How much do you know about classical music? Enough to recognize some of the more familiar pieces? Or have you been studying it for so long that you can refer to a specific measure in your favorite concerto? Either way, you don’t need to be a classical music expert to enjoy Mozart in the Jungle.
It’s an Amazon Prime show. (Yes, you read that right. You may have forgotten that Amazon Prime has original shows just like Netflix and Hulu do – unless you’ve binged The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.) Set in New York City, aka “the Jungle,” the show follows the professional and personal lives of the New York Symphony after they get a new conductor. It’s full of romance, hilarity and seemingly endless drama.
The show’s main character (of sorts) is Hailey Rutledge, an oboist who has long held dreams of playing with the symphony. Hailey’s drive and resilience when she keeps getting pushed away from what she wants are inspiring, but she’s only one member of a cast of wild, interesting characters that make this show great.
There’s Rodrigo, the handsome new conductor, whose crazy ideas frustrate many of the musicians while his dreamy eyes and accent make almost everyone weak in the knees. Cynthia, a cellist, has an air of intimidating beauty that allows her to sleep her way through the orchestra. There’s also Dee Dee, a lovable hippie type and percussionist who less than discreetly deals drugs to his fellow musicians.
If the variety of personalities in the orchestra isn’t enough to interest you, characters like Gloria, the dramatic and indulgent president of the New York Symphony (played by Bernadette Peters, for you Broadway fans), and Bradford, the podcast-host boyfriend of Hailey’s roommate who’s always chasing down the next big story, will make up for it.
Mozart in the Jungle provides a look at the fascinating inner workings of the classical music profession. It resembles a documentary in that way, which makes sense because it’s partially based on a book of the same title written by Blair Tindall, an actual oboist with the New York Philharmonic. Even if you’ve studied classical music, there’s a lot you might not know about what goes on in a professional orchestral setting.
One of the sources of conflict throughout the show is dealing with the union. That’s right; Even symphony musicians have a union. One of the characters is constantly reminding the conductor of every time the musicians are supposed to have a break, which might not happen in lengthy, tiresome rehearsals.
The show really makes you realize that the symphony is a business. There’s more to it than learning music and playing it for audiences. Running an orchestra means being concerned about advertising, publicity and production costs. It’s never a guarantee that people will buy tickets. Even the simplest of business conflicts creates a world of drama in Mozart in the Jungle.
If you’re not very familiar with classical music, there’s a lot that the show can teach you. If you are, it’s a great opportunity to geek out about it. (The show isn’t without its technical errors, though, so it may be like a nursing student watching Grey’s Anatomy.)
Get to know some of the world’s most famous composers through the imaginary conversations Rodrigo has with them. Learn about the proper oboe technique by watching Hailey’s lessons with her tough-as-nails teacher, Betty Cragdale. Joshua Bell even makes a cameo in an episode. The music itself is enough reason to watch Mozart in the Jungle. Throughout the show’s four seasons, listen as the orchestra navigates its way through Tchaikovsky, Handel and, of course, Mozart.
Mozart in the Jungle combines elements of drama and comedy to keep you glued to your laptop screen. Rodrigo is charming enough to stir up some romances (including a “will they, won’t they” with Hailey) and goofy enough to make you laugh. There are plenty of silly moments throughout the show to break up the drama. Hailey excitedly accepts a position as Rodrigo’s assistant, only to discover that means sitting down with a recording that teaches her how to make the yerba mate tea he loves so much. The podcast Bradford hosts is full of terribly delightful musical puns. A stripper dressed up like Bach gives Betty a lap dance.
The contrast between scenes like these and the stark seriousness of labor disputes, failed relationships and dreams gone unachieved is part of what makes the show so great. The comedy elevates Mozart in the Jungle and keeps it from getting too dense. Seeing the characters laugh and enjoy the company of one another even in the midst of troubling times makes them seem like real people – real people who just happen to be attempting to perform “Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand”.
Mozart in the Jungle allows you to experience a vibrant, fast-paced world of culture in all its intrigue and hilarity. Follow members of the New York Symphony from their home city to Mexico to Venice, all from the comfort of your own couch.