In Amazon’s recently released pilot episode of “Mozart in the Jungle,” a young, curly-haired Latin conductor named Rodrigo (Gael Garcia Bernal) is lauded as classical music’s next big thing, a maestro so talented and charismatic that he is eagerly sought after by major orchestras around the world.
Sound like someone we know? “Mozart in the Jungle” is a satirical, behind-the-scenes look at a fictional American orchestra. But the magnetic Rodrigo doesn’t feel fictional at all. In fact, he’s a dead ringer for Gustavo Dudamel, the youthful Venezuelan conductor who is the current music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
The similarities between “Rodrigo” and Gustavo are rather brazen. The fictional character is described as having conducted at La Scala in Milan at age 23. (Dudamel was 25.) He has successfully led a major Scandinavian orchestra. (Dudamel led the Gothenburg Symphony in Sweden.) He is so beloved that he is often referred to only by his first name. (Ditto Gustavo.)
In the pilot episode, Rodrigo is introduced as the new music director of the fictional New York Symphony. The outgoing conductor (Malcolm McDowell) is bitter and resentful of his successor’s youth and talent. Their nasty rivalry is refereed by the orchestra’s urbane chairwoman (Bernadette Peters).
Much of “Mozart in the Jungle” focuses on a young oboist named Hailey (Lola Kirke) who is struggling to make ends meet. When we first see her, she is giving lessons to a bored, over-privileged Upper East Side kid who is sending dirty text messages instead of listening to his teacher.
Her path eventually crosses with that of Rodrigo at a last-minute orchestra audition.
“Mozart in the Jungle” is inspired by the 2005 nonfiction book by Blair Tindall that provided an unflattering account of drugs and sexual debauchery in the classical-music profession.
Amazon’s pilot dramatizes some of Tindall’s racy scenarios. One sequence depicts the speed at which male violinists tend to climax in bed. (“All those arpeggios,” explains a jaded cellist played by Saffron Burrows.)
The pilot, which debuted online last week, was directed by Paul Weitz and was written by Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman and Alex Timbers. The episode is viewable for free. (Viewers can leave feedback that Amazon Studios will use to decide whether to turn it into a full series.)
Those who don’t want to make the 30-minute time commitment can watch this brief clip.
L.A. classical-music fans should note that the oboe solos heard in the episode are performed by Lelie Resnick, who is the principal oboist for the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and who has performed with the Pacific Symphony and Long Beach Symphony.