School is out and softball season is over and 12-year-old Allegra Leah Shapiro is looking forward to a pleasant summer doing kid things. Then comes a surprise. Mr. Kaplan, Allegra’s violin teacher, tells her she is a finalist in the fictional Ernest Bloch Competition for Young Musicians of Oregon. She’ll compete on Labor Day. ”This is the Mozart season,” Mr. Kap-lan says. So much for kid things.
Allegra’s summer-long task is to get her playing of Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 4, in D into competition shape. But as she delves deeper into the often subtle difficulties of the piece, she also faces vexing questions about life. One of them is a problem of ethnic identity: Her father is Jewish and her mother is a gentile, and her brother David says he and Allegra are never going to be fully accepted by either group. ”Religious Jews feel sorry for us; Gentiles think we’re Very Interesting. We’re outsiders to all of them.”
But Allegra has support: loving parents; two close friends; an eccentric older musician with a mysterious past; and perhaps even the spiritual presence of Mozart, who composed the concerto when he was a kid (19 years old) himself. She is also inspired by stories of her great-grandmother Leah, who perished in a death camp in World War II.
Virginia Euwer Wolff’s novel, The Mozart Season, which gathers strength as it progresses, offers intriguing glimpses into the life and work of professional musicians (the author is a violinist herself) while unpretentiously exploring age-old philosophical questions. The ending is quite satisfying. There are no pat answers, but Allegra is a much more mature person at the end of the Mozart season than she was at the beginning. B+