The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Amazon’s “Mozart in the Jungle” wins two Golden Globe awards. But Season 2 — which is now available for streaming and features real-life famous longhairs — gets a mixed review from The New York Times | January 17, 2016

By Jacob Stockinger

“Sex, drugs and classical music”?

It was easy to underestimate the Amazon comedy sitcom “Mozart in the Jungle” as just a commercial low-brow, rock and roll take on the high-brow world of classical music.

Mozart in the Jungle poster

Until two weeks ago.

That when the TV comedy series, which portrays the trials and tribulations of being a classical musician in today’s pop-oriented culture, won two Golden Globe awards.

golden globes 2016

One award went to the accomplished Mexican actor, director and producer Gabriel Garcia Bernal (below) for the Best Actor in a TV Series, Comedy or Musical. He plays Rodrigo, an orchestra conductor.

Gael Garcia Bernal as conductor Rodrigo Mozart in the Jungle CR Amazon Studios

The second award went to the show as Best TV Series for Comedy or Musical.

Will any Emmys follow?

The second season has been ready for streaming since Dec. 30. And winning the two Golden Globe awards is sure to spike viewer interest. (You can see the trailer for Season 2 in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Although there are some fine things to admire in Season 2, apparently it loses steam and gets repetitive.

At least that is the assessment of music critic Zachary Woolfe, who writes for The New York Times.

One interesting sidelight of Season 2 is that several big-name classical musicians make a cameo appearance on the show.

They include the conductor Gustavo Dudamel, the phenom music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic:

DudamelChris Christodoulou

The flamboyant Chinese superstar pianist Lang-Lang:

Lang Lang so expressive

And mainstream American piano star Emanuel Ax, who will perform with the Madison Symphony Orchestra in March. (NOTE: Ax was to play the Symphonic Variations by Cesar Franck and the Burleske by Richard Strauss. That program has now been changed to the Piano Concerto No. 4 by Ludwig van Beethoven.)

Emanuel Ax Philharmonia

To The Ear, the show still sounds like fun – if you can get past or overlook the endless sense of crisis.

Which, curiously, also just happens to be how one might feel about the real-life, non-fiction world of classical music these days with its focus on declining attendance, fewer recordings, labor strife and programming.

Here is a link to the review:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/03/arts/television/mozart-in-the-jungle-where-classical-music-meets-soap-opera.html?_r=0

Tell us in the COMMENT section what you think of either the first season or the second season, if you have already started to watch it.

The Ear wants to hear.

 

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10 Comments »

  1. OT: This is the last e-mail I’ve received from Jake and my subscription to The Well-Tempered Ear (1/17/2016). Does anyone know whether Jake is OK and whether he is still doing his blog? Thanks for any information.

    Comment by Kathy Lewinski — February 6, 2016 @ 10:51 pm

    • Hi Kathy,
      Thank you for your concern.
      I am fine and am still doing the blog every day.
      If you are having problems with your subscription, I suggest unsubscribing and then resubscribing.
      It has happened before and seems to be a glitch that occurs occasionally.
      The solution I suggested has worked.
      You can also bookmark it or get to it every day via Google. It gets posted at midnight.
      Best wishes.
      Jake

      Comment by welltemperedear — February 7, 2016 @ 9:14 am

  2. I loved the first season and am looking forward to the second.

    Comment by Ken Opin — January 19, 2016 @ 11:35 am

  3. More info on famous opera soperano Inessa Galante and the Vladimir Vavilov composition of Ave Maria.

    From Wikipedia: “Inese Galante (born 12 March 1954) is a Latvian soprano opera singer.[1] Galante is known for a great beauty of tone, nuanced pianissimos and sensitive command of dynamics and colour. Her performance of Vavilov’s Ave Maria (often attributed to Giulio Caccini), from her “Debut” album 1995 started spreading worldwide interest in the piece.”

    And from Wikipedia’s entry for Vladimir Vavilov: “Vladimir Fyodorovich Vavilov (Russian: Влади́мир Фёдорович Вави́лов; 5 May 1925 – 11 March 1973[1] ) was a Russian guitarist, lutenist and composer. He was a student of P. Isakov (guitar) and Iogann Admoni (composition) at the Rimski-Korsakov Music College in Leningrad. He played an important part in the early music revival in the Soviet Union.

