Driving ambition and unconditional love
To reach the pinnacle in classical music demands passion and sacrifice – and driving ambition. This is the theme of Natalie Koch’s first novel, Streken (Plays). Its protagonist is world-famous cellist Arthur Bronckhorst. Now nearly fifty and suffering from arthritis, his career is at an end; his final concerts in London at the end of the year were disastrous. After a master class, Arthur manages to seduce seventeen-year-old Chrissie Pagett, who has an even greater potential than he had at that age.
In Chrissie, Arthur recognises unconditional devotion to her instrument and the drive to achieve the purest musical rendition. For that reason he offers to be her teacher, preparing her for the heights of international success. At the same time, his affair with Chrissie forces him to reflect on a painful part of his past, particularly the way he competed with his brother Alexander, who disappeared mysteriously twenty years previously. In Chrissie’s performance he sees a reflection of Alexander – also a great talent at the time, but lacking the social graces and the theatrical skills to become a star.
The mystery of Alexander’s disappearance and Arthur’s role in it unfolds slowly. Why has Arthur never composed anything since his sublime piece Dead Days – even when Chrissie asks him to? Koch is accomplished at subtly developing the plot, painting a world driven by fierce ambition, rivalry and the desire for fame as by an unconditional love for music – a contradiction which, in itself, creates great suspense. Koch’s style is musical; even when describing the elevated emotions generated by music, so often difficult to express in words, she manages to hit the right chord. This, in particular, is what makes Streken such an accomplished debut. It has already been reprinted three times.