2015-10-17 - Concerto.Net

By Wiebke Kuester
Original Review

It’s once again that time of the year when the days are getting shorter and you just want to snuggle up in your cozy home and get lost in a good book. Here’s the perfect read for a long, rainy fall weekend – enthralling, entertaining, yet somewhat disturbing. Make sure you put some piano music in the background: some heavy Beethoven, devilish Liszt, or dark Rachmaninoff. Because That Iron String is all about pianos, pianists and the dubious reputation of piano competitions and the classical music business in general.

Jack Kohl’s debut novel That Iron String is the highly mysterious, at times unlikely story of two baby boys, apparently cousins, found buried under corpses in an abandoned boat on the Long Island Sound. The boys, Portsmouth and Boston, get adopted by relatives and grow up in the same neighborhood on Long Island. Both show exceptional musical talent and both become accomplished pianists. While Boston, apparently the more gifted of the two, goes off the typical path of a child prodigy to study at the most prestigious music schools, Portsmouth completes his musical education at a local college. After many years of separation, Boston – and his grand piano – finally return to Long Island. Boston wants to use the uneventful, quiet Long Island summer to prepare for an international piano competition – a competition his cousin Portsmouth has also been admitted to.

Kohl’s novel unfolds painstakingly slow. But that is exactly what makes his writing so intriguing. For the most the novel is told through the eyes of Portsmouth. Although the character remains disturbingly unemotional and detached, Kohl, an accomplished pianist and music director himself, succeeds in depicting both pain and pleasure of the classical music profession in a way that gets under your skin. Any reader who has gone through the ups and downs of the music education system will be able to identify with the many subtle aspects of the novel. I am not sure whether those unfamiliar with the music business can equally relate to the characters and the slowly evolving plot.

That Iron String is a haunting psychogram of two young musicians that at times let me wish I wouldn’t have known anything about classical music education, the competition circus and the entire business of making music.

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