Ariel Sommer - synch2it Music Supervision
Ariel Sommer - Music Supervisor

Music in Fim Blog

Making The Most of Mozart...In The Jungle

I’ve finally managed to get round to watching the first season of “Mozart In The Jungle” and the hype is justified. I don’t recall another show depicting the life of musicians in an orchestra and yes, not all of it is realistic, but that doesn’t matter. Were the plots and characters in E.R or Greys always realistic? Of course not! This is drama made for our entertainment and this show, based on Blair Tindall’s memoirs, is refreshing, not least, because it portrays a section of society, largely overlooked by TV executives, just as funny, sexy, and troubled as characters from all other walks of life. 


Yet, some scenes in the first few episodes of Season 1, are hard for me to watch. Musical performances are lacking some authenticity. Despite their best efforts, the actors are not quite able to convince me they know how to play their instruments. The producers had the foresight to include actual musicians within the orchestra but that has only drawn our attention to those acting. Whilst this does highlight just how uniquely difficult a talent it is to play a musical instrument, I can’t help wonder whether more could be done to help actors look like they can play especially as they don’t have to actually produce a sound.


For someone like myself with a musical ear and curious eye, this is a bug-bear that probably does not bother the larger demographic the show is hoping to attract. And, perhaps with the exception of Forman’s 1984 movie “Amadeus”, I’ve rarely seen an actor nailing a performance scene (at least for classical music). Don Cheadle did a remarkable job portraying Miles Davis in “Miles Ahead” but Michael Cain in Paolo Sorrentino’s “Youth” when conducting in the final scene, did not look authentic. I wonder whether actors ever get the right kind of support for shooting performance scenes?


Ideally, on “Mozart in The Jungle”, where music and performances are central to the narrative, the music supervisors, who presumably have a classical background would have had sufficient time to firstly clear the music so that scenes can be shot with the knowledge actors are “performing” to that piece. Then, I’d hope they are invited on shoots to offer guidance to the actors during performance scenes followed by, in post, working with the editor to advise on the best shots.


When creatives have brought me into the production process early on, the results have more than justified that decision. Actors can receive training on how to look like they are playing a violin but rehearsing scenes is very different than playing to camera with score in the background. A music supervisor can be invaluable in these instances.


Meanwhile, with all the accolades justifiably flowing in Gael Garcia Bernal’s direction, who plays the enigmatic conductor Rodrigo, I’m left wanting more by his conducting. Bernal is brilliantly cast: He has great stage presence, creative sensitivities and is full of charisma. Yet, in a rehearsal of Mahler’s 8th Symphony, his arm movements are so underwhelming, contrary to the fiery character he plays and not in sync with the music. I am left having to close my eyes in these moments and imagine he is actually conducting with the same level of drama as a Dudamel or the late and great Bernstein.


A Music Supervisor’s role is still not fully understood, yet their value across the creative and production processes can be aptly highlighted by a show like “Mozart in the Jungle”. It must be a real blast for the show’s music supervisors (Meghan Currier, Randall Poster, Susan Jacobs, and Jackie Mulhearn). I hope that they are given all the tools they need to perform their roles to their best of their abilities. It should be great case study to all production executives on how best to work with music supervisors.


I can’t wait for Season 3….