Praise for Mozart in the Jungle
--THE NEW YORKER
"A book that raises hard questions about the place of classical music in North American culture...
a remarkable book that ensures you will never see a symphony concert in the same light again.
--Globe and Mail (Toronto)
--"It's a hoity-toity version of VH1's "Behind the Music..."
" Tindall's book is an 11th-hour wakeup call to orchestras to clean up their act before it's too late."
--The Evening Standard (London)
"...a candid and unstinting look at the vicissitudes of the life of a freelance musician in New York. Those in the field know what a hard life it is, highly competitive and a constant scramble with no job security or health insurance; now, thanks to Ms. Tindall's book, it's out there for everyone to see."
--The New York Times
"Tindall the author is a fine journalist with a sharp eye for the human details that make stories interesting."
--Eugene (OR) Weekly
"a fresh, highly readable and caustic perspective on an overglamorized world."
"Her memoir of the freelancer's harried, marginal existence is a valuable reality check to the glamorous myth of classical music."
--St. Petersburg Times
"Her description of life in the famous Allendale building on West End Avenue at 99th Street (always a low-rent haven for musicians) is delightful, as are her portraits of fellow musicians and her stories of life in the pit."
--Los Angeles Times
"Tindall’s central complaint—that the classical-music world has created a crisis by training too many musicians and supporting a culture of exorbitant pay for a few fortunate stars