The BLOG: Culture

What’s the deal with Mozart?

After Sunday night’s Golden Globes you may be wondering, why is Mozart in a jungle, and more importantly, why is he stealing all our awards? How did an under-the-radar Amazon Instant Video show about an orchestra nab the top prize for comedy television? How did this Gael García Bernal beat out heavyweights like Jeffrey Tambor, Aziz Ansari and Patrick Stewart for best actor?

Allow me to shed some light on this perplexing matter of pop culture.

Mozart in the Jungle is a comedy created by Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman, Paul Weitz and Alex Timbers, based on Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music, a book written by oboist Blair Tindall, telling tales from her professional career. Season One appeared on Amazon Video in February 2014, the second season was just released on Dec. 30, 2015 (it’s likely that fans finished before the new year) and thanks to the Globes, it looks like we’re set for a third.

Thirty-ish-minute episodes chronicle the careers and social lives of the fictional New York Symphony. Gael García Bernal plays the young and sensational new conductor Rodrigo De Souza. His stuffy predecessor (played by the prolific Malcolm McDowell) doesn’t buy Rodrigo’s Mexican flair, but the public adores him (and his hair).

A young aspiring oboist, Hailey Rutledge (Lola Kirke) becomes Rodrigo’s assistant. She serves as the protagonist, balancing her dreams of going professional with her attempts to maintain a rather complicated social life. Her best friend, ballet dancer boyfriend, allies and an enemy in the orchestra add a healthy dose of quirk and tension. And yes, the “jungle” is New York.

But what makes the show work?

For starters, it’s a show about classical music, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously. In no way is Mozart in the Jungle a documentary or an exposé on orchestras. Though not irreverent, the show is lighthearted and sometimes even satirical, especially when it comes to the sensation surrounding Rodrigo (rumor has it that the character was inspired by the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s young and charismatic Venezuelan conductor, Gustavo Dudamel).

More to the point, Mozart in the Jungle benefits from a successful marriage between writing and acting. The humor is raw with clever dialogue that flows naturally. The creators managed to write likable characters. They’re not saints, but they are compelling and sympathetic.

The cast (boasting names like Bernadette Peters and Jason Schwartzman) has amazing chemistry; their relationships feel natural. It is easy to believe that the orchestra members have been working together for years. Watching the show feels like sitting in the same room as the people onscreen. The characters and overall plot were written well enough that the writers have plenty of room for dynamism in storylines and character development.

Even if you’re not exactly sure what a trombone looks like, it’s hard not to fall in love with Mozart in the Jungle purely for the sake of Rodrigo. Gael García Bernal steals the show. You don’t have to love violin concertos to love his free spirit and the way he pronounces Hailey as “high-lie.” Rodrigo is ridiculous, but he’s smart and caring. Sure, the public loves him, but more importantly, the orchestra loves him. So we love him.

“Mozart in the Jungle” Globe Winners Talk With IMDbMozart in the Jungle Golden Globes winners talk about the surprising success of their show, how they prepare for their roles, and the research that goes into it. #IMDbGlobes

Posted by IMDb on Monday, January 11, 2016

Those new to classical music will (hopefully) enjoy the exposure to great composers like Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Mahler and, of course, Mozart. Seasoned fans will appreciate the smart usage of familiar tunes and get a laugh from cameos by Lang Lang, Emanuel Ax, Joshua Bell, and even Dudamel (who apparently takes the joke well).

Mozart in the Jungle’s success at the Globes came as a surprise to most, but I reckon that anyone who has seen the show understands, bias aside, why it took top honors. If you’re still wondering, “what’s the deal with Mozart?” (and even if you’re not) I suggest that you give it a shot.

Mary Hierholzer

Mary Hierholzer

Mary Hierholzer is a freelance journalist and Gordon College graduate.