Everyone’s Talking About: Mozart in the Jungle

Help! The naked millionaire playboy I’m giving music lessons to isn’t who he says he is, and now I have to sterilise my oboe!

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Copyright © 2015 Universal Music Group  Reproduced here with the permission of Universal Music Group
Copyright © 2015 Universal Music Group
Reproduced here with the permission of Universal Music Group

Everyone’s Talking About Mozart in the Jungle by Christina Kenny

Amazon’s new TV series has caused quite the stir, both in the international press and at water coolers around the world. But will the show based on the ‘real life’ tawdry world of professional musicianship hit the right note with a refined classical audience?

Mozart in the Jungle? Is this going to be like the TV show with the Z-list celebrities? Because I really don’t think…

No, no – it’s a new TV series on Amazon Prime. Amazon are following the lead of other paid-for streaming services in commissioning their own series, like Netflix did with Orange is the New Black and House of Cards.

Oh, OK. So what’s it about?

Sex, drugs and classical music, baby.

No. Way.

Way. In fact, ‘Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music’ is the subtitle of the book on which the show is based. Its author, oboeist Blair Tindall, shocked the classical world in 2005 with her tell-all exposé of life as a professional musician in New York.

Gulp. Will I be shocked?

Depends. We came to this show from the oeuvre of British romantic novelist, Ms Jilly ‘Would that cadenza buy one enough time to ravish someone backstage?’ Cooper. We don’t shock too easily.

Would that cadenza WHAT?

That was, apparently, a genuine question asked of a Scottish violinist by Ms Cooper during field research for her 1996 orchestral bonkbuster, Appassionata. But that’s another story. Let’s just say – if you’re a fan of orchestral romps, or indeed romps of any kind, you’ll love Mozart in the Jungle.

I don’t know – I’ve been to a lot of classical concerts, and I’m not sure it really is all that wild.

Not on the surface, perhaps, but Mozart in the Jungle looks at what goes on behind the scenes at the (thankfully fictionalised) New York Symphony Orchestra. Cue fiery arguments, inappropriate sexual activity, drinking games involving musical instruments and some frankly worrying attitudes towards prescription drug use.

Sounds like the average boarding-school experience to me. What’s the plot?

Glad you asked. Our heroine is Hailey (Lola Kirke), a 26-something oboe teacher whose dream is to play for the New York Symphony. But when her first engagement as a ‘fifth oboe’ dep ends in disaster, she’s forced to find other ways of achieving her dream. She’s quickly befriended by Cynthia, a sexy cellist with a secret and cheekbones you could use to dice carrots (Saffron Burrows), then distracted by an intimidatingly attractive ballet dancer (Peter Vack).

Juicy. Will I recognise anyone?

Definitely. The show boasts an impressive cast headed by Gael García Bernal, who plays the hot new curly-haired Latin conductor Dudamel – sorry, Rodrigo – appointed to drag the orchestra into the 21st century with all sorts of new-fangled performance practices like playing in total darkness. It’s madness! Total classical madness!

Malcolm McDowell gives a terrific performance as Thomas Pembridge, the outgoing maestro of the orchestra, who is naturally enraged by Rodrigo’s attempts to modernise. Needless to say, sparks fly and order must be restored by Broadway actress Bernadette Peters as Gloria, the orchestra’s president/manager/chief fundraiser/PR guru.

No, one person couldn’t possibly do all those jobs. We can only assume that the casting budget was running low.

So no other big names?

That guy from the Orange cinema adverts plays the orchestra’s money man. That was cool.

You don’t seem to have mentioned music much so far. Is it credible, musically speaking?

Have you been listening to anything we’ve said? Of course not. The show is bursting with ludicrous inconsistencies, hideous oversights and musical miming so bad that you’re sometimes left wondering if the lead actors involved had ever seen an instrument before.

Hang on, weren’t you supposed to be trying to sell this to me?

Hey – we just said that everyone’s talking about it, not that they all like it. But weirdly, they do. Film site Rotten Tomatoes gave Mozart in the Jungle a 95 per cent rating based on 20 largely positive critic reviews, while the Guardian conceded that despite an ‘awful title’, the show ‘hits many of the right notes’.

For us, the show was a winner the second we clocked Bernal’s smouldering intensity as Rodrigo and some fabulous, very real playing from the musicians in the orchestra scenes (including a cameo from violinist Joshua Bell).

Then, of course, there’s the hilariously trashy plotlines. Help! The naked millionaire playboy I’m giving music lessons to isn’t who he says he is, and now I have to sterilise my oboe!

Time is money. Should I be watching this? Should I be PAYING to watch this?

Yes and yes. But Amazon Prime currently comes with a 30-day free trial – more than enough time to binge-watch the first series if you don’t fancy forking out £79 for a year’s subscription.

Any other tips?

WINE. It goes very well with wine.

All ten 30-minute episodes of Mozart in the Jungle, series one, are available to watch on Amazon Prime now.