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Nancy Herkness

Genre: General Romantic Suspense, Romantic Suspense

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A Musical Muse at Carnegie Hall

By Nancy Herkness

How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

Practice, practice, practice! So goes the famous joke. However,
I got onstage at the famous music hall by writing a book.

It all started with golf. My husband came home from the links one day, saying he had played golf with Peter Tiboris, an internationally known musical conductor. Since my hubby can't carry a tune, this was an amusing mismatch. As we got to know Peter better, I became fascinated by his career. He's more than a conductor: he also produces concerts in Carnegie Hall, and all over the world, and owns a recording label.

When I decided I wanted to write a romantic suspense novel featuring a world-famous conductor, a mystery symphony by Beethoven and a murder in Carnegie Hall, Peter was delighted to help. He arranged a tour of the backstage area, which presented quite a contrast to the gilded elegance of the Isaac Stern Auditorium, the main concert space. The rehearsal and dressing rooms are all clean and freshly painted, but they're strictly utilitarian, with commercial tile floors, mirrors lit by bare lightbulbs and plain metal chairs. The place is a rabbit warren since it's made up of three buildings mashed together. It seemed the perfect place for the murder of the French horn player, the opening scene of my romantic suspense novel Music of the Night (Nov., Redburn Press). Part of the tour was the maestro's suite, the dressing/practice rooms for the conductor. The minute I walked in, I knew that my protagonists, Anna and Nicholas, would have a passionate love scene there.

The one extravagance backstage is the presence of Steinway grand pianos everywhere. (The Steinways inspired another love scene, although it doesn't take place at the hall itself.)

The history of Carnegie Hall held some surprises for me. I knew the great venue was built in 1891 by Andrew Carnegie and that the list of musicians who have performed there reads like a Who's Who of classical music. What I didn't know is that Carnegie Hall has hosted its share of popular musicians as well. The Beatles made their first New York appearance on that elegant blond-wood stage in 1964, followed by the Rolling Stones. This started a new train of thought for my story: What if a rock star wrote a classical symphony and wanted to have it performed at Carnegie Hall? It would be a star-studded charity event and anything could happen, including trysts and gunfire.

No one knows exactly why, but the materials used to build the beautiful Italian Renaissance-style building were acoustically blessed. Sound technicians regularly study the "reverb algorithms" of Carnegie Hall because the music sounds so extraordinarily alive. This is partly due to the fact that the hall was constructed without steel beams; instead, the walls were built of concrete and masonry several feet thick.

I experienced Carnegie Hall's amazing sound personally when Peter extended the invitation of all invitations -- to accompany him for a rehearsal at the Isaac Stern Auditorium. He picked me up from my New Jersey home in a limousine, and I spent the trip into the city peppering him with questions about how he prepares for a concert, how the musicians are chosen and how the music business works. When we arrived, he escorted me onstage and pointed to a chair right behind the violin section, saying I could experience rehearsal from a musician's perspective.

I love music, but I'm not especially well educated in the finer points. Yet when the orchestra played, the sound was so perfectly defined that, with some concentrated listening, I could isolate a specific violin from all the rest. Or I could let the perfectly blended sound wash over me. Of course, some of my time onstage was spent mapping out a chase scene through the hall and calculating whether someone could jump from the first balcony to the stage without breaking a leg.

Mostly, though, I studied Peter, watching the eloquence of his gestures and the command of his presence, absorbing the ways in which he coaxed greater and greater beauty from his musicians. The experience was so profound that I understood how my hero, Nicholas, would seduce Anna, the tough NYPD detective. He would entrance her with the dark and sensual Music of the Night.

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