Review: Mozart in the Jungle, Pilot

[Lots of discussion about sex follows, accompanied by screenshots. You’ve been warned! ~ E.]


Like many other people with an interest in classical music, I’ve often dreamed of writing an Emmy-winning TV show about an orchestra. This desire only intensified during the Minnesota Orchestra lockout as I watched increasingly crazy plot twists unfold in real life. Secret alliances, conflict between titans of industry, late night phone calls, political turmoil, a music director putting it all on the line for Art, deficits, even more deficits…and some unexpected romance. It’s like Downton Abbey but real. We’ve even got the tuxes.

Someone, however, got the idea of “orchestra TV show” before I did. Mozart in the Jungle is a new web series from Amazon which centers on the lives of the musicians of the New York Symphony and all the hot sex and drugs they get into. The pilot is available for free, and given the…intriguing reactions of various musicians to it, I thought I’d write up a blow-by-blow for those who don’t have the time to watch the show but do have the time to read 2000 words poking fun at it.

The first shot is of a tongue and an oboe accompanied by our protagonist saying: “It’s slightly easier with the lips wet.” Get it? Because classical music is so full of SEXXX! SEX EVERYWHERE! SEX!



Oboist Hailey is teaching a kid named Duncan to play and talking about how breaths are bridges. Duncan, however, is thinking about how breasts are bridges. When he scampers away to get the check, Hailey spies on his phone and beholds the immortal texts:

Is your teacher wearing a bra?

Can’t tell. I wish my penis was a woodwind.

“Ewww,” Hailey says, and cue Joshua Bell performing the finale of the Tchaikovsky violin concerto. Because woodwind penises —> Josh Bell.

The Tchaikovsky ends in a virtuosic flurry and the audience is ecstatic. Unfortunately, Josh has been double-booked by some sadistic manager for another concert in Beijing (what the hell, IMG Artists? get your act together), and he can’t even take two minutes for a callback. Backstage, a lady in an exotic green dress – who I can only assume is some kind of overdressed stagehand – kisses him and thanks him for his performance. Josh answers

Thank you, thank you. Well. And, uh – good luck.

And proceeds to exit the building, presumably in pursuit of his plane to Beijing.



We then learn that this is the last performance that White Haired Conductor is going to give as conductor of the symphony. He says we “won’t see” him here anymore, then immediately says that he will be here, because he has accepted the role as “the newly minted role of executive musical director emeritus, whatever the hell that means.” I’m not positive, but I think he just signed up to produce the Symphony’s future Oklahoma and Wicked revivals.

White Haired Conductor then introduces Green Dress Woman, Mrs. Gloria Windsor. Turns out she is not a haute couture stagehand but rather the board chair: a better-dressed Jon Campbell. I keep waiting for the CEO to be introduced, too, but it appears that Mozart in the Jungle takes place in the same magical world that the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra lockout did, in which the same person serves as board chair and CEO. So I need to give up the idea of an episode revolving around the two having clandestine meetings at ritzy steakhouses to discuss the sustainability of the looming business model reset. Dammit.

Gloria dah-ling then says, “As one movement ends, another must begin – “And suddenly with no warning whatsoever, our eyes are assaulted by a Christlike shadow floating in a sunrise and then a mountaintop, upper body twitching away in a semi-rhythmic fashion while the scherzo to Beethoven 9 blares.

my eyes

Behold, it’s Gustavo Dudamel!!! Rodrigo. In between background footage of orgasmic natural (and later unnatural) events, there is also a concertgoer who for some reason looks like she’s from the 1940s, peering through her binoculars to check out Rodrigo’s ass better observe the music-making.

Do he got a booty? He doooooo.

Do he got a booty? He doooooo.

We also learn that at 25, Rodrigo “lifted the Oslo Symphony out of bankruptcy and placed them among the finest on the world stage.” I’m not sure who inspired that line, but I’m going to interpret it as a shoutout to Osmo Vänskä taking the helm of the Lahti Symphony at 35 and guiding it to international prominence, because come on, I needs me at least one Minnesota Orchestra reference in this show. We also learn that Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Munich were all in the market for a music director at the same time and courting Dudamel Rodrigo simultaneously, which makes me wonder if there was a music director extinction event at some point in the MITJ universe.

Rodrigo then takes his baton out of his jacket and raises his arms to conduct…then the baton magically turns into a rose. Ahaha. Hahahaha. I’m assuming the desire of all his musicians to kill him will be a future plot point.

