Chapter 49


    The Philadelphia Orchestra began life in 1900. Over the next century it held many distinctions, not the least of which was the 'Philadelphia Sound', a legacy that, under conductor Eugene Ormandy, became known for its clarity and skilled execution, its warm tonality and precise timing.

    The orchestra also had a unity of artistic leadership virtually unknown in the world of great orchestras, with only seven musical directors in its entire history. Two men, Leopold Stokowski and Eugene Ormandy, held the reins from 1912 to 1980.

    It was on the occasion of Ormandy's leaving that the Philadelphia Orchestra found itself at a crossroads and, perhaps in an attempt to modernize its somewhat staid image, turned to a young firebrand, Neapolitan Riccardo Muti, as its new musical director. Darkly handsome, intensely serious to the point of almost never smiling on stage, Muti ushered in a new era, an era dominated by a man whose insistence on the letter of the musical law earned him the nickname - at least around the opera houses of Italy - of lo scerif, the sheriff.

    In 1981, in a move still discussed in some circles, the orchestra rattled the classical musical world by hiring as its principal cellist a nineteen-year-old named Christa-Marie Schönburg - a tempestuous wunderkind who was taking the world of strings by storm. Within a year her name became as synonymous with the Philadelphia Orchestra's

    as Muti's, and when the chamber orchestra toured Eastern Europe that summer Christa-Marie Schönburg was the talk of the classical- music universe.

    By the time she was twenty-two there was no doubt in the minds of the cognoscenti that she would surpass, in technical skill, pure artistry and, indeed, world-wide recognition, the only other woman to capture international fame on the cello, the tragic Jacqueline du Pre, the brilliant cellist whose career was cut short at the age of twenty-eight by multiple sclerosis.

    And while Jacqueline du Pre made her most memorable recording with Elgar's Cello Concerto in E Minor, Christa-Marie put her imprimatur on the Bach suites.

    For nearly a decade, from Vienna's Konzerthaus to Rotterdam's Grote Zaal, from the Royal Festival Hall in London to Avery Fisher Hall in New York City, Christa-Marie Schönburg, with her tensile, passionate music, brought audiences to their feet.

    On a cold autumn night in 1990 all of that changed.

    Something tragic happened on that night when Christa-Marie returned home after a triumphant performance at the Academy of Music - a benefit attended by many of Philadelphia's elite society, a fund-raiser for Philadelphia's homeless children.

    Although details of the last two hours remain unknown, it was believed that Christa-Marie returned to her Chestnut Hill house at approximately 11:45 p.m., delivered there by a car service. A few hours later, according to her housekeeper, there were sounds of an argument in the kitchen, a struggle, then a scream. The housekeeper called the police.

    Police arrived at around two-thirty. They found a man named Gabriel Thorne - a psychiatrist who had treated Christa-Marie for many years - sprawled on the kitchen floor, bleeding heavily from wounds to his abdomen and chest, the bloodied knife at his side. He was still alive. They called EMS, who tried to save him at the scene but failed. He was pronounced dead minutes after their arrival. The ME's office would eventually rule that Thorne bled out as a result of multiple stab wounds.

    Christa-Marie Schönburg never played another public concert.

    Because she confessed to the crime there was no show trial, much to the disappointment of the burgeoning cable-TV court shows. Christa- Marie Schönburg was as enigmatic as she was strikingly beautiful, and her relationship with Thorne was, for many years, cause for gossip and speculation.

    The last time Byrne saw Christa-Marie Schönburg was at her allocution, when she stood before a judge and admitted her guilt regarding the murder of Dr. Gabriel Thorne.


    As Byrne drove north he thought of the Chestnut Hill house, how when people heard what had happened they began to gather across the street early the next morning, bringing with them flowers and stuffed animals, even sheet music. It was as if Christa-Marie had been the victim, not the perpetrator.

    Byrne had thought of Christa-Marie often. It wasn't just that Christa-Marie Schönburg had been his first case as the lead detective in a homicide. Something else about the woman haunted him. What drew him to her had never been entirely clear to him.

    Maybe he would discover what that was today.

The Echo Man
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