‘Mozart in the Jungle’

By: 
John Thomas

Gloria Windsor (Bernadette Peters) has her hands full. As managing director of the New York Symphony Orchestra, she has to contend with: a group of varied-age musicians, a board of directors, a penny-pinching financial advisor, aggressive union negotiators, wealthy donors and lastly, the maestro himself.

And for the upcoming season there are two – the retiring Thomas Pembridge (Malcom McDowell) and his replacement, the newly appointed Rodrigo De Souza (Gael Garcia Bernal). The decade’s difference in their ages spell trouble for her.

The two men share a love of classical music, but that’s where similarities between them end. As conductor emeritus, Thomas wants to use a fan to reignite the embers of the orchestra’s fading spirit. As acting conductor, Rodrigo wants to throw gasoline on these embers to ignite new passion, excitement and life in the group.

To implement his idea, Rodrigo loads the orchestra on a bus bound for a vacant lot in Brooklyn. Here, folding chairs have been arranged and a hole cut through the chain-link fence for access. Standing on a wooden crate, Rodrigo directs his musicians who create an exhilarating performance. They love the life and passion they have brought to the music and to the enthusiastic group of neighbors forming around them.

Before opening night, Gloria hosts a fundraiser for the big donors. Champagne is served and performances by Thomas and Rodrigo are scheduled. She has the idea to make the event a competition between the two men. After each performance the guests are to vote for their favorite by donating $5k, $10k, $20k or more. Whichever generates the most money wins.

Thomas plays the piano for them, while – after making a very late entrance – Rodrigo has the donors themselves create music for him. After the party Gloria gushes that they’ve never generated so much money in the past – Thomas suffers a meltdown and moves to Havana.

Finally, the time has arrived for opening night. Rodrigo wants it to be special, exciting and memorable for his orchestra and the audience. What he needs is an outstanding star soloist playing an inspiring piece of music. A former colleague (paramour), violinist comes to mind. She is brilliant yet reckless. No, she will not perform for an “audience of wealthy bourgeois” – and yes, that’s her final answer.

Rodrigo wins her over by suggesting she play a challenging violin concerto by Jean Sibelius. She agrees and the stage is set – so to speak. Thomas is still pounding bongos in Cuba while everyone connected to the symphony is excitedly preparing for the “big night.”

In the end, Thomas recants and returns to New York. The excitement in the house is infectious, everyone is anxious to behold the performance of a lifetime. With violin in hand, the soloist takes to the stage and after a few bars of music stops, curses the audience and stomps off. Now is when the true genius of Rodrigo surfaces.

At the close of the concert the audience roars with cheers, they have truly just experienced the performance of a lifetime.

“Must see” for a peek into the backstage workings of a symphony orchestra, to hear beautiful music, see a refreshingly interesting story unfold and enjoy performances by gifted actors. The Character Rodrigo is (loosely) based on the LA Symphony conductor Gustavo Dudamel.

johan@beachcomber.news

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