At the beginning of this year, I moved into an off-campus apartment for the first time. One show got me through the daunting moving process and allowed me to bond with my roommate over our shared passion for music: “Mozart in the Jungle.”
“Mozart in the Jungle” is an Amazon Prime original series loosely inspired by the autobiography of the same name by Blair Tindall. The show is an attempt to show the dysfunction of a professional symphony orchestra through its struggles with the union, an aging audience and performer population and new players coming to shake things up in the classical music world. This series is not so much about the music, but more so about the lives of those who make the music — the trials, tribulations and egos of the performers.
The orchestra members have a passion for what they do, but it doesn’t pay the bills. Each professional instrumentalist is tiptoeing the precarious line of their livelihood. Whether they aren’t as agile of a player as they were in their prime, or they have a more serious issue like carpal tunnel syndrome, even one little hiccup can put our beloved main characters out on the street.
This is especially apparent when new conductor Rodrigo De Souza threatens to modernize and change the face of the orchestra. Conflicts of interest arise frequently, such as how to please the ever-important benefactors while also listening to the orchestra’s needs. But there are also many lighthearted moments, like Rodrigo’s frequent conversations with Mozart that only he can see.
I spent my first days in the apartment unpacking with the show on in the background. Whenever something interesting happened in the plot, I’d drop everything to sit down and watch. Once I was settled in, I introduced the show to my roommate. We met during orientation at the School of Music and connected over being two of the very few women in the composition department.
I knew this show would be right up her alley. We’d plan to watch just one episode and end up binging five in a row. It became an obsession for us, until my parents found out I was putting off school work to watch it and changed the family Amazon account password.
Not everyone may like it, though. You have to be into “cheesy lines,” as my roommate calls it. The cheesy parts of this show are exactly why it’s perfect to watch with other people and comment on. One of my friends who read the book said it was hard to compare the two since they were so different. They also said it was hard to focus on the show’s plot without trying to figure out which piece of classical music was playing in the background — but that might be an issue exclusive to classical music nerds.
It is a bit of an exaggerated take on concert musicians … who am I kidding, it’s extremely exaggerated. But my friends and I in the classical music world like to think adulthood is going to be just like the show — after-rehearsal parties where people get drunk and face-off in classical music playing battles, where the percussionist of the New York Symphony Orchestra is a drug dealer, where the entire ensemble has relationship drama.
I love the show. So much so, I’ve seen each episode at least twice. It also makes me happy to see on-screen Latinx representation, as renowned Mexican actor Gael García Bernal is one of the headliners of the show as Rodrigo. And they don’t attempt to hide this fact — one important aspect of the plot occurs when the orchestra goes on their Latin American tour, where Rodrigo rekindles his roots and copes with being stuck in between Mexican and American cultures.
This adds a bit more to my connection with this show, especially since my parents and I can relate to and often joke about Rodrigo’s many accent and cultural faux-pas — one example being his endearing pronunciation of oboist Hailey Rutledge’s name as “Hai-Lai.”
This show is the perfect gateway into the “rockstar” world of classical music. You’ll fall in love with every eccentric ensemble member, the music they perform and all their intricate plot points. You will also immerse yourself in the real-world struggles of working musicians, such as low pay and long hours, competition for orchestra positions and taking up teaching and extra gigs for money.
I dare you to watch “Mozart in the Jungle” and not get stuck constantly humming Mozart’s Oboe Concerto in C major, K. 314, Hailey’s theme throughout the show. And I promise you won’t regret it.