clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

'Trill' goes behind scenes in music world

Gerald Elias wears many hats.

The Utah Symphony's associate concertmaster since 1988, Elias is also a composer who has written a number of chamber and orchestral works.

Elias also has, on occasion, replaced his violin bow with a baton and has appeared as a conductor.

And now he can add published writer to his growing list of accomplishments.

Elias' first novel, "Devil's Trill," has just been released. It's a mystery dealing with the negative side of music competitions along with excavating the sinister underbelly of the classical music scene.

"I kind of emphasized the dark side and made it entertaining," Elias told the Deseret News from the Berkshires in western Massachusetts, where he's been living with his wife for the past year while on sabbatical from the Utah Symphony.

"I show the self-interest and ruthlessness that goes on here. Just like any enterprise, nothing, not even the world of classical music, is as pure as one would hope for."

Elias paints a rather sinister picture, but he doesn't think it will put people off classical music. "I don't think anyone will be disappointed, because music comes out on top. What I describe in 'Devil's Trill' is the process behind the scenes. It isn't part of the music itself."

But music competitions do get raked over the coals in Elias' novel. And he speaks from personal experience. "I've been in my share of competitions, but I've never felt good about telling my students to compete, even though it does prepare them for auditions (for positions with orchestras)."

And that's because most young performers don't understand the point behind competitions, Elias said. "Too many participants get stressed out. Competitions have the potential to do some good. If some great musician will find exposure through a competition, then fine. But too many highly qualified, enthusiastic musicians will also be disappointed and won't receive the attention they deserve."

It took Elias more than 10 years to finally find a publisher. And in that time, the book underwent many transformations and rewrites.

"I wrote it originally in 1997 in Italy during my last sabbatical from the symphony," Elias said. "It started out as a book primarily for violin students called 'Violin Lessons.' Each chapter was a violin lesson with a story woven around it. It was a mystery from the outset, but the mystery was tangential at the beginning."

A few years ago, Elias came across Katherine Weber's novel "The Music Lesson," and when he saw that he and she were fellow alumni of Yale he sent her the manuscript and asked for advice on getting it published.

"She wrote back and said, 'It's interesting, but who's going to read it?' "

But that encounter eventually led Elias to an agent who led him to St. Martin's Press' Minotaur Books, which was interested in publishing the book — but only after some major revisions.

"I must have rewritten it substantially a half-dozen times," Elias said. "And each time the book became more honed and refined."

The final product doesn't resemble the original very much. "But it kept the thread of playing the violin in it, within the context of what makes the story work."

And instead of being a pedagogical study masked as fiction, "Devil's Trill" is a hard look at how competitions can ruin a budding career as much as it can jump-start one.

"I think it's intriguing and an eye-opener," Elias said. "And I hope people will listen to all the pieces that are mentioned in the book."

Elias has already finished a second novel, "Danse Macabre," that brings back several of the main characters from "Devil's Trill."

"Danse Macabre" tells the story of an old and revered violinist who is brutally murdered by a young rival. "Or so it seems," Elias teased. It's scheduled to be published next summer.

A third novel, in which the members of a string quartet disappear, is already in the works. "That one is called 'Death and the Maiden,' " Elias said. "As you can see, there's a thread here. All of the titles are musical works that refer to death."

Elias will be at King's English Bookshop for a book signing on Sept. 12, and the evening before, he will be singing copies of his novel in the Abravanel Hall lobby after the Utah Symphony's opening night concert.

If you go...

What: "Authors Live Program" with Gerald Elias discussing and reading excerpts from "Devil's Trill" and playing related music; there will also be a question-and-answer session afterwards

Where: Salt Lake City Public Library

When: 7-9 p.m. Sept. 9

How much: Free

Phone: 801-322-8118



What: Book Signing with Gerald Elias

Where: King's English Bookshop, 1511 S. 1500 East

When: 2 p.m. Sept. 12

How much: Free

Phone: 801-484-9100