This is what an audience looks like after being told to react to a baton turning into a rose

The audience’s reaction is great

Then Rodrigo suddenly starts chatting with the cellists as the audience just sits there applauding and waiting for the concert to start up again, cuz I guess that’s a thing conductors do. In the meantime, Gloria praises White Haired Conductor, whose real name is Tom. Tom warns Gloria not to “underestimate” him. ~DRAMA~

Cut to the orchestra musicians outside after the concert. Obviously they are talking about all the graphic SEXXX they had recently, because you know how orchestra musicians party so much and have so much SEXXX! A cellist named Cynthia walks past them. She is wearing a winter coat while baring her decolletage, because sex.



She’s headed to a pit gig. Maybe the New York Symphony has already endured a business model reset, since a principal player is apparently having to take work in a late night performance of Styx’s Oedipus Rex. At the gig she meets up with Hailey, who locates Cynthia’s place in the music for her. As a thank-you, Cynthia rescues her from a pit creeper and takes her out drinking.

Meanwhile, at a board after-party, Gloria is toasting Rodrigo when Tom bursts in with a press release discussing the orchestra’s future. Apparently the upcoming season includes such exciting gimmicks innovations as playing pieces in complete darkness, which makes one wonder why the symphony hired Rodrigo in the first place, unless he’s using a glow-in-the-dark rose baton, and dammit that’s probably what he’s planning on doing, isn’t it, so never mind. Rodrigo leaves the party but not before letting everyone know that Emily Woo the first violin played sharp seventeen times in the first movement alone, and that the horns and clarinets screwed up, which culminated in their “not being able to perceive Tchaikovsky’s desired dynamic shift from bars 27 to 34.” The awesomest thing about this exchange is that there is no dynamic shift from bars 27 to 34.

I can't believe I know this

What the HELL went wrong with my life that I know this?

Cynthia and Hailey are out drinking. A cute waiter appears. It is immediately – and I mean immediately – obvious that he and Hailey will eventually have the sexytimes. Hailey confirms my suspicion by watching his butt. Cynthia has some kind of x-ray vision that allows her to ascertain whether people are dancers. Thankfully she only uses this superpower for good.

We then learn how different types of musicians perform in bed because everyone really wanted to see this.

oh god

Also a fun factoid? Musicians copulate on their sheet music. Those unexplained stains on your solo Bach? Your worst fears are confirmed.

on sheet music

 Also, apparently this happens in the Orchestra Hall bathroom during the jazz series. Get your tickets now!


My favorite part of this scene is the random lady in the background watching

Cynthia gets Cute Waiter’s name (Alex) and Alex proceeds to subtly glance at Hailey’s boobs. Cynthia leaves, gets into a car, and in a shocking twist it is revealed she is dating ~~TOM, THE FORMER CONDUCTOR OF THE NEW YORK SYMPHONY OMG OMG OMG!!!~~ This is the most outrageous inaccuracy of the entire episode, because no principal string player and renowned music director have ever ever gotten engaged in the history of ever.

Then comes a party thrown by Hailey’s roommate Lizzie. In the MITJ universe, artsy parties consist of screamed profanity, obscene gestures, too-loud classical records, and metronomes that… this.



Hailey eventually gets drawn into a party activity that’s a hybrid drinking game, spin-the-bottle, and sight-reading, and I’m not sure why those three things haven’t been combined before. Hailey appears to be winning until Alex drops by and she honks at the sight of him, thereby losing the…”game,” I guess we’re calling it. She then runs to put on pants. ~DRAMA~

Later Hailey and Lizzie sit outside on the stoop. Lizzie describes Alex as the hottest dancer at Juilliard, then attempts to seduce him by talking about the bubonic plague. Strangely, this doesn’t result in Alex hornily stripping for her. Then comes a vomit-in-the-Victrola emergency that necessitates Lizzie’s attention, and Hailey and Alex are left to pause awkwardly together. Hailey, being a female lead in a television show and needing an excuse to bond with a male character, is contractually obligated to become cold and need Alex’s scarf, which he is in turn is contractually obligated to provide to her. Hailey then talks about how her life is all about earning money and how “none of it’s about the art.” The concept resonates a bit too strongly with me and I am unexpectedly and genuinely moved, which of course is the perfect time for sensitive Alex to ask: “You know, I’ve always wondered something. Do your lips hurt after you play like that?”


