Classical music is just filled with passion. And passion leads to conflict. —violinist-author Gerald Elias
SALT LAKE CITY — Clashing egos, artistic passion and murder.
That may not be everyone's idea of the goings-on in classical music. But a Utah violinist with a long symphonic career is now exploring all that behind-the-scenes drama in his new role as a crime novelist.
"Very few people who are not in the profession know what the life behind the stage is like in classical music," said violinist-author Gerald Elias. "Classical music is just filled with passion. And passion leads to conflict."
In June, Elias will release his fourth novel of backstage murder and mystery. He said he bases all his characters and stories on real people and real experiences he's encountered during his long career.
It's the seemingly genteel world of classical music — but with the gloves off and fiery egos engaged. The books are fiction, of course; Elias hasn't been surrounded by murderers and thugs in his career.
But the fiery ego part? Maybe.
"The book that's coming out in June, 'Death and Transfiguration,' is the one that all my orchestra colleagues have been waiting for," Elias joked, "because that's the one where the conductor gets killed."
His four novels feature a violinist who doubles as an amateur sleuth. "Daniel Jacobus is an over-the-hill, cantankerous, blind violin teacher," Elias said. "One way or the other, he gets inevitably drawn, kicking and screaming, into these mysteries and has to solve them."
Elias himself has been playing violin for more than 50 years. He started his professional career with the Boston Symphony in 1975. He retired last year from the Utah Symphony where he held the post of associate concertmaster for more than two decades. Elias still performs regularly with the Boston Symphony at Tanglewood and has also branched out into conducting. He's currently rehearsing the University of Utah Chamber Orchestra for a European tour.
Elias' writing career began in 1997 when he was on sabbatical from the Utah Symphony. He decided to write something for his violin students so they'd know what they were getting into if they took up a career in classical music.
"It was conceived as a how-to manual that was interesting by weaving a story around it about a stolen Stradivarius," Elias said.
Ten years, and a dozen rewrites later, it became his first novel, "Devil's Trill," published in 2009. That was quickly followed by "Danse Macabre" in 2010, "Death and the Maiden" in 2011 and "Death and Transfiguration" set for release in June. All four titles are taken from classical music compositions.
The latest book revolves around the one person in any orchestra who rules the roost and sometimes ruffles feathers, the conductor.
"We have this brilliant genius-tyrant of a conductor who comes in conflict with just about everyone he encounters," Elias said.
Before the conductor's demise, he and the sleuthing violinist engage in what Elias calls a "titanic battle of wills."
National reviewers have given the new book strong reviews. Booklist described it as "brilliant and captivating." Publishers Weekly called it "finely tuned and wickedly funny" and said, "There's just one word for this book: bravo!"
That's a word any novelist, or musician, loves to hear.