It’s a love story, said the famous violinist, and although Jana knew she wasn’t, those words knocked around her brain when she started playing on stage. The famous violinist Fodorio trained the quartet at the beginning of the week, and he said that even after they finished the passage of Dvořák’s “American”, which, according to Jana, was definitely not a love story. But there they were, the Van Ness String Quartet, performing at her final recital at the conservatory, beginning the glittering notes of the first movement, and all she could think, no matter how much thinking involved, was: maybe it’s a love story.
It was a love letter to the country, as she understood it from the lecture. Dvorak’s European peasant takes over American folk songs. But how could anyone think that this is a story of romantic love? To Jani it seemed more classic than that: a person falls for a dream of a place, for a life that could live there, for something that is not, but could be. It was about the glitter itself, those almost visible things that hovered just above the hot sidewalk of your life. Potential, aspiration, realization. The famous violinist who coached them – Fodorio, she couldn’t bring herself to say his name – was a kind of hack anyway, at least when it came to teaching. Jana would never say it to his face, but she enjoyed the solemn inner pleasure of her contempt. What did he know? Here’s what she knew: that Dvořák’s “American” was talking about America’s simple opportunity, and that no one was more familiar with recognizing and spending opportunities than she did. When Henry’s viola solo came in three bars later, she decided again: no, it wasn’t a love story.
It’s a love story it wasn’t something Henry remembered from the coaching session, and it certainly wasn’t something that went through his head when he introduced the tough melody of Americana in the third bar. Instead, what shone on Henry inside was what Fodorio said when he handed the card to Henry as he packed the viola. Call me if you decide this quartet job isn’t for you, he said. I can put up a few recitals in front of real people in New York. You could have a great solo career. Without a word, Henry took the card, shoved it into the velvet pocket in the case, and hasn’t moved it since. But there the map still pulsed. If you decide that this job with the quartet is not for you“Like Fodorio had already decided it wasn’t for Henry and was just waiting for Henry to come to the same conclusion.” But Henry decided nothing at all. He never did that, young as he was and blessed with the talent that guided his life decisions for him.
Whether it was a love story or not, Daniel was not concerned, because these days in his life he had no place for romance or lasting love, nor any symptom or side effect of the two of them. Not when he had to rehearse twice as hard to keep up with the rest of the quartet and their insanely natural abilities, especially Henry, whose obscene talent spun on the edge of a miracle, who could play drunk, blind, in love or out of it. There was no room for love in Daniel’s life when, in addition to schooling, he had to do real work, sleepwalking at a bar in Castro, pick up wedding gigs when he could, and teach cello beginnings to wealthy children in Pacific Heights. It’s a love story: Sure, okay, but what else?
Of course it’s a love story, Brit thought, though she thought it was all. This note here, and this, this joyful countermelody, its second violin harmony, collective intangible, sound agreement. Her relationship with Daniel, which he preferred to end a cold a few days ago. Even the absence of love was a love story for her. Even this pain, this suffering. It was useful. Although she imagined that one day she would no longer need to know, or she dreamed of rewinding her life and starting over, so she was a person who didn’t have to know, or she amused the idea of a parallel Briton living in a world that didn’t exist. necessary to understand the man who had gone up and gone to the edge of love, the people who had gone up and gone, a life lined up with all those little remnants, but she felt sad for this parallel Briton, more empty sad than she now felt for herself. These were all love stories.
And although no one would explicitly admit it, what it was about — love or something else — depended entirely on Jana: it depended on the way she breathed enthusiastically quietly, sharply, and precisely in time, before the first note, on the pressure of her attack on that first note, on the space she left between the first and second notes, on the degree and length and resonance of the vibrato she applied to the violin’s neck. It was up to her tiny movements, certainly at the beginning of the work, if not later. Even the way she closed her eyes, if she closed them at all, if her eyelashes or strict eyebrows flickered, it all determined everything that followed. Jana’s job as the first violinist was to lead, but these days her leadership has expanded beyond the physical. Her physical and tonal decisions, one after the other, throughout the forty-minute program, now served as emotional guidance.
The power in this was both benevolent and wicked, and Jani seemed perfectly natural. She always wanted to truly lead the group – and better yet, lead the group to greatness. It had to happen, it would happen, her future event defined her. And where in this story of greatness was there room for a love story? It was no story she had ever told her.
From Ensemble Written by Aja Gabel, publisher of Riverhead Books, print of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2018 Aja Gabel.
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