Rodrigo De Souza (Gael García Bernal)
How "Mozart In The Jungle" Made Classical Music Cool
Sex, drugs and … classical music? That's the subtitle to oboist Blair Tindall's 2005 tell-all book, Mozart In The Jungle, and now it's the theme of Amazon's hit television program of the same name.
For those who haven't had a taste of the show, "Mozart In The Jungle" follows the behind-the-scenes action of a fictitious version of the New York Symphony orchestra as it struggles to keep its doors open.
In order to do this, symphony president Gloria Windsor (Bernadette Peters) enlists a hot new conductor, Rodrigo De Souza (Gael García Bernal), to take the reins from emeritus conductor Thomas Pembridge (Malcolm McDowell). Meanwhile, a young oboist ingénue, Hailey (Lola Kirke), tries to find her way into the big leagues. Mayhem — and music — ensues.
The half-hour comedy series, which debuted in 2014 and has won back-to-back Emmys for Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Comedy or Drama Series (Half-Hour) and Animation, has earned critical acclaim for its quirky, lively depiction of the classical music scene.
— Gold Derby (@GoldDerby) September 11, 2017
"What works so well is that 'Mozart' isn't afraid to throw you into a world you're likely unfamiliar with, but it doesn't swim so far into the deep end that you immediately drown in jargon and distanced dramatic stakes," writes critic Cory Barker.
"Anything that can bring classical more mainstream is a good thing because at least it opens the conversation."
But what do actual musicians think of the series that portrays their livelihood?
"I think 'Mozart In The Jungle' has certainly changed instrumental music's reputation," says violinist Lara St. John. "The series, headlined by a young woman, really brings alive the fact that there are characters galore behind this art form which has great ecstasy, fury, fervor, and of course, lots of romance and sex."
And yet despite peaking past the curtain, the show does pick up on aspects of the world of classical music that are true to life.
"The show dramatizes very well the courage and drive it takes to attain success in such a challenging freelance career — one that demands ceaseless work, causes continual financial worry and occasional discourtesy from folks who don't consider it a real job," says St. John. "I was amazed at how well it portrays those moments of musicians' fears — from physical injury to the emotional pain of rejection — in an honest and believable way."
Monica Bellucci, Gael Garcia Bernal, Lola Kirke, and Bernadette Peters of "Mozart In The Jungle"
Furthermore, "Mozart In The Jungle" demonstrates classical music can be just as entertaining as the central themes of other popular shows like "Veep," "Master Of None" and "Modern Family." It makes classical music cool.
"I liked that we were going to do the inside world of classical music and the fun aspect of it," García Bernal said. "[Classical musicians] all breathe and eat and fart like normal people, but onstage they are quite serious."
— Mozart in the Jungle (@MITJAmazon) August 26, 2017
When it comes to the overly dramatic elements of the show — the sex, drugs, affairs, and other shenanigans — while some of that is true to life, musicians such as violinist Victoria Paterson feel the entertainment factor starts a dialog about classical music in a way that's accessible to casual viewers, like watching a dramatized version of a lawyer or cop show on TV.
"['Mozart In The Jungle'] opens up a conversation that might not have existed before the TV show, so it's more mainstream," says Paterson. "Anything that can bring classical more mainstream is a good thing because at least it opens the conversation."
Violinist Victoria Paterson
As the show enters its fourth season this December, it will continue to bring a colorful tint on classical music to a wide audience, something that's important to musicians of all genres. After all, the foundation of popular music is steeped in Western classical music.
Take, for example, Johann Pachelbel's "Canon In D." You may not be familiar with the original Baroque piece, but the chord progression that underlies the famous classical tune has been borrowed by everyone from Aerosmith ("Cryin'"), Blues Traveler ("Hook"), Green Day ("Basketcase"), Avril Lavigne ("Sk8ter Boi"), Bob Marley ("No Woman, No Cry"), and the Beatles ("Let It Be").
Also a two-time Golden Globe winner, "Mozart In The Jungle" has an important place in our world not just for entertainment's sake, but because it helps keep a beautiful, fascinating and valuable art form alive and well.
"Classical music is still vibrant, alive. It's important to know our history of classical music and celebrate that," says Paterson. "We need to have it in the mainstream at some level or else, how do we even know it exists?"