    Vavilov was active as a performer on both lute and guitar, as a music editor for a state music publishing house, and more importantly, as a composer. He routinely ascribed his own works to other composers, usually of the Renaissance or Baroque (occasionally from later eras), usually with total disregard of the appropriate style, in the spirit of other mystificators of the previous eras. His works achieved enormous circulation, and some of them achieved true folk-music status, with several poems set to his melodies.[1]

    Vavilov died in poverty, of pancreatic cancer, a few months before the appearance of “The City of Gold”, which became a hit overnight.[1]

    The most famous of his anonymous or misattributed compositions are:

    “Сanzona by Francesco da Milano”. Poets Anri Volokhonsky and Alexei Khvostenko would later set lyrics on this music, the song called “The City of Gold” song (in Russian “Город Золотой”). The song, in turn, would become a hit in the 1980s when it was performed by Aquarium for the soundtrack for the film Assa.[1]
    “Mazurka by Andrey Sychra”,
    “Elegy by Mikhail Vyssotsky”,
    “Russian Melody (tremolo study) by Mikhail Vyssotsky”,
    “Ricercar by Niccolo Nigrino”,
    “Impromptu” by Miliy Balakirev.
    “Ave Maria” (Vavilov himself wrote it under Anonymous). It is often performed to this day, notably by Inessa Galante, Andrea Bocelli, Sumi Jo, Charlotte Church inter alia.” See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vladimir_Vavilov_%28composer%29

    From what I can dig up on the Internet about Vavilov, it appears that he was writing music, often Christian music, in the Soviet Union when the KGB and the government there would have cracked down on anyone that did so. Hence, his use of “anonymous” or early Italian composers (who could not possibly have written the Ave Maria in question because it was never performed until after 1970.

    Comment by fflambeau — January 18, 2016 @ 11:25 am

  4. First, I love “Mozart In The Jungle.” Second, I think the NYT’s review is snotty.

    The series is character driven and the backdrop happens to classical music. Some of the characters are closer to real life than to others, who are more caricature driven so as to make them of more interest to the viewer. You can only tell a story successfully if your characters draw people in. In general any type of TV/movie/play must have characters that one can relate to, find curious, or are enticed by. MITJ does that. Its main characters are the focus but there a numerous peripheral characters thrown in to show a broad range in age, lifestyle, demeanor, etc.

    Its also a comedy, something that the NYT doesn’t quite get. Its not your one liner kind of comedy, its more of situational comedy where peculiar events, interactions among characters and just plain silly stuff is what it relies on to be funny.

    But, it also has its serious side, too. And perhaps the biggest serious side it has is its love of music – mostly classical, but not always. So what if the orchestra size was too small for the Mahler, or that the actors playing instruments don’t look quite authentic, etc. etc.To be that picayune doesn’t allow one to just sit back and enjoy the show.

    The success of MITJ has huge ramifications for the world of classical music. Many people come to classical music by simply hearing snippets of it and then out of curiosity exploring it more and more in depth. I wasn’t raised in a household of classical music, yet I came to love it and I explored it. Even the actors themselves have sad that they look at classical music much differently now and listen to it, whereas previously they didn’t.

    A number of years ago when I lived in Boston, I once complained to friend about how trashy the novels that people riding the subway were reading. His reply was that at least they were reading. I then realized that his argument was valid. That leads me back to again saying that the NYT’s review was “snotty” – as was i when I passed judgement on reading material.

    Comment by thosmoody — January 17, 2016 @ 9:50 am

  5. More on “Mozart in the City”. As I mentioned, the original review of this series in the NYTimes, some months ago, panned the series as a disaster ; that review (which almost everyone ignored) likened the series to the 1969 Kansas City Chiefs football team. To those not familiar with sports, that means: a sure and utter loser.

