Us as a sitcom

Most readers of this blog will remember the furor over Mozart in the Jungle, oboist and journalist Blair Tindall’s memoir of her days as a New York freelancer. I quite enjoyed it, but some didn’t (especially those who believed that they were featured in the story in an uncomplimentary way)

I went onto the Amazon Instant Video app today only to discover that it’s been turned into a pilot episode (which can be watched here), one of 10 that Amazon is putting before its viewers for what amounts to a popularity contest:

Once again treating the world as its focus group, Amazon is currently product-testing its latest batch of original online shows. Ten new pilots were posted in the retailer’s Instant Video section this week, five for children and five for adults. Your positive reviews could help them become series, joining “Alpha House” and “Betas” from the first round last year.

And there may be evidence that the Amazon system works, to a point, because the three comedies on offer are in some ways an advance over the comedies from last time — more polished and artful, if also more calculated and conventional. More like television, in fact. (Which could just mean that they had larger budgets.)

…The most TV-ready of the three is probably “Mozart in the Jungle,” written by Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman and Alex Timbers and directed by Paul Weitz (“About a Boy”). It’s set in the world of classical music and tries to combine the dark backstage comedy of “Slings and Arrows” with the gilded New York debauchery of “Sex and the City.” Gael García Bernal is quite amusing as a young maverick conductor hired by a fictional New York orchestra, Saffron Burrows less so as a veteran cellist. Malcolm McDowell and Bernadette Peters guest star.

It is definitely “TV-ready.” But I wish they’d hired a technical advisor – perhaps Blair Tindell? No doubt doctors and lawyers and cops are driven nuts by all the inaccuracies in TV shows about their professions too, but it would have been nice if the producers had sweated the details of ours. New music directors are seldom introduced with the old ones still on stage, for example – and they’re not called “musical directors” either. Auditions for major orchestras aren’t usually held in secret, with candidates finding out about them via text messages from their friends.

At least, in this production, the people playing musicians are generally really musicians and actually playing. The actors playing conductors, on the other hand, do a terrible impersonation of real conductors – a problem in every attempt to dramatize orchestras I’ve ever seen. Imitating conductors must be harder than it seems.

As for the actual story, it’s more “inspired by Mozart in the Jungle” than an actual dramatization of the book. But, viewed as a fantasy rather than a depiction of reality, it’s not bad. I don’t know whether to hope for it being picked up and turned into an actual series or not. It would be fun to watch, but it would give audiences some very strange ideas of what really goes on in our world.

About the author

Robert Levine
Robert Levine

Robert Levine has been the Principal Violist of the Milwaukee Symphony since September 1987. Before coming to Milwaukee Mr. Levine had been a member of the Orford String Quartet, Quartet-in-Residence at the University of Toronto, with whom he toured extensively throughout Canada, the United States, and South America. Prior to joining the Orford Quartet, Mr. Levine had served as Principal Violist of The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra for six years. He has also performed with the San Francisco Symphony, the London Symphony of Canada, and the Oklahoma City Symphony, as well as serving as guest principal with the orchestras of Indianapolis and Hong Kong.

He has performed as soloist with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Oklahoma City Symphony, the London Symphony of Canada, the Midsummer Mozart Festival (San Francisco), and numerous community orchestras in Northern California and Minnesota. He has also been featured on American Public Radio's nationally broadcast show "St. Paul Sunday Morning" on several occasions.

Mr. Levine has been an active chamber musician, having performed at the Festival Rolandseck in Germany, the Grand Teton Music Festival, the Palm Beach Festival, the "Strings in the Mountains" Festival in Colorado, and numerous concerts in the Twin Cities and Milwaukee. He has also been active in the field of new music, having commissioned and premiered works for viola and orchestra from Minnesota composers Janika Vandervelde and Libby Larsen.

Mr. Levine was chairman of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians from 1996 to 2002 and currently serves as President of the Milwaukee Musicians Association, Local 8 of the American Federation of Musicians, and as a member of the Board of Directors of the League of American Orchestras. He has written extensively about issues concerning orchestra musicians for publications of ICSOM, the AFM, the Symphony Orchestra Institute, and the League of American Orchestras.

Mr. Levine attended Stanford University and the Institute for Advanced Musical Studies in Switzerland. His primary teachers were Aaron Sten and Pamela Goldsmith. He also studied with Paul Doctor, Walter Trampler, Bruno Giuranna, and David Abel.

He lives with his wife Emily and his son Sam in Glendale.

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