Classical violinist Gerald Elias is well known in Utah music circles as a performer, conductor and composer. Director of the Vivaldi by Candlelight series, he's been associate concertmaster of the Utah Symphony, taught at the University of Utah and was a member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He's also a veteran mystery writer. His latest novel, Playing With Fire, was published this month—the fifth in a series of Daniel Jacobus mysteries.
Describe Daniel Jacobus, the novel's protagonist.
Jacobus is crusty. He's an old, blind, cantankerous violin teacher who yearns for seclusion. Deep down—way deep down at times—he has a heart of gold and an uncanny Holmesian knack for ferreting out nefarious criminals of the classical music world.
What's the mystery Jacobus tackles in Playing With Fire?
In the high-stakes world of multi-million-dollar violin dealing, buyers and sellers are occasionally led down the path of temptation. In the novel, a small-time violin repairman goes missing—and his shop is burned to the ground. It's up to Jacobus and his pals to figure out what happened. Without giving anything away, it ain't good.
Is Jacobus patterned after anyone you've known?
The visual image is based partly upon the late, great violinist and chamber musician Alexander Schneider with whom I worked long ago as an impressionable student. Jacob's extraordinary ability to live as a blind person is based upon an amazing, dear friend, Myra Ross. His crotchetiness is based upon myself after a student shows up unprepared for a lesson.
How have your earlier mysteries been received?
Though I haven't made it—yet—to The New York Times best-sellers list, I've developed a dependable following who regularly email me with their comments. Critically, the books have all done well. Devil's Trill, my first book, was a Barnes & Noble 'Great New Writers' selection. Dance Macabre won Book of the Year in Fiction by the Utah Humanities Council.
As a child growing up in New York State, did you dream of being a musician or a writer?
Actually, I dreamed of playing first base on the Yankees, and still do. But when Mr. Steinbrenner didn't call, I was compelled to bring home the bacon by other means.
You're a busy performer, director and composer. How do you find time to write novels?
Mainly by cutting back on watching football. Also, I'm no longer a full-time orchestral musician—though I still play annually with the Boston Symphony at their Tanglewood summer music festival.
What's more tricky: Writing a novel or composing a concerto?
When writing a novel, I have the benefit of working with an editor who keeps me honest. Some composers—Mahler, for instance—wold have benefitted from a good editor. A composer is on his own to make sure every single note is just right. Some of the music I hear these days seems to fly in the face of that comment.
Would you consider making Utah the locale of another yet-to-be written novel?
There have been some scenes in my previous books that take place in Salt Lake City and Antelope Island. Now I'm thinking of a mystery centered around a music festival, which may turn out to be in Utah.