Can Classical Music Find a Modern Audience with Jason Schwartzman's 'Mozart in the Jungle?'

Courtesy of Amazon Studios
'Mozart in the Jungle'

Says castmember Malcolm McDowell, "When I did 'A Clockwork Orange,' Beethoven was never so popular, so if we can do the same for classical music that 'Clockwork' did for Beethoven, it would be fantastic"

Jason Schwartzman really wanted to hit the drum.

At the Tuesday-night premiere of Amazon's Mozart in the Jungle, the series he co-created with director (and cousin) Roman Coppola and Broadway vet Alex Timbers, the actor leaned over into the pit of Alice Tully Hall’s Starr Theater and asked the percussionist, "Can I borrow that mallet?"

Schwartzman pounded the drum, a fitting beginning for the opening celebration of the series based on oboist Blair Tindall's memoir that follows a regime change at the New York Symphony.

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"Growing up, I always loved classical music, but I felt very intimidated by it — this was an opportunity to learn," says Schwartzman, who is also a musician (he's the former drummer of Phantom Planet and has an indie solo project called Coconut Records) and owns a label, Young Baby Records. Coppola adds to The Hollywood Reporter," Jason and I grew up in a family that's always put a large appreciation on music," citing their great-uncle Anton Coppola, a famous opera conductor and composer who was in attendance for the event.

However, the classical music world sometimes gets a bad rap, pegged as closed-off, elitist and expensive. Is it still relevant? "The show raises that question," says Gael Garcia Bernal, who plays the new "celebrity" conductor in the series and is now a fan of the Symphony. "They are struggling to make themselves relevant, and they have that problem because they feel they are only catering to affluent people, and the music is not moving anywhere."

Malcolm McDowell, who plays the outgoing symphony conductor, also explains, "If we can bring in some young people to listen to classical music, we've done our job. ... When I did A Clockwork Orange, Beethoven was never so popular. So if we can do the same for classical music that Clockwork did for Beethoven, it would be fantastic."

Bernadette Peters, who stars as the symphony's president and chairwoman of the board, says she's not a classical music fan, but working on this show has introduced her to new works. "I was just talking about this violin solo, and I was like, ‘Would you get me that for Christmas?' " says Peters. "These are beautiful pieces of music that I think people will want to go hear and buy CDs. It will be good in all the realms."

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"I was never really in love with classical music before this show, but now I find it incredibly arousing, uplifting, meditative, passionate, sexy," adds Saffron Burrows, who plays cellist Cynthia. "But I think you have to be at close quarters to it to really appreciate it."

Author Tindall, whose experience playing the oboe is the basis for the book and series, agrees that it can be difficult for classical music's reach to expand. "You have to play by the rules and not clap in certain places — it makes it very unapproachable sometimes," she explains.

Lola Kirke plays Tindall's alter ego of sorts, Hailey, a young oboist new to the Symphony. She noted that Amazon's release of the entire season at once is beneficial for the series and its viewers.

"The show bridges the gap between high and low culture — being about classical music and being on the Internet," Kirke tells THR of binge-watching. "I watch ‘Breaking Bad,' and I don't feel like there's anything outside the world of that. … There's no meth in our show, though. Not yet."

The first season of Mozart in the Jungle premieres in full on Amazon Prime on Dec. 23.