• Linda Kass

‘A Book in Concert’: Carpe Diem String Quartet’s Music To My Words

Not many authors have a musical event integrated into their book debuts. I count myself incredibly fortunate to have created one art form that inspired another: “A Book in Concert.”

From left: (me) Linda Kass, Charles Wetherbee, Amy Galluzzo, Carol Ou, and Korine Fujiwara

On May 20, 21 and 22, I had the unique opportunity to join an internationally acclaimed string quartet at the world premiere of “A Book in Concert,” three stirring performances transforming my words into music. I read from Tasa’s Song, and each passage was followed by music of the Eastern European masters in my novel played by Carpe Diem String Quartet. In addition, Carpe Diem co-founder and first violinist Charles Wetherbee created an original four-minute composition, based on the novel’s main character and her harrowing, yet hopeful, journey amid a world war.

More than 500 people attended the weekend programs, the 10th season finale program for this “indie,” boundary-breaking ensemble, co-founded by Wetherbee and violist Korine Fujiwara from Tacoma, Washington, joined by second violinist Amy Galluzzo and cellist Carol Ou, both from Boston. Together, the four sensational musicians comprise the Carpe Diem String Quartet.

Over the years, Carpe Diem has married its classical repertoire with different musical genres and artists, including American singer/songwriter/guitarist Willy Porter, klezmer clarinetist David Krakauer, cellist Yo Yo Ma, Latin Grammy winner/bandoneon player Raul Juarena, banjo virtuoso and Canadian folk music artist Jayme Stone, and Chinese pipa player Yihan Chen. Called “multilingual,” the Washington Post said of Carpe Diem: “Among these contemporary quartets who speak in different tongues, the Carpe Diem is the best one out there.”

Committed to changing the concert experience of chamber music, the quartet stretched beyond these alternative musical categories by integrating its melodies and the spirit of their performance with the muse who gave rise to my words: violin prodigy Tasa Rosinski. A story about growing up and falling in love during the gathering storm of World War II, Tasa’s Song was inspired by my mother’s early life in eastern Poland. Music weaves throughout the narrative of Tasa’s Song. Pairing my reading of scenes from the novel with the very music described or evoked therein, my collaboration with the Carpe Diem String Quartet yielded a powerful expression even greater than what either art form could achieve on its own.

“A Book in Concert” Was Born

Driving in my car one morning in April 2015, shortly after signing with my publisher, She Writes Press, and thinking about my book’s protagonist, a violin prodigy, I had a sudden thought to call my friend Chas Wetherbee. I’ve known Chas since 1995, shortly after we both joined the Columbus Symphony Orchestra—I as a trustee and Chas as first violinist and concertmaster. I observed him from afar after he co-founded Carpe Diem in 2005 and then moved to Colorado, returning several times a year to Columbus for his chamber series that I attended whenever possible. The timing of my call to Chas was fortuitous—Chas would be in Columbus in a week. He suggested we meet for breakfast. I told him about the novel I’d just completed, that it was headed for publication a year hence, and that it was filled with music. He said to bring my manuscript. So I did. That fateful meeting was the genesis of what became “A Book in Concert.”

Chas was intrigued by the musical playlist I had created to run alongside Tasa’s Song, chapter-by-chapter.

I explained I needed to keep track of the music I was referencing; there was so much of it. He agreed to review the manuscript for technical correctness, a great help to me as an author. Wondering if we might collaborate in some way given the intersection of our fields that arose in my book, Chas and I realized that his finale concert planned for late May, the programming of which had not been finalized, aligned well with the May 3, 2016 release of my novel. “So, does Tasa have a song?” Chas asked. I said no, just a book about her journey, her story. “I could compose her song,” he replied. I literally had chills.

A few weeks later, I heard back from Chas. He had meticulously perused the musical references throughout the novel and suggested several modifications. He then said that his fellow quartet members and its board wanted to collaborate with me for their finale weekend. They would name the weekend concerts “Tasa’s Song” after the work Chas would compose, he told me, and they would name each of the programs of the season after a piece of literature.

By August, Chas sent me a list of composers in my playlist that the quartet wanted to play for this concert. I combed through my manuscript for the exact right scene, placing my selections in a particular order and creating brief introductions to contextualize each scene, so that an audience who had not read the book could follow along with the narrative, caught in the music.

Behind The Scenes of a Musical Book Launch

Other than switching out one scene for another and making some small tweaks, we left the script alone for most of the year that followed, communicating more frequently as we got closer to the May concerts. But then, in early May, I lost my beloved mother, the inspiration for Tasa and my novel. An even deeper significance inserted itself into our program. A message from Korine articulated how I felt—that we could honor my mom through our performance.

The concerts, and the fellowship with Carpe Diem, became a source of comfort to me. As I read the first sentence aloud at the first evening’s show, I found a voice that I would use throughout the weekend readings. A natural rhythm followed, as my words and the scenes they depicted seamlessly fused into yet another kind of musical expression, at times whimsical, then filled with melancholy, melodic then dissonant. I heard the artful Paganini resonating off their strings, breathing life into Tasa’s musical inspiration and aspiration. When Carpe Diem played the lively Czardas, the liveliness from Tasa’s first public recital as a solo violinist performing Ziguenerweisen by Sarasate, was brought to life — complete with frolicking gypsies! I felt the tension of Soviet oppression in the dissonant notes of Shostakovich’s String Quartet no. 8 in C Minor. And in “Tales from the Vienna Woods,” I imagined the gaiety of the peasants dancing the waltz, losing themselves as I did, in the art itself.