Everything that is wrong with „Mozart in the Jungle“, Episode 2: FIFTH CHAIR

Of course there is nothing wrong with „Mozart in the Jungle“. It’s a great and funny series with fantastic actors, witty scripts and a theme that is not of your usual run-of-the-mill comedy soap. It is also based on a book which I recommended in the Neue Musikzeitung a while ago, even though readers will recognize little from the true life stories of New York oboist Blair Tindall in the TV version.
Nevertheless, watching the series as a classical musician makes you wonder how much exactly the producers actually know about the real world of classical music. And I don’t mean the sex and the drugs, because these certainly exist in classical music.
And because nitpicking is kind of fun, I present to you an ongoings series of in-depth analysis of the mistakes or at least idiosyncracies that crop up in…

1. Rodrigo brings Hailey to a private PR meeting and introduces her to the orchestra manager, Gloria.
Not only does it not work like that (PR meetings are not the place to do this, and first Hailey has to negotiate a contract), he also proceeds to change the season programming and introduces – of all pieces possible – the 8th symphony of Mahler, one of the biggest ensemble pieces in the whole repertoire – on short notice, to give a reason why he suddenly needs a fifth oboe. Normally extra oboists for one piece are never hired permanently, but just one time, for the gig. There is no reason to present them personally to the orchestra manager in a PR meeting for god’s sake, even if one is hot for them like Rodrigo obviously is for Hailey. But let’s also look at what a quick programming of Mahler’s 8th would mean: the many contracts for the original concerts would have to be cancelled, which would mean a lot of money is lost. Then Rodrigo would need to find a choir, a children’s choir, an organ and a bloody mandolin orchestra and dozens of extra players to actually be able to perform Mahler 8th…on crazily short notice! No wonder the manager is quite distressed – a decision like this could actually bankrupt an orchestra in a day!


2. Pembridge surely is hated – dozens of classical music fans wait on the street for an autograph of Rodrigo, but not even one acknowledges Pembridge’s presence when he exits the car. What has the guy done to deserve such treatment? Even third-rate conductors get some recognition and give the odd autograph, and anybody who was the chief conductor of the “New York Symphony” is not a complete nobody who is suddenly treated like shit from one day to the next. Perhaps he raped children or ate his cat? Or vainly conducted in front of a mirror while his girlfriend watched on and had a drink? Now that really is despicable….

3. The orchestra who has just yesterday heard they’re playing Mahler 8th is assembling the next day in the presumably correct instrumentation, fully prepared to play the not-so-easy piece (looking at the size of the motley group gathered they surely haven’t read Mahler’s score who demands many more musicians). They must have practiced all night!

4. Rodrigo brings a parrot to his first ever rehearsal as a chief conductor. If he did that in real life the orchestra would immediately leave the stage out of fear that the animal shits on their instruments (in fact the parrot does crap on Rodrigo’s shoes moments later). The union would complain about possible contamination by an animal and the musicians would file a complaint against the conductor. In short: his career as a chief conductor would be off to a really bad start. But in the show the musicians go along with the joke, cheer and look happy. These orchestra musicians don’t only consume beta-blockers, they are positively pacified by drugs!

5. Rodrigo proceeds to go into a long-winded speech of boring common-place nonsense that normal orchestra musicians would hate to listen to. But that is actually realistic if one thinks twice about it. What is not realistic is the sucking-up comment “I feel you, brother”. The timpanist can sell drugs as much as he wants, but with this comment he would be considered a complete asshole by his colleagues – forever!

6. Rodrigo boasts to have learned to professionally play literally every orchestra instrument there is. Prodigy he may be, but this is really stretching it! Most conductors, even the really, really famous ones, play the piano and perhaps one more instrument, that’s it.

7. One doesn’t choose the oboist who gives the A – this is so preposterous that the orchestra would start to laugh if a conductor tried to give preference to a “5th oboe A”. No wonder everybody looks uncomfortable, especially as the conductor is not needed for the tuning process at all anyway, this is the concert master’s task…(who is strangely missing from the scene).

8. Rodrigo gives a cue without giving any bar number, and then the orchestra starts in the middle of the piece! How do they know where he wants to start? Telepathy?

9. Hailey letting her oboe fall awkwardly and scream “fucker” is a very funny scene, but consider this: any normal oboe (by all accounts an extremely delicate instrument) would simply be broken when falling like this. No wonder the union guy is calling a break immediately afterwards – Hailey should be in tears and complete despair about the destruction of her valuable instrument! And why does she suddenly play so bad when she has had a good night’s sleep? She was great the other day completely drunk and with only 3 hours sleep!

10. Rodrigo decides – after the 8th symphony has been scheduled with great aplomb – that it should be completely replaced on short notice (in the same rehearsal!) …. with the “Hungarian March” by Berlioz!!!! If ever there was a worse replacement for Mahler 8th it is the Hungarian March – a piece which lasts 5 minutes instead of Mahler’s evening filling 80 minutes! This would be the point where everybody would declare Rodrigo completely nuts instead of treating him like invincible whiz kid. Imagine replacing “Gone with the Wind” with a short Mickey Mouse cartoon.


(to be continued)

Moritz Eggert