Back into the jungle!

Washington Post classical music critic Anne Midgette has just written her second critique of the new TV series, “Mozart in the Jungle.”  You can read her first critique and my blogged review before continuing.

In short, I found the series, set in the world of classical music and filled with sex, drugs and utter implausibilities, to be a hoot.  Ms. Midgette is far more troubled by the implausibilities, which ruined the experience for her.

Anyhow, here’s my online comment to Ms. Midgette’s latest piece:

I think Ms. Midgette’s critique of “Mozart in the Jungle” would be more apt if the program’s purpose was to depict classical music in a way that classical musicians, critics and other insiders would find accurate. I suspect that the program’s purpose was to be entertaining to a broad audience, the vast majority of whom have little to no knowledge of classical music. A lesson I learned repeatedly in my decades in classical radio was never to assume any specific classical knowledge among listeners, many (perhaps most) of whom would, for instance, not be able to explain the difference between a symphony and a concerto, or to place Bach, Mozart and Beethoven in chronological order. And these were classical listeners!

Thus, when the producers chose the “1812 Overture” in the segment Ms. Midgette mentions, they chose wisely: It’s one of the very few orchestral pieces that a fairly large swath of the audience could be expected to have heard of. Her reasoning of why it was a disappointing choice might make sense to her and to other insiders, but is beside the point, as is her point about the sudden repertoire shift to Mahler’s Symphony No. 8. She’s worried about the implausibility of this plot element, but the producers have to worry about whether viewers even know what an oboe is, much less how many are used in a typical orchestral work.

It might behoove Ms. Midgette or another critic to watch the series again, in the company of more typical viewers, perhaps people who’ve been to a few pops programs or like to sit on the lawn at Tanglewood, but who wouldn’t know an English horn from a French horn. She could stop periodically to offer her insider critiques, and to ask her fellow viewers whether they have any idea what she’s talking about. It could be very instructive.

P.S. (not included online for reasons of space):  Speaking of horns– did you notice how “Rodrigo” admonishes the “French horns” in one segment, even though a real conductor would have just called them “horns?”  Another smart move: the general pubic knows them as “French horns,” so just to call them “horns” would be confusing.

P.P.S.: Overheard (scout’s honor!) in the row behind me at last Friday’s Berkshire Bach concert in Northampton:

Lady No. 1:  “What’s that instrument on the stage?” (referring to a harpsichord)

Lady No. 2:  “That’s an, er, clavichord.”

Lady No. 1:  “Oh.”


3 thoughts on “Back into the jungle!

  1. Confusion between harpsichord and clavichord is no doubt made more likely from the various old names used in various languages: “clavecin” is the French for harpsichord, and the German “clavier” refers to any keyboard instrument except the organ! Such confusion is certainly forgivable. My only concern is whether I should try to explain, or whether that might be boring overkill.

    • Thanks for the explanation, Mr. L! These were ladies who no doubt had attended hundreds of concerts in their many years, and who paid $38 each to take themselves out to a Friday night concert of 18th c. music. One would guess that by now they would recognize a harpsichord, which is about 1,000 times more oft-used and better-known an instrument than a clavichord. I think most readers would get my point, which is that even people you would expect to know better don’t always.

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