Mozart in the Jungle: A Beautiful Dumpster Fire

Mozart in the Jungle: A Beautiful Dumpster Fire

There’s a moment in the first episode of Mozart in the Jungle when the camera cuts to a lively party in progress at a spacious New York City apartment. Young people are scattered throughout the room, which is abuzz with chatting and drinking. One character scratches a record back and forth on a turntable before the “Toreador Song” from Bizet’s Carmen begins to play over the speakers. Gleefully, the character shouts:

“Let’s get Biz-AYYY!”

It was then my suspicions were confirmed—this show was going to be a glorious mess.

The first season of Mozart in the Jungle dropped on Amazon Prime Video in December 2014. It continued for three more seasons before ending its run in 2018. Loosely based on Blair Tindall’s memoir of the same name, this fictional dramedy series follows the story of young oboist Hailey Rutledge (played by Lola Kirke) as she tries to make it in New York City’s vibrant and competitive classical music scene. Along the way, she must navigate musician egos, backstabbing, blackmailing, mounting expectations, and performance anxiety, not to mention lots of sex, drugs, and alcohol. Sounds fun, right?

Let’s call this one “Mozart in the Jungle out-of-context”

Whenever classical music appears in films or TV shows, the results are always a mixed bag. They either stretch the truth (as much as I adore Amadeus, it’s not the most historically-accurate portrait of Mozart or Salieri), present it as a symbol of the upper-class elite and/or notorious villains (hello, Mr. Bond), or just miss the mark entirely (nothing like trying to sell more Volvos with the music of an unhinged, manipulative mother who’s trying to get her daughter to kill someone). However, there are occasions when the media does get it right. (I’ve always been a fan of this iPad commercial starring Esa-Pekka Salonen.) So, the appearance of Mozart in Jungle sparked lots of excitement and trepidation in the classical community. Would the series finally get classical musicians—and the music itself—right for once?

Well, yes and no.

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Favorite Albums of 2021

Favorite Albums of 2021

We’re living in a strange time. OK, we’ve been living in a “strange time” since March 2020, but everything now seems a bit like it’s in limbo. On one hand, our day-to-day activities have more or less returned to normal for the time being, thanks to the wide availability of vaccines and boosters (at least, in the U.S.). But on the other hand, the discovery of new, more transmissible COVID variants has sparked a renewed air of caution and concern. (Who would’ve thought that we’d all be getting a crash course on the Greek alphabet?)

Can we just be done with this already? Please?

Still, there’s been so much to be grateful for this past year. Namely, the wealth of new music released was a consistent bright spot amidst the unpredictability of it all. (Adele’s new album, anyone?) The classical realm in particular really came through with some incredible albums. Resurrected classics, dazzling contemporary music, and the presence of more diverse voices—both new and old—marked many of the releases this year.

Below are ten of my favorite albums from 2021. If you like what you hear, as always, I encourage my readers to consider purchasing the album rather than just streaming it. Apple and Amazon are convenient choices for this, but if possible, I highly recommend using Bandcamp, which donates most of the proceeds directly to the artists.

Without further ado, here are my ten choices, along with a handful of honorable mentions. In no particular order…

Timo Andres, Ian Rosenbaum, Lindsay Kesselman & Mingzhe Wang – The Arching Path (In a Circle Records)

For those who have doubts about the future of classical music—or whatever one wants to call it—listen to anything by Christopher Cerrone and you will be convinced that it is in more-than-capable hands. (See also Caroline Shaw below.) This album captures four examples of Cerrone’s kaleidoscopic sound world. Bookended by two sparkling piano pieces—Hoyt-Schermerhorn and the titular Arching Path—the middle of the album features works for slightly-larger ensemble (showcasing some remarkable performances by soprano Lindsay Kesselman, pianist Timo Andres, clarinettist Mingzhe Wang, and percussionist Ian Rosenbaum). Double Happiness blissfully ruminates on the composer’s travels to Italy, while the song cycle I will learn to love a person is an ode to the joys and frustrations of being a Millennial. Who says that classical music can’t speak to us twenty- and thirty-somethings?

(For more on this album, be sure to check out my conversation with Cerrone from May 2021.)

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Favorite Albums of 2019

Favorite Albums of 2019

I love end-of-year lists. They condense the significant happenings of the past eleven months into an accessible, easy-to-follow format. They can also celebrate the best of humanity, or remind us of the uncertainty of the times and how far we have to go in achieving a peaceful world. (Though “Baby Yoda” was one of the year’s most Googled terms worldwide, so there is hope for us!) 

In the artistic realm, I especially love reading critics’ picks for the most noteworthy classical music events and audio releases of the past year. The sheer amount of musical achievement and ingenuity is usually staggering, and this year was no exception.

With that said, here are ten of my favorite albums from 2019, along with a handful of honorable mentions. (I much prefer a “favorite” rather than “best of” approach, which acknowledges the inherently subjective nature of this exercise and puts my personal preferences on full display!) If you like what you hear, I encourage you to support the artists and purchase their work instead of just streaming it. In no particular order…

Attacca Quartet – Caroline Shaw: Orange (New Amsterdam Records/Nonesuch Records)

Ever since winning the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2013, Caroline Shaw has quickly become one of today’s most talked-about young composers, and this past year saw the first album devoted entirely to her music. Featuring five works for string quartet (and one for string duo), this release showcases Shaw’s wondrous composition style, which delights in bright textures, sonorous harmonies, and quirky turns of phrase that occasionally collapse into chaos. Plus, nods to the works of Bach, Ravel, Mozart, Haydn, and even Shaw herself are never far off. The Attacca Quartet‘s dynamic and sensitive performances only increase the impact of this release.

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