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

  • Lauren Fanella

    4.5⭐ Stellar writing with such complex and rich characters and relationships. Blown away that this is a debut novel. Loved being immersed in this world of classical music.

    4.5⭐️ Stellar writing with such complex and rich characters and relationships. Blown away that this is a debut novel. Loved being immersed in this world of classical music.

  • Kate

    I think this will be my favorite book of the year! THE ENSEMBLE follows four musicians over a decade and a half, beginning with their string quartet debut in graduate school, and then dropping in at two- to four-year increments. The quartet's story (and their stories as individuals) is so familiar to anyone who has been seriously involved in classical music. As a former clarinetist (well, someone who still plays but with no professional aspirations), I took many pauses while reading this book -

    I think this will be my favorite book of the year! THE ENSEMBLE follows four musicians over a decade and a half, beginning with their string quartet debut in graduate school, and then dropping in at two- to four-year increments. The quartet's story (and their stories as individuals) is so familiar to anyone who has been seriously involved in classical music. As a former clarinetist (well, someone who still plays but with no professional aspirations), I took many pauses while reading this book - basically whenever I read something that felt a little too familiar and sent me away into my own memories. Sometimes I saw myself in these characters; sometimes I recognized friends or colleagues. The characters are drawn so realistically that I think this will be true even if you've never played an instrument, though.

    The way Aja Gabel (a former cellist) writes about music is truly stunning. She writes musically! Her writing style mimics the music she's describing. Her sentences read like phrases. It's everything I've ever aimed for when I write about music. Also, each of the four sections of the book begins with a list of three works for strings - if you've never heard of them, it won't hurt your reading experience at all, but if you HAVE, you're in for a treat. For example, it almost feels like a spoiler to say that Beethoven's C-sharp minor quartet is one of the ones listed for the third section. I highly recommend listening to the works described in the book, especially if you're unfamiliar with the Beethoven or the Shostakovich third quartet, both of which are referenced heavily.

    If, like me, you love books that follow multiple characters throughout their lives, this is a wonderful example of that kind of book. But if you're a musician, this book will resonate with you on an even deeper level.

  • Jamie

    I loved this. I loved it I loved it. Never have I read such glorious writing about music and about musicians. I want to say something poetic about how the author builds the four characters into a harmony even when they're pushing against one another in dissonance, and how it's about a quartet but it reads like a symphony but I'll just say that I loved it and leave it there.

  • Rebecca Foster

    In May 1994, the members of the Van Ness String Quartet are completing their final graduate recital at a San Francisco conservatory and preparing for the Esterhazy quartet competition in the Canadian Rockies. These four talented musicians – Jana, first violin; Brit, second violin; Henry, viola; and Daniel, cello – have no idea what the next 15 years will hold for them: a cross-country move, romances begun and lost, and career successes and failures. Drawing on her own history as a violinist and

    In May 1994, the members of the Van Ness String Quartet are completing their final graduate recital at a San Francisco conservatory and preparing for the Esterhazy quartet competition in the Canadian Rockies. These four talented musicians – Jana, first violin; Brit, second violin; Henry, viola; and Daniel, cello – have no idea what the next 15 years will hold for them: a cross-country move, romances begun and lost, and career successes and failures. Drawing on her own history as a violinist and cellist, Aja Gabel infuses her debut novel with the simultaneous uncertainty and euphoria of both the artistic life and early adulthood in general. An alternating close third-person perspective gives glimpses into the main characters’ inner lives, and there are evocative descriptions of classical music. I think

    will mean even more to those readers who are involved in music, but anyone can relate to the slow fade from youth into middle age and the struggle to integrate art with the rest of life.

    See my full review at

    . (See also

    on string quartets.)

  • Katelyn

    Added: 4.5 stars. A few weeks later I still can't stop thinking about this book and I now love to watch YouTube videos of quartets.

    Wow. At first I didn't think I'd keep with this book, but I became completely immersed in Gabel's story of four musicians who form a quartet and then I couldn't put it down. She follows the quartet from conservatory to middle age as they grow and stretch in their professional and personal lives. Gabel shows how by necessity of their profession, their lives intertwine

    Added: 4.5 stars. A few weeks later I still can't stop thinking about this book and I now love to watch YouTube videos of quartets.

    Wow. At first I didn't think I'd keep with this book, but I became completely immersed in Gabel's story of four musicians who form a quartet and then I couldn't put it down. She follows the quartet from conservatory to middle age as they grow and stretch in their professional and personal lives. Gabel shows how by necessity of their profession, their lives intertwine and they form intense relationships with each other.

    Best paired with You Tube videos of quartets. It made me appreciate them so much more. Just incredible. Clearly written by someone with chamber music experience. Highly recommended.

  • 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.

  • Susan

    I enjoyed this book and the story of four musicians. It is one of those books in which not much really happens but it spans many years and is a great character study. It was beautifully written. But I felt there were just parts my eyes would just skip over and that there was a lot of filler that got tedious.

    I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.

  • 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.

  • Joanie

    If this could hook me in as much as the premise of it is hooking me in right now (I will buy a hardcover of this as a birthday present to myself oh my god), hello, new obsession. I never had the discipline or the talent to stick it with classical music beyond high school so I admire so much those who do. This novel could be perfect for me.

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