Hailey later wakes up in a jumble of partygoers. She rushes out with a hangover because her student Duncan (he of the boob texts) has a recital performance. But then Cynthia calls and lets Hailey know the Dude Rodrigo is holding woodwind auditions. Yes, spur of the moment woodwind auditions. I think we can all agree that sudden auditions are much more dramatic than the real ones that musicians fear and obsess over for months beforehand.

Look ma, no security!

Stage door security is for pussies

But alas, Hailey has gotten there too late for the audition. Lucky for her, Rodrigo is still in the hall (albeit because he’s in the early stages of banging his assistant), so when Hailey sits down and tests the acoustic, he hears her play and –

Cliffhanger to episode two!

So is Mozart in the Jungle bad? No, not really. It’s entertaining. And it’s (obviously) a lot of fun to rail at the little inaccuracies like I’m a doctor watching House. But I can’t decide if I like it or not. I definitely want to watch it, but I don’t know if I like it; how’s that for a review?

Once I decided to write this entry, I did watch a few more episodes, just to have a better grip on the context of the pilot. And then I ended up binge-watching the season. The emphasis on sex dies down (…a little). Some of the conflicts I really wanted to see bubble to the surface (discussions of negotiations and musician health care plans, oh yeah). There are also a few orchestral stereotypes that I’ve seen in real life, and come on, it’s just plain fun watching a ponytailed percussionist hawking beta blockers.

But the primary emotion the pilot evokes is wistfulness at wasted opportunity. I found myself yearning for more craziness that rang true. God only knows there’s enough of it in this field. I also think the show is hampered by the fact that it can’t quite decide if it’s a comedy or drama or dramedy or satire or all of those things or none of those things. The tonal seesawing within such short episodes makes the funny parts not so funny and the dramatic parts not so dramatic, and the final product as a whole weaker than it otherwise could be.

That being said, if you’re after some enjoyable orchestra-oriented escapism, MITJ has definitely got you covered. As for an Emmy-winning show about classical musicians, I’m pretty sure that one’s still out there for the writing.



Filed under The Orchestra Business

11 responses to “Review: Mozart in the Jungle, Pilot

  1. Yesss. I lived in a house with 5 other musicians this summer, and every time someone came to our house we made them sit down and watch this.

    Have you read the book, by the way?

  2. Emily, I think that you should poll your MO musician friends to find out if THEY know anything about a “hybrid drinking game, spin-the-bottle and sight-reading” experience. ;-) I think that I will read the book now.

  3. Emily, the book is worth a read. It will shed a revealing light on a significant portion of the series sub-plots, which oftentimes look more like the New York freelance scene of the late 1970’s and early 80’s than modern day. (If any of the performing characters were actually married, no doubt we’d see a return of the infamous 1970’s Key Party.) It’s been several years since I read it, but I think Blair Tindall does make mention of the lovemaking styles of different musicians, based on instrument.

    I, too, watched the entire series over several days, and while I enjoyed it–and was also, like you, able to overlook the musical inaccuracies–the “just plain impossible” things, like cancelling a soloist the week before the concert or programming Mahler Symphony #8 on five days notice, were difficult to overlook.

    I am curious to see what direction they will take it…

    • 95% sure they’re going to take it in the direction of a negotiations meltdown. There were sooo many set-ups for it… [SPOILERS AHEAD] Cynthia needing healthcare; Cynthia and Gloria’s tense conversation; Cynthia and Bob’s hookup. That and a Rodrigo-Hailey romance. I really want Douchey Podcast Dude to become the situation’s obnoxious blogger character, because you know he’ll have an opinion on the negotiations. :)

  4. Robert Goodlett

    While this movie portrays an unrealistic view of orchestra life this article below is all too real….

    Robert Goodlett mobile 317.414.8190

    sent from my Samsung Galaxy S4

  5. Robert Levine

    “Musical Director extinction event” – wonderful phrase.

  6. sunny

    I watched the whole first series over a few days. Laughable, really, but I still watched it.
    Too much sex, yes. I don’t remember many of us having that much sex at music school. Although, there was that flautist .. and then the composer .. hmm .. anyway …
    Most of it doesn’t ring true, not for me. And just as the oboist claims her life is too much about earning money and not enough about the art, then this series is too much about unbelievable characters and not enough about the music.
    Perhaps I miss the point, and perhaps I should try the book, as recommended.

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