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February 2017
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
One Gift That Really Does Keep On Giving
Roger Skoff writes about what he hopes may be the beginning of a Renaissance.

Article By Roger Skoff

 

Mozart in the Jungle Review

 

  It's on Amazon's cable and streaming channel; it's already been on for three seasons; and since my daughter recently told me about it, "Mozart in the Jungle", has become one of my very favorite TV programs.

According to IMDb "Love, money, ambition and music intertwine in Mozart in the Jungle, a half hour comedic drama that looks at finding yourself and finding love while conquering New York City." And features the adventures of "... brash new maestro Rodrigo (Gael Garcia Bernal) [who] stirs up the New York Symphony as young oboist Hailey (Lola Kirke) hopes for her big chance."

That, of course, is all true and entirely entertaining, making for a thoroughly engaging, good-hearted show that manages to be "warm and human" without beating you over the head to prove it to you. It's also, in my humble opinion, just the (very well done) excuse to get you to watch the show while it does something far more important exposes those who've never heard it to classical music and reminds those of us who know and love it of what an overwhelmingly important contribution it can make to our everyday lives.

The fact of it is that, like a fine high-end audio system as compared to the perfectly-good-for-what-it-is Bose Wave Radio, a full symphony orchestra like the one in this TV program  can not only do far more musically greater range; greater dynamics; broader repertoire -- than any group of just  four guys with guitars and a drum set, but its up-to-100 performers (or even more) can bring forth a wider and (many believe) deeper range of emotional response to move, thrill, and even inspire its listeners.

Unlike "popular" music, though, classical music, except in programs like Mozart in the Jungle; in recordings; on dedicated Classical Music radio; and in the concert hall all of which have to be reached-out for by the listener -- is seldom available to the average person and, just as only a diminishing number of people have ever had the opportunity to hear "live", unamplified music of any kind at all, so fewer and fewer people each year seem to be discovering and making the joy of Classical Music a part of their lives.

The reason for this, I think, is "peer group acceptance", that lovely bit of psychobabble that we all feel so "hip" using, precisely because it affords us peer group acceptance. Even back when I was a kid, so many years ago that it amazes even me, liking the "right" music knowing its words, and being able to dance to it or play "air guitar" or "air bongos" along with it was vastly more likely to get one named Prom King (or Prom Queen) than playing "air baton" to La Nozze di Figaro. At least among my circle of friends, there was no "fandom of the opera". 

 

Everly Brothers

 

That didn't stop me, of course, and, through most of High School, I wandered around whistling Bach or Vivaldi and insisting to anyone who would listen, that music stopped being written is 1759, with the death of Handel.  I did, of course, buy a few records by some of the very most popular artists of the day such as The Platters, the Everly Brothers (pictured), and The Coasters were among my favorites, but those were for my own personal and private enjoyment, and, because they were contrary to the "image" that I worked so hard to create for myself (sort of a weird cross, in those Beatnik days, between Hamlet, Soren Kierkegaard and an intellectually pretentious modern Goth) I never discussed or even let them become known publicly.

When this started to change for me was in the late 1950s and early '60s, when I was exposed to folk music and, like, it seems, practically everyone else, went berserk for Bud & Travis, Joan Baez, The Weavers, and Woody Guthrie and, while still admiring Harry Belafonte, I found myself looking down my "purist" nose at the Kingston Trio, the Limelighters, the Gateway Singers, and their like as "phonies", "commercializers", and exploiters of "the true folk spirit".

Those were the days when Maya Angelou was a folksinger and not a feminist icon, and I and friends went to see her, and another great of the time, Odetta, and many other of the greatest and most popular folk performers of the day at Cosmo Alley or the Renaissance, or the Troubadour, or any of a bunch of other Los Angeles folk music venues, whenever they were in town.

I became, first, a folk music fan, and then a lover of other kinds of ethnic music; and then jazz; and then (I shudder to say it) even classical music written after 1759, because I was exposed to it. And I was exposed to it by Skip Weshner, the man who, probably more than any other single person started the Great American Folk Music Craze; who still to this day had the most catholic and eclectic musical tastes of anyone I've ever met and who later became my friend.  And I met him because, from the late '50s on, he had a national radio show sponsored by most of the then-best hi-fi (today we'd call them High End) audio manufacturers, on which he played just about every kind of music imaginable and had guests artists performing live and talking about it.

Skip's show "Accent on Sound" was first broadcast from New York (WBAI), and then from Los Angeles (KRHM), and when he moved to L.A, I made it a point to go to the station and just hang around until he let me in and ultimately accepted and returned the friendship of what was then a sixteen or seventeen year-old me.

Skip's show had me from the first moment I heard it; I was already a Hi-Fi Crazy, and had been since I was twelve years old, so the fact that it was sponsored by companies whose products I lusted after was a tremendous draw, just in itself, and when you added-in Skip, himself,  his very great charisma, and his ability to present everything whether a commercial for his sponsors or a new piece or style of music as an insider opportunity to learn something and share in a private pleasure, I was hooked permanently, and Skip could lead anywhere at all, either musically or in terms of hi-fi, and I would eagerly follow.

 

Amadeus 1984 Director's Cut

 

I'm hoping that Mozart in the Jungle may do something similar for a new generation. The fact that it has already gone three seasons and has at least one more yet to come seems to indicate that, as a show, it has "the right stuff" the acting, directing, and charming and thoroughly involving story to attract and hold an audience. And musically, between its regular flow of truly great concert musicians as guest stars and its presentation of the world's great classical music, both as elements of the story and as masterfully selected background music, in snippets long enough to create a desire for more, but never long enough to overwhelm even the most limited attention span, the producers and directors of Mozart in the Jungle seem at least to me to have created a vehicle that, like the great classical music cinematic films of the past, (things like "Brief Encounter" [1945], "Amadeus" [1984] "Impromptu" [1991] and many more) can open a door to classical music to an audience that has little or no prior knowledge of it, and that may think that  they're  just watching the show for its story, the sex  (yes, there is some), or its fine production values.

Mozart in the Jungle is truly a gift to the audience that will keep on giving and, who knows, it may very well help more people to...

Enjoy the music!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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