and part of a quartet for almost two decades.

    Although, a lot of musical reference throughout the book went completely over my head because (sadly) my knowledge of classical music is pathetically lacking, I still enjoyed its wonderful prose and the constantly changing complex group dynamics of the four lead characters.

    Recommended if you like character oriented literary fiction and classical music.

    For more reviews visit my blog

  • Thomas

    I liked this debut novel about four young musicians who come together to form the Van Ness Quartet. The group includes first violin Jana, their resilient and headstrong leader, second violin Brit, the consistent and sweet orphan, Henry on the viola, the prodigy who has gotten everything he wants in life, and Daniel playing cello, the oldest and angriest of the group.

    follows this chamber group's rocky start to its glorious heights. Amidst their music comes drama in their in

    I liked this debut novel about four young musicians who come together to form the Van Ness Quartet. The group includes first violin Jana, their resilient and headstrong leader, second violin Brit, the consistent and sweet orphan, Henry on the viola, the prodigy who has gotten everything he wants in life, and Daniel playing cello, the oldest and angriest of the group.

    follows this chamber group's rocky start to its glorious heights. Amidst their music comes drama in their individual lives and their relationships, spanning heartbreak and marriage, shared joys and bitter resentments, and feelings of connection as well as abandonment. The driving force of this group: how they always come back to one another, again and again and again.

    I appreciated this book's emphasis on art and friendship. Aja Gabel, a former cellist, portrays the musical world well. She incorporates the hours and hours of rehearsal, the unique intimacy that comes with a shared bond with fellow musicians, and the struggle to balance an artistic life with other relationships and goals. I do not have much of a musical background, so this aspect of the book may resonate even more with those who do. Furthermore, Gabel's focus on a group of friends warmed my heart. Rarely do we see books that honor the power of friendship, so I feel grateful that Gabel centered the experiences of these four friends, their merriment and discontent and everything in between.

    I just wish I had felt closer to these characters. I wanted more development of their individual interior lives, like what drew each of them to music, their feelings about their music, how their pasts affect them, etc. I also wish we had gotten more interactions between the four, as I felt that relationships each of them had with individuals outside of the group shifted the spotlight from deepening or adding nuance to their bonds with one another. Toward the end of the book, some characters notice how other characters have changed since their shared youth. I wish we could have

    more of this change throughout the book, as opposed to being told about it afterward.

    Still, a good read I would recommend to to music fans and books that span the adult life course. I look forward to reading Gabel's next work.

  • Dianne

    Nicely done debut novel about a classical string quartet that spans the sixteen years following their graduate school recital to their last concert together. It's a coming of age story, with a musical twist.

    The chapters alternate between each musician - Jana (first violin), Britt (second violin), Henry (viola) and Daniel (cello) - and one spouse, Kimiko. Each of the characters have their own backstories, flaws, foibles and differing levels of talent. It's interesting to see them through each oth

    Nicely done debut novel about a classical string quartet that spans the sixteen years following their graduate school recital to their last concert together. It's a coming of age story, with a musical twist.

    The chapters alternate between each musician - Jana (first violin), Britt (second violin), Henry (viola) and Daniel (cello) - and one spouse, Kimiko. Each of the characters have their own backstories, flaws, foibles and differing levels of talent. It's interesting to see them through each other's eyes and to follow along as they grow into their individual selves while at the same time, they are binding themselves to each other as the entity that is the quartet.

    This is a very introspective and "talky" novel. The author muses and ponders and analyzes everything to the nth degree. There's not a ton of plot here and things develop quite slowly. This, for me, is one of those books that I liked, but didn't particularly feel excited about picking up again. It did not COMPEL me. I appreciate the author's talent, but this felt overwritten to me - overly weighty

    Overall, I did enjoy this peek into the world of classical musicians - the competitiveness, the physicality (who knew?), and the demands it makes on one's life.

  • Celeste Ng

    In the tradition of THE INTERESTINGS and THE SECRET HISTORY, THE ENSEMBLE teases apart the strands of an intense and long-lasting group friendship that both bolsters and binds its members. Aja Gabel's powerful debut offers a sensitive portrait of four young musicians forging their paths through life: sometimes at odds with each other, sometimes in harmony, but always inextricably linked by their shared pasts.

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