A lyrical first novel in which a young woman triumphantly masters Beethoven's difficult Opus III--and along the way learns as much about life and love as about music. In a nameless Baltimore conservatory, a diverse mix of students and teachers prepare for a recital that will showcase the school's best talent. Among the pupils are protagonist Sylvia, a protected only child with a dominating father who has great ambitions for his daughter; handsome and charismatic Israeli violinist David, already being compared to Zukerman; Marushka, a Ukrainian violinist; enigmatic Peter, whose real preference is for jazz; troubled African-American Colette, daughter of a famous New Orleans musician; devout Jan, a Czech pianist; and confident Brandon, the teachers' favorite. The faculty include aging German ÇmigrÇ Katerina Haupt, whose warmth and affection provide a much- needed antidote to famous but demanding Cornelius Toft's fierce criticism; and the legendary Korean-born pianist Moon Ja, who's now questioning the price of her great success. As Sylvia despairs of mastering the Opus III, which Toft insists she play for the recital, she begins to lose the innocence that had so impressed him. Frightening encounters with Baltimore's underclass that include a savage beating of Marushka; a derelict's death at her front door; a first-time sexual experience with David that leaves her pregnant; her growing awareness of personal sorrows in her fellow students' lives; and the pain of grappling with the abortion question finally teach Sylvia how to play Opus III as Toft wants. Empowered and enlightened, she can go on with her life, her music. Contrived-seeming characters and a less-than-original plot are redeemed by the often superb writing about music--its making, its teaching, and its inexorable hold on both the young and the old. A promising debut.