The Conductor, Hardback Book
4 out of 5 (2 ratings)


June 1941: Nazi troops surround the city of Leningrad, planning to shell and starve the people into submission.

Most of the cultural elite is evacuated, but the famous composer Shostakovich stays behind to defend his city.

That winter, the bleakest in Russian history, the Party orders Karl Eliasberg, the shy, difficult conductor of a second-rate orchestra, to prepare for the task of a lifetime.

He is to conduct a performance of Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony - a haunting, defiant new piece, which will be relayed by loudspeakers to the front lines.

Eliasberg's musicians are starving, and scarcely have the strength to carry their instruments.

But for five freezing months the conductor stubbornly drives on his musicians, depriving those who falter of their bread rations.

Slowly the music begins to dissolve the nagging hunger, the exploding streets, the slow deaths... but at what cost? Eliasberg's relationships are strained, obsession takes hold, and his orchestra is growing weaker.

Now, it's a struggle not just to perform but to stay alive.


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Review by

An evocative account of the siege of Leningrad and the composition of Shostakovitch's symphony, and most successful at evoking the privations of hunger and winter. It didn't quite ring true for me though; partly the odd mixture of anachronism and Russianesque language, partly characters disappearing from the stage (probably from the dictates of history).

Review by

I must confess that I have never particularly enjoyed works of 'faction' - until now.Karl Eliasberg is to conduct Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony during surely one of the cruellest episodes known to man - the siege of Leningrad. On 9 August 1942, with loudspeakers broadcasting the performance throughout the city as well as to the German forces in a move of psychological warfare, Eliasberg and his scratch orchestra of starving, exhausted, miliatrary-rejects, kept going with additional food rations, play as though their lives depend on it.Sarah Quiley's book describes the lead up to this point during a period of cold and chaos. Shostakovich struggles to compose, what with the fire-watching duties and over-crowded living conditions. Eliasberg wrestles with his inferiority complex and tries to cope with his aged mother. Other personalities with their stories move in and out of the narrative.This is a seriously good book - well-researched, well-written and a gripping, intelligent read. Excellent!