Seventeen year old Carmen Bianchi is a violin prodigy. She's won a Grammy for best classical album and has been on the cover of many weekly magazines - the face of virtuosity in America. For the past four years she's be preparing for the prestigious Guarneri competition. Winning means being awarded one of the richest grand prizes in classical music; fifty thousand dollars, the use of the 1742 Guarneri del Gesu violin for four years, and the opportunity to perform with symphonies throughout the world. Carmen knows she will likely be one of the three musicians to make it to the final round and she desperately wants to win this competition. Winning the Guarneri will make Carmen a superstar. But Carmen has one major obstacle: Jeremy King.
Jeremy King is an eighteen year old violinist from London, England. He too is a virtuoso. When Carmen tries to catch a discrete glimpse of him outside the Chicago Symphony Center, he sees her and later sends her a nasty email. From this difficult beginning, Carmen and Jeremy gradually begin a love-hate relationship. However, Carmen's mother, Diana, learns of their relationship, and warns Carmen that Jeremy's motives are not honest. However, Carmen doesn't trust her mother and continues seeing Jeremy in an act of rebellion.
In the meantime, we also learn that Carmen has been struggling with a psychological addiction to a prescription drug. While on tour in Tokyo last year, Carmen had a meltdown on stage. Her mother, who is also her manager, arranged for Carmen to take the anti-anxiety drug, Inderal. Although the drug calms her, it has begun to stifle her playing, removing the passion she once had. Soon Carmen finds herself taking the drug not just for performances but also for her lessons with her elderly Russian teacher, Yuri. Taking Inderal makes Carmen feel like she is a fraud, a fake who goes through the motions to make music. In an attempt to recover what she feels she has lost, and after witnessing Jeremy's impassioned playing, Carmen stops taking the Inderal for a period of time.
When Jeremy and Carmen make it to the semifinals, the Guarneri competition becomes much more complicated due to their relationship with each other and even more so when Jeremy makes an astonishing request of Carmen - to throw the competition and allow him to win because of a difficult family situation. Carmen, who is shocked by Jeremy's request, refuses to see him. When the three finalists are announced and Jeremy is not one of them, Carmen begins to suspect that something isn't quite right. A little investigating on her part, soon turns up the shocking reason for Jeremy's absence in the competition finals. Torn between her desire to win and her desire to do what is right, Carmen has a decision to make. It is one that will affect everyone's future.
|German cover of Virtuosity|
Virtuosity provides a fascinating look into the competitive world of classical music, and some of the issues young musicians must navigate around as they develop their careers. Martinez was herself a classical violinist and because she is writing about a subject she knows well, this novel is a realistic portrayal of the classical music world. Many young musicians experience extreme pressure from parents and teachers to lay down that perfect performance. In the competitive world of music, performances must be perfect, dynamic and unique - no small thing for a young person. This pressure is in addition to coping with memorizing huge amounts of repertoire, dealing with criticism that can at times be brutal and working through injuries. Some musicians struggle with eating disorders as well as with addictions to prescription medications. Others experience the same sort of self-doubt that Carmen experiences in Virtuosity.
Jessica Martinez talks about her book in the following video:
Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez
Simon & Schuster 2011