Author and quartet join forces for concert

MIDDLEBURY — “How does music without words mean anything?” asked National Book Award winner M.T. Anderson as he described his inspiration for writing his new nonfiction novel, “Symphony for the City of the Dead.”
He and the Boston-based Arneis Quartet will address that question on Monday, July 25, in a free and open reading and concert event hosted by Middlebury’s Ilsley Public Library and Point CounterPoint, a music camp for kids on Lake Dunmore.
The event, scheduled for 2 p.m. in the Middlebury town offices large conference room, will feature a discussion of the novel and a performance of Dmitri Shostakovich’s “String Quartet No. 8.”
“String Quartet No. 8” is one of many pieces that the Russian composer wrote in the midst of World War II. Anderson’s novel — aimed at young adults — tells the story of Shostakovich’s “Leningrad Symphony,” which he wrote during the German occupation of Leningrad that lasted from September 1941 through the winter of 1943.
“It’s such a strange story,” said Anderson. “It was such an extreme situation and yet at the same time this beautiful music comes out, the music was an act of defiance.”
Through music, Shostakovich was able to capture the horror of the siege of Leningrad and the war. In the novel, Anderson attempts to demonstrate how that music reflects passions and emotions that can impact future listeners.
“I’m hoping younger people come away with a renewed sense that this is music they can connect to at any time,” he said. “I want people to think, ‘I’m feeling the emotions of someone who I’ve never met because they’re long gone.’ That’s amazing.”
The novel has been honored with a number of awards, including The New York Times Notable Children’s Book in 2015, the Julia Ward Howe Prize and the Wall Street Journal Best Children’s Books of 2015. Additionally, the book was long-listed for the National Book Award.
While the novel focuses on the “Leningrad Symphony,” the Arneis Quartet will perform the “String Quartet No. 8,” a piece that was built around Shostakovich’s name and holds hidden meanings that Anderson will try to dissect at the event.
“It’s nice for people to hear the history and context of the String Quartet No. 8,” said Arneis Quartet violinist Rose Drucker. “It’s a piece that’s entirely dedicated to the victim.”
Anderson and the Arneis Quartet first started collaborating on events when Anderson recruited them to play at an event focused on celebrating the sea in Provincetown, Mass.
They’ve already hosted two events celebrating “Symphony for the City of the Dead” and Shostakovich’s “String Quartet No. 8,” one in Brookline, Mass., in December and one in Providence, R.I., in the spring.
“When the book came out, this all came about organically,” Drucker said.
Both performances were a success, and for Anderson each offered a unique opportunity to re-examine the Shostakovich  quartet.
“The Arneis Quartet knows the piece really well, and they bring a laser focus to the performance,” he said. “Every time I hear the piece I feel something or notice something different.”
For Drucker and the quartet, “String Quartet No. 8” is always an exciting piece to play.
“It’s one of the first pieces of Shostakovich that a string musician plays and it’s a piece that really gets you going,” Drucker said. “It has a really strong emotional impact.”
Because Point CounterPoint is hosting the event, they have invited the young musicians who will be at camp at the time. These high school-age campers arrived in Addison County this past Sunday for a three week session.
For Jenny Beck, executive director at the camp, the event is a perfect opportunity to combine the arts.
“Here we’re combining music and the word,” she said. “It will help bring the music to life in a different way.”
Point CounterPoint holds sessions throughout the summer for string and piano musicians ages 8 to 17. Through an audition process, campers are chosen for a music-intense experience where they have the opportunity to play and learn with a faculty of professional musicians from around the world.
Throughout the camp are a number of practice rooms, each named after a famous composer. According to Beck, the “Shosty” room is a favorite among campers.
“Shostakovich is a really popular composer for our campers,” he said. “It’s very exciting when they get to hear his music played by a professional quartet, as well as read the book.”
Call 802-388-4095 to reserve a free ticket to the event.

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