    Wrong. And that says a lot about the gatekeeper institution, the NYTimes. It has become less of a gatekeeper institution, especially in music, and that’s a good thing for everyone. Proof of the pudding: the series was a wild hit which lots of people paid to see via streaming despite their review (and similar negative reviews in other gatekeeper institutions).

    In fact, in modern days, institutions like the NYTimes have become less important and new institutions, like the company that streamed this series, and like the Internet in general and YouTube in particular have become far, far more important. In fact, I would argue that today, YouTube is far more important in music and in many other areas than the older press like the Times ever was. Why? Because people can circumvent the gatekeeper institutions and make judgments by themselves (and they can easily do that by indicating their likes and dislikes online, by posting their own comments and in fact, by posting what they like). For several weeks, whole episodes of the series were posted on YouTube (before being removed for copyright reasons).

    So, pretty much no one paid any attention to the usual gatekeepers (NYTimes, Washington Post, LATimes etc.) almost all of which, moreover, have fallen on hard financial times since they are losing readership to newer forms of media. I would argue this is a good thing because if it were not for the Internet, we would not have Mozart in the Jungle (and lots more).

    And although that series is a parody of classical music, like most good parodies, it has a serious point. The major point is that the real, knowledgeable classical musician/conductor (played superbly by the great British actor, Malcolm McDowell) is dumped by his symphony orchestra association because he’s old and not sexy, not for musical reasons at all. His replacement, the one-named, Rodrigo (a parody of the LA Philharmonic leader down to his serious non attention which amounts to extreme attention to his hair styles) is just the opposite: not much talent in music but with a sweet mouth, a sexy body, and overall sex appeal that has done in his predecessor. At another level, the serious point is that what you see is not what you get and also that most people really aren’t into the music at all, they’re into something entirely different, usually revolving around sex. And the people who have done this parody have done it, generally speaking, with good acting and good humor.

    So who really cares what the NYTimes is saying about this series now, now that it has won some serious awards? The people who watch it (and pay to watch it) will judge it themselves. I would argue that critics in general have fallen to the same fate (one of them moonlights here and he has exposed his frailties to many readers) and this is a good thing because people themselves are making their own decisions more and more, relying on other sources sometimes, like this blog for information (and simultaneously having the critics “exposed” much like the Wizard of Oz was by Dorothy).

    So, here’s to the Dorothyies of this world!

    Comment by fflambeau — January 17, 2016 @ 5:09 am

  6. Note that the Vavilov/ Inessa Galante version of Ave Maria is NOT by the Italian early music composer G. Caccini (to whom it is often and mistakenly attributed) since it was never performed until the end of the 20th century. See Vavilov’s entry at Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vladimir_Vavilov_%28composer%29

    Again, the piece is one of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard, raising the question, what else did this little known Russian composer write?

    Comment by fflambeau — January 17, 2016 @ 1:16 am

  7. It is not surprising that the NYTimes does not think much of this program in its second year. As I recall, it thought even less of it originally, pretty much panning it.

    I think it is terrific and fun.

    On a completely separate note, I would like to share with listeners a YouTube that I became aware of over the holidays which shows the most beautiful (and unusual) Ave Maria I’ve ever heard.

    Not the version by Schubert but by a 20th century Russian Composer, Vladimir Vavilov and featuring opera singer Inessa Galante. It is a magical recording.

    Comment by fflambeau — January 17, 2016 @ 1:12 am

    • Thank you for sharing. It is indeed very beautiful and stirring. Are you sure it is by a modern Russian composer and not the Baroque composer Caccini whose name is listed? Just asking.

      Comment by welltemperedear — January 17, 2016 @ 9:55 am

      • Yes. Vavilov was a Russian writing when the KGB was still powerful and he used “anonymous” and/or the names of other composers, mostly long dead, like Caccini, so that his “name” would not attract their attention, especially since his compositions were often church related, like this. See the Wikipedia entry for Vavilov which also gives similar information. Moreover, this version was never heard before the near end of the 20th century so it is very unlikely that it would have been written by the early renaissance composer, G. Caccini, who lived centuries earlier.

        Comment by fflambeau — January 17, 2016 @ 10:05 pm


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