Published by Grove Press on June 8, 2006
Source: I purchased a copy of this book.
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In the tradition of Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential and Gelsey Kirkland’s Dancing on My Grave, Mozart in the Jungle delves into the lives of the musicians and conductors who inhabit the insular world of classical music. In a book that inspired the Amazon Original series starring Gael García Bernal and Malcolm McDowell, oboist Blair Tindall recounts her decades-long professional career as a classical musician—from the recitals and Broadway orchestra performances to the secret life of musicians who survive hand to mouth in the backbiting New York classical music scene, where musicians trade sexual favors for plum jobs and assignments in orchestras across the city. Tindall and her fellow journeymen musicians often play drunk, high, or hopelessly hungover, live in decrepit apartments, and perform in hazardous conditions— working-class musicians who schlep across the city between low-paying gigs, without health-care benefits or retirement plans, a stark contrast to the rarefied experiences of overpaid classical musician superstars. An incisive, no-holds-barred account, Mozart in the Jungle is the first true, behind-the-scenes look at what goes on backstage and in the Broadway pit.
I watched the pilot episode of Mozart in the Jungle on Amazon. I figured I’d read the memoir of the same title, which the show is (loosely) based on, before continuing with the series.
The portions of the book that deal with the history of classical music in the United States and how that plays into its business and education sides were well-cited and thought-provoking. It definitely opens up dialogue. What is the musician’s relationship to the audience? Are we including the audience in the artistic experience, or using them as a way to stroke our own egos? What is the music teacher’s responsibility to the younger generation? Are we supporting unrealistic, lofty dreams of “going to Juilliard” and encouraging students to go into an unsustainable field? Is this field as unsustainable as it seems? Or is it that the old way of doing things needs to change?
“I overlooked the fact that we were rehearsing for free (we were paid only for concerts), we perpetuated the classic scenario of artists subsidizing a performing arts group, the only way such a group can come close to paying its own way without substantial funding.” (page 71)
“Conductors and executives are regarded as a class of workers whose superior skills entitle them to demand astronomical salaries from nonprofit organizations that are already in debt. As the oxymoronic concept of such classical music “stars” grows, the musicians themselves begin to appear peripheral to the organizations, or even the music interpretation.” (page 299)
There’s no denying that there are problems in the classical music world that need to be addressed. I appreciated the perspective she brought to some of these issues.
A gossipy tone overshadows the entire book. Tindall is such an unreliable narrator, it’s hard to know how much is true and how much is either embellishment or her own twisted perception of actual events (which she goes on and on and on about in excruciating detail). Most musicians practice long hours, work hard, and make honest, meaningful connections with each other. Of course there are individuals who make unscrupulous choices. But “trading sex and drugs” as a way to “network” is not necessary, and is in no way the norm.
Tindall goes for shock value in this memoir, and even seems to take delight in it. It felt voyeuristic and skeevy, and the fact that she names names made it even worse. It was like being caught in the middle of a personal vendetta. It was really, really hard to pull through the majority of the book; its positive aspects were simply too few and far between. For the most part, I found this to be a tacky, tabloid-like read that casts a sweeping, unfair light on an entire profession.
So disappointed in this one.