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Orfeo

Narrated by: Christopher Hurt
Length: 13 hrs and 37 mins
4 out of 5 stars (167 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

In Orfeo, Powers tells the story of a man journeying into his past as he desperately flees the present. Composer Peter Els opens the door one evening to find the police on his doorstep. His home microbiology lab - the latest experiment in his lifelong attempt to find music in surprising patterns - has aroused the suspicions of Homeland Security. Panicked by the raid, Els turns fugitive. As an Internet-fueled hysteria erupts, Els - the "Bioterrorist Bach" - pays a final visit to the people he loves, those who shaped his musical journey. Through the help of his ex-wife, his daughter, and his longtime collaborator, Els hatches a plan to turn this disastrous collision with the security state into a work of art that will reawaken its audience to the sounds all around them.

©2014 Richard Powers (P)2014 Recorded Books

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

The Lost Chord

In the opening opus of Powers' latest novel, recently terminated 70 y.o. Peter Els, musician and part time genetic-engineering-hobbyist, picks up the phone to report the death of his golden retriever Fidelio. Obsessing over the proper music for the pet's burial, Els recalls Fidelio's reaction over the years to the music the two of them had listened to, the barks and howls that indicated pleasure, or displeasure, the first piece, the last...his musings causing him to mistakenly dial 911. Els has thrown a blanket over the dead animal. The responding officers come into Els' home, explaining they don't respond to calls about deceased pets, but curious about the bumpy blanket, say they have to look under it. What they notice as they look around the room is the sophisticated lab equipment in this retired music professors home. It is post 9/11, and the officers escalate the investigation to the federal level. Els is soon a fugitive nick named Biohacker or Boiterrorist Bach, on the run.

So begins Els' escape and journey back through his life, the narration threading the history of his life through his musical compositions, the memories of the music he loved, the 60's, Mahler and Mozart et al. -- the whole cord (or chord) recalled through the fleeing artist's eyes in the language of music and science. This is where I realized the 'poverty of my expression' -- I needed more than just a love of music to truly grasp the amazing power of this novel, or to give a knowledgeable review. Powers' understanding of music (and microbiology) goes beyond extraordinary, and he writes about it like an experienced artist schooled on all the concepts needed to paint, easily creates a masterpiece. Such expertise and precise knowledge is awe-inspiring, but overwhelming when tackled by my 5 years of piano, 2 yrs. violin, and season tickets to the symphony. Much of the novel is spent describing in detail, musical creations that exist, and those still running through the character's minds, waiting to be created, technical music jargon that quickly becomes esoteric, the complexities too cerebral for me.

Powers explores the purpose of art, the concept of science and music, and the urgency an artist feels to create; what comes through clearly is the complexity and brilliance of this novel, the beautiful metaphor and prose. (And a deep desire for an accompanying soundtrack--music is listed on Richard Powers' website). I apologize for this unqualified review, and I am looking forward to another listener giving this the review is deserves. I didn't take off a star for what I didn't understand, but did subtract one because the characters were more brilliant than real. Even knowing Els was selfish and served his music mistress, I would like to have felt beyond the music, the emotional connection between Els and daughter Sara, wife Maddy. I would like to have experienced Peter Els outside of his own head -- freed for a minute from his frustrations. [*My mother used to play the song I chose for my title. Recalling the words to that song, and the moving chords and music, actually gave me a little insight to Peter Els ongoing search for his song.] Gratifying even with a limited understanding; music scholars, lovers of classical music, will love this.



25 of 31 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Darwin8u
  • Mesa, AZ, United States
  • 05-20-14

Nature is a giant work of performance art

All my life I thought I knew what music was. But I was like a kid who confuses his grandfather with God @Terrorchord

No. Not everybody's jam, but for me it resonnated perfectly. It was like Powers gradually tightened the D-string on this novel, page-by-page, pushing the natural frequencies, abusing the harmonics, gradually twisting the wave harmonics of his prose to a point where the novel and its narrative explode and break at the very end. I will write more (add more pictures perhaps), yes I must write more tomorrow after I've thought about as I fall asleep. I want to think about it as I wake at 2 am to pee. For now? I need to wind-down. Deflate. Diminuendo.

Just know this book is a stage where Powers is able to exhibit his love for classical music and his theory that life, love, nature is a giant work of performance art with an infinite number of progressions, fugues, loops, expositions, derivatives, etc. All we need to do is to stop, listen and hear the music behind the silence, the songs stacked behind the infinite, the opera playing on the rocks that makes our cells vibrate together in a symphony of life and orchestration of possibility. Yes, I loved it

21 of 28 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • MAUREEN
  • MILWAUKEE, WI, United States
  • 01-29-14

A new standard for a 5 star rating

What made the experience of listening to Orfeo the most enjoyable?

The words, the phrases, the sentences, the paragraphs, the chapters, the imagery---difficult to contain my review--so much beauty & depth

What other book might you compare Orfeo to and why?

A rare blend--Powers' knowledge of the musical and scientific rendered so masterfully that it is difficult to compare this brilliant literary contribution.

What about Christopher Hurt’s performance did you like?

I liked that his mispronunciations did not annoy me more.

Who was the most memorable character of Orfeo and why?

Peter Ells--professor extraordinaire—aware that in teaching others, one reveals his soul. Two warnings from the professor, that discovery leads to creation and fermatas reveal the beauty of the music remained with me and left me wondering what else he teaches.

Any additional comments?

The author’s generosity has helped me resurrect fond memories of Mahler, deepen my hopes in life’s mysteries and thank God for these glimpses of the divine.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Music in Print

Orpheus plot line is a little stretched, but the re-telling of the story of Messiaen in WWII alone is worth the price of admission here. Other sections on music are equally insightful and evocative. Few if any written works have moved me more as an adult to delve into listening to multiple great works of music.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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  • William
  • Winston Salem, NC, United States
  • 02-05-14

Too much Music 101, not enough plot

I only made it half way, so if there was a plot in the second half I missed it. The reader would have benefited from a little research into the pronunciation of composers' names.

5 of 8 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Wonder Meditation on the Power of Music and Prose

Richard Powers is a wonder and a joy to take in. Makes me want to go out and read more of his ....

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"Powers" Says It All

Splendid. Among Richard Powers' superpowers are an extremely felicitous pen (or keyboard), the ability to master - or convincingly simulate mastery of - arcane topics or the technical complexities of common interests (like music), the ability to move a reader in any direction he may choose, the power to create complex, compelling characters and their interior lives, and - a special form of wizardry - a knack for taking the reader to fascinating places of his own invention that readers might never have thought to travel to without Powers as cicerone. And as for listeners who have derided Christopher Hurt's narration and pronunciation of foreign composers: he's spot on 99.9 pct of the time, in my listening missing only once on a name -omittong the umlaut in Rücker, who composed the poems Mahler set to music in Kindertotenlieder - and a term I cannot recall. He even pronounced correctly the title of the Chinese book of divination, I Ching, from the Wade Giles Romanization used by Powers. It's ee jing. A lazy narrator (or almost anyone with no Chinese) would muff the pronunciation as eye ching. Hurt is a solid narrator and not, as some have claimed, a monotonic metronome. Read the book, listen to Hurt. It's a terrific ride into 20th-21st century world of concert music, with a little mystery and a manhunt tossed in. Needless to say, I love this grownup book, and I love Richard Powers.

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Powers Delivers again

To me it started off a bit slow but crescendoed into a spectacular masterpiece. Richard Powers is the most cerebral author out there. His books always make you look at the world and the human species in a different way while challenging your intellect and narrating a gripping plot.

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  • Joy
  • Denver, CO USA
  • 09-16-15

Hard to follow.

What would have made Orfeo better?

Clearer delineation of characters and plot

Has Orfeo turned you off from other books in this genre?

Yes

Did Christopher Hurt do a good job differentiating all the characters? How?

No

What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

Disappointment. I can't remember the last time I did not finish a book I started.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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Narrative flow not best for audio

Somewhat different than I expected. A little disconnected for an audio book. Clever juxtaposition of music genetics and aging. Well narrated.