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Listen between the Notes: Mozart in the Jungle

By Anjida Sripongworakul

Wednesday 1 March 2017 TV

A peak at the backstage of a seemingly composed, orderly orchestra reveals drama, intrigue, and injects new appreciation into classical music.

While it is true that classical music may not be for everyone, checking on Amazon’s bingeworthy Mozart in the Jungle may change your mind.

The show takes you on a journey into the fictional New York Symphony Orchestra, through the ingenue, oboist Hailey Rutledge (Lola Kirke), the audience’s surrogate into the classical music world. The young oboist faces obstacles as she attempts to fit into an already established inner circle of the orchestra and mediates between its general manager Gloria Windsor (Broadway legend Bernadette Peters), the newly appointed conductor, Rodrigo De Souza (Gael Garcia Bernal), and the seasoned, yet impetuous previous conductor (Malcolm McDowell), Thomas Pembridge.

Based on oboist Blair Tindell’s 2005 book: Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music, the show was created by Roman Coppola (Moonrise Kingdom), Jason Schwartzman (Grand Budapest Hotel), and Paul Weitz (About a Boy). The show has welcomed guest stars including famed violinist Joshua Bell, Italian star Monica Bellucci, and the Spanish tenor sensation, Placindo Domingo. It has received critical acclaim since launching in 2014, scoring 2015 Golden Globes for Best TV series in Musical or Comedy and for Best Actor for Bernal.

Indeed, a major highlight of the show is Bernal’s take on the eccentric conductor. His peculiarity, his intuitive sense of music, and exaggerated, dramatic displays of emotions and drive startle fellow orchestra members unfamiliar to his quirks, cause conflicts, misunderstandings, and are sources of many a deadpan, black comedic scenes that only Mozart in the Jungle could pull off. Most delightful (and hilarious) are Rodrigo’s frequent conversations with none other than Wolfgang Mozart himself, dotted throughout the series. It is in those moments that we glimpse into the human aspects of classical music, gaining appreciation for a musician struggling in his quest to harness the power of, and to better understand, the implied meaning in the notes.

When not focusing on Rodrigo, the show reveals aspects of orchestra members’ lives, reflecting that surprising Harvard University’s psychological study ranking their happiness and fulfillment in their career as below Federal prison employees’. Complications in relationships, lawsuits, and battles against the orchestra’s management board resulting in lockouts ensue.

Characters in the ensemble are fleshed out and each get their share in the spotlight, though the show could do better with more diversity in its predominantly Caucausian cast. Cleverly written dialogues and storylines entwined and crossed over from one 27-minute episode to the next, with scenes ending just at the right spot that would have you pressing the “Next Episode” button before you realise.

Give Mozart in the Jungle a listen (and a watch). Sit back, and the show will have you hearing and humming the same classical notes in a different tune.

Mozart in the Jungle is available for streaming on Amazon Prime, included in the Amazon Student 6 Month Free Trial.

Anjida Sri

I'm a Management Science (Decision Science Stream) Master's candidate at London School of Economics and Political Science. Originally from Thailand, I'm as passionate about the science, psychology, and statistics behind decision making as I am about film and writing. I enjoy opportunities to combine my passions in reviewing, discussing, and analysing films. My major influences include the New Yorker's James Wood, classic Russian literature, and Richard Siken's poetry. I've written film reviews, celebrity profiles, and news and technology coverage for my undergraduate engineering newspaper, the University of Waterloo's Iron Warrior. I'm also a guest blogger and Student Blog Editor for LSE's Department of Management. I believe pop culture, current affairs, and critical, world-changing ideas are integral to student lifestyle, and I'm committed to representing students' reality outside the classroom to society and the world. I hope to continue investigating this theme through NUS' platform for student voices.