Mozart in the Jungle: Episode Two – Fifth Chair

Hailey Rutledge (Lola Kirke) and Cynthia (Saffron Burrows), who is the orchestra’s celloist, as well as the the woman sleeping with the Symphony’s former conductor Thomas (Malcolm McDowell) have just entered the women’s dressing room at the New York Symphony Orchestra which is housed at The Public Theater on Lafayette Street. Today is the first day of rehearsal for the upcoming season.

Despite partying the night before her audition, and then arriving too late for said audition, Hailey impresssed the boy wonder, the Symphony’s spanking new conductor, Rodrigo (Gael Garcia Bernal), who interrupted his make out session with his assistant Sharon (Jennifer Kim),

to overhear Hailey’s impromptu, ad hoc, non-audition, audition.

Rodrigo takes Hailey in to the offices of The Symphony’s head-honcho Gloria (Bernadette Peters) who is not thrilled at all to add another musician to the payroll which is already maxed. Since no current oboist has died, and musicians with 2 years on the job with the orchestra cannot be fired, unless the union’s approval is granted, Gloria declines.

At this point, Rodrigo,

doing what could only be called ‘putting one’s foot down’ exercises a small right in his contract which allows him to make a few changes to the Symphony’s all but set in stone program for the season.

“I’m adding Mahler’s Eighth Symphony , which requires a 5th oboist”, he says with a flourish. Rodrigo is the type to take publicly demonstrable pleasure in everything he does.


So begins the orchestral career, at the NY Symphony, of one Hailey Rutledge. Now, let’s go back to the dressing room where I began this post.

Rutledge: That’s Betty Cragdale (Debra Monk has the role), first oboe. I’ve studied her recordings. She’s incredible. I’ll introduce myself to her.
Rutledge: Ms Cragdale, Hi. My name is Hailey Rutledge, I’ll be sitting in with your section today. I’m an oboist. Yeah, I mean, obviously… I’m an oboist, I just wanted to say, it is such an honor to get to play with you.
Cragdale: Oh yes, Hailey Rutledge. Now I remember. You’re the completely inexperienced girl who fucked our new conductor in order to worm her way into the oboe section, past hundreds of far more qualified musicians…
Rutledge: I did not sleep with the conductor…
Cragdale: Oh darling, please. I had tits once, I just didn’t play my oboe with them. See you at rehearsal.

Now you know why this 10 part series is called Mozart in the Jungle. There’s stress and pressure every moment, and, in order to survive in this fiercely competitive world, this specific artistic jungle that is filled with New York based concert musicians, one must be ready for attacks, from any corner, that can, may, and will happen at any time.

Currently airing on Amazon Prime Instant Video, this series is kind of a cousin to the NBC series, Smash, from a few years back. Only rather than actors, we have musicians, with no significant loss of ego, and rather than Broadway we have the downtown music scene, where along with music, sex and drugs also flourish. That’s an unsubtle reminder that this show’s tagline is: Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music.

As an example, in this episode, there’s an extended scene with Thomas and Cynthia. He’s in a bathrobe, and she’s in a sheet. Thomas is still seething about being booted upstairs to fill the job of Executive Music Director Emeritus, which is almost a no-show job, and can be held until death.

Thomas: My farewell performance, and I cocked it up royally.
Cynthia: Come back to bed. Perhaps you’ll be given a second chance.
Thomas: You know, Cynth, sans you, my life is one fucking slow march to the grave.
Cynthia: Well, that’s very romantic.

But Thomas still has the passion of music still coursing in him, as well as the standard kind of passion. Cynthia invites him back to bed for an encore performance that afternoon. There’s the sex.

When Hailey arrived for the orchestra’s 1st practice, within steps, she was asked by one of the orchestra’s senior musicians D – who, for all intents and purposes, is the orchestra’s ‘unofficial, and not for publication apothecary’. Cynthia makes the introductions.

Cynthia: Hey, D.
D: ….
Cynthia: Oh, this is Hailey. It’s her first day.
Hailey: Hello.
D:  Wow. Congrats.
Hailey: Thank you.
D: You seem a little stressed. Could I suggest a light beta blocker on the house? A little Inderal… just to take the edge off?

Hailey declines, as expected. And there readers is only a part of the drugs. Just before Cynthia introduced Hailey to D, we watched as D and and another musician conversed.

Musician: Do you have any more of that Thai stick we smoked before the Holtz concert last year?
D: I wish I did. What I do have is some smooth space balls with Moroccan hash.
Musician: I’m in for a dozen.
D: Thanks, man.

So we have all of our main characters in play, at least in this episode. Hailey is at the core, or at least is one of the two main tent poles – the other is Rodrigo. So from this reviewer’s viewpoint, the expectation is that Hailey and Rodrigo  will eventually end up in the center ring, likely to be Rodrigo’s bedroom.  It seems a fair expectation, or more likely, wishful thinking on my part.

And why not – there’s a distinct absence of reality in the proceedings.  Hailey drank to excess the night before her audition. She passed out on a sofa, amid a tangle of arms and legs. And it was at that party that she met the cool guy, who let her wear his scarf. So when, at the urging of her room mate, Hailey goes over to this guy Alex’s apartment, to deliver the scarf, she takes great pains to state that this is not a booty call. Right. Isn’t that what every woman does. go over to a guy’s apartment at 12:15 AM to deliver a scarf, have a beer, and a kiss – but it isn’t a booty call.

Okay, if the truth must be told, I’m not a musician, nor during my many years as a  citizen in Manhattan, did I hang out out with anyone who might have been considered a musician. So I can’t say that I’m up on what goes on in those circles with any degree of experience. But two episodes in, I think that Mozart in the Jungle, has enough going for it, for me to invest in some more episodes.

That's Lola in the closeup, and Jemima with her arms folded in front of her

That’s Lola in the closeup, and Jemima with her arms folded in front of her

I mean any show with Bernadette Peters playing a role similar to the one Angelica Huston played in Smash, a show with Malcolm McDowell

Thomas eyes Rodrigowith what will never be mistaken for admiration

Thomas eyes Rodrigo with what will never be mistaken for admiration

doing an updated version of his Terence McQuewick from Entourage, and a fabulous actress called Saffron Burrows – is absolutely doing something right. And did you know that Lola Kirke is the sister of Jemima Kirke, one of the stars of HBO’s Girls.

Until next time, here’s a newer trailer for the show:

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