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The Ensemble

3.49  ·  Rating details ·  4,872 ratings  ·  620 reviews
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
Hardcover, 339 pages
Published May 15th 2018 by Riverhead
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Diane S ☔
May 29, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Elyse Walters
Jun 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
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.

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.
May 23, 2018 rated it liked it
3.5 stars

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. The Ensemble follows this chamber group's rocky start to its glorious heights. Amidst their music comes drama in their in
Jennifer Blankfein
Jun 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Taryn Pierson
May 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Katie Avagliano
May 24, 2018 rated it it was ok
Okay. Okay. I was looking forward to reading this for months because I thought it would be like “The Interestings.” It’s not. I was about twenty pages in before I flipped to the author bio to see if Gabel had graduated from a writing program. She had. It’s a book that reminds me of everything I don’t like about literary fiction, MFA program fiction - you can’t even get into the story, loose as it is, without getting mired in backstory and interiority. It’s a book that’s supposedly about an ensem ...more
Jul 05, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Ensemble 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
Jun 17, 2018 rated it liked it
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
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 ...more
Nov 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
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.
Feb 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
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 - ...more
May 06, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: arc
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.
Lauren Fanella
May 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Traci at The Stacks
Nov 09, 2018 rated it liked it
This is totally not my kind of book but I actually enjoyed it. It is Sorkin like in the characters ability to articulate extreme self awareness. It is also greys anatomy like in the intense interpersonal relationships. So parr’s were way too slow for me, but I am over all pleasantly surprised with this book.
Rod-Kelly Hines
2.5 Stars...

The Ensemble's premise is interesting enough: a story about the inner lives of the members of the Van Ness String Quartet from 1994-2009.

However, this novel suffered from a great deal of technical weakness. There's a certain lack of rhythm that makes for pretty slow reading for a novel with only 330 pages. (I've been noticing this lack of rhythm in a lot of debut novels lately!) I felt so distanced from the main characters, and ironically, it was because of the long digressions into
Mollie Reads
Sep 04, 2018 rated it liked it
This book was overhyped for me, but I was impressed by the beautiful prose. While there was certainly a lot of emotion and complex relationships to tap into, I didn't always connect with that emotion, and I didn't really care about the characters. There were a few passages/quotes I loved, and I can appreciate the musical details, which were lovely. But it did lag for me at times. I haven't been this conflicted about my feelings for a book since The Nest.
Thank you so much Riverhead Books for my free copy of THE ENSEMBLE by Aja Gabel - all opinions are my own.

This lovely debut novel follows four musicians from graduate school through to their life in the Van Ness String Quartet. The narrative is the quartet’s story as a whole, but also each individual story of Jana, Henry, Daniel, and Brit. The book is divided into four sections and each section is headed with three famous works of classical music for strings. I thought that was a really nice tou
Jun 12, 2018 added it
Shelves: forsaken
It pains me to say this, because I SHOULD have loved this book. I play the violin. I loved playing chamber music in string quartets. This book is on most summer reading lists for 2018. But I quit it on page 150. The main characters are selfish and neurotic and cynical; they didn't even exhibit real friendship (in the pages I read). Even the descriptions of the music, instruments and performances fell flat for me. I have learned my lesson after The Nest; any book in which the characters exhibit z ...more
Deborah Stevens
Oct 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
I thoroughly enjoyed entering the unknown-to-me world of high level classical musicians. The author did a great job of both world building and character development. Beautiful descriptive writing.
Mar 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
[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.]

^ written so, so long ago and yes it did deliver. it took me some time to love it but the characters grew and it was lyrical and moving and generous and I ad
Jul 05, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018
Thank you @riverheadbooks for providing me with a free review copy

The Ensemble was a book that took me a very long time to finish. For the first half I was expecting a completely different story line and pacing, and because I went into with the wrong idea I could not get into the story or feel invested in the characters. Once I figured out that the book was more about the friendship of four people who play in a musical quartet then about the behind the drama behind the scenes of a quartet group
Jul 16, 2018 rated it did not like it
everyone kisses everyone but no one cares
Jun 07, 2018 rated it liked it
During the “Coda” of her debut, The Ensemble, author Aja Gabel writes:

“We weren’t yet full people, but we were required to pretend to be. We thought that together we could pretend to be until we were.”

It’s as concise a statement that could be made regarding the title characters that anchor Gabel’s novel, a string quartet that evolve as musicians yet never quite match this growth in seemingly all other aspects of life. It’s typical in most cutthroat professions, the pressure to succeed and the
Kari Ann Sweeney
Jun 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
This cover is positively swoon worthy- right? Gorgeous!
This novel follows the four members of a chamber ensemble over the course of their lives and careers. It was truly a study in character and relationships. It was a unique example of how expectations and dreams can become intertwined. How friends/colleagues can start to feel like family. I thought the writing was stunning.
May 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: those who don't mind a slow burn
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
Carol (Reading Ladies)
3.5 stars
The Ensemble follows the lives of four young members of a chamber quartet as they navigate the world of competitive classical music, ambition, relationships, success, failure, and love. Readers will meet Jana, first violin, aloof, resilient, and fearless leader; Brit, second violin, beautiful, idealistic, and quiet orphan; Daniel, cello, angry, oldest, and most adrift; and Henry, viola, an easy-going prodigy who has always lived an easy and blessed life. This is a character driven story
Danielle Lazarin
Nov 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Being in a quartet seems more difficult than being in a marriage. There is so much to hold together, so much work to be done, so many boundaries to delicately cross with people who ask you for everything and yet who you are tired of walking on eggshells with, so much unexpected bodily wear, so much unspoken and necessary love in its mere existence.

I adored this book, wanted to return to it night after night, and am desperate for it to be out so I can talk to other people about it. I never grew
Allie Rowbottom
Jan 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
THE ENSEMBLE is a stunning debut, almost unbelievable in its range, lyricism and beauty. This book reminded me of character studies and coming of age novels like FATES AND FURIES and THE MARRIAGE PLOT, with the added complexity of a quartet of characters. Their entwined lives, drives and heartbreaks are set against the backdrop of the insular world of classical music, ultimately resulting in an epic meditation on competition, community, individuality and art, rendered by a writer whose talent is ...more
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Reading Women: 22) A book you picked up because of the cover 11 85 Dec 05, 2018 09:48PM  
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“Love is inexact, Henry said. It is not a science. It is barely a noun. It means one thing to one person, and one thing to another. It means one thing to one person at one point and then something else at another point. It doesn’t make sense. We are gathered here today to not make sense. We are gathered here today to listen to the ineffable. I’m supposed to be explaining it, but I can’t explain it. I love you, it’s a mystery. Because it’s a mystery, we have to take care of it. Feed it. It can go missing, but we can’t tie it up. We can only tie it to someone else. Other people. Then the world is like this: full of the geometry of my rope tied to you, and to you, and yours tied to him, and to her, and hers to someone else. I love you, it’s a mystery. A moment of silence.” 3 likes
“Henry did understand how they had become responsible for each other's well-being, each other's livelihood. When you were on your own, in whatever career, whatever you did affected only your own job. But with the quartet, they had to share a goal, distribute the dream between them, and trust that each of them had an appropriate sense of commitment. The commitment had a way of bleeding into their lives off stage, as well. There were so many ways to betray each other.” 2 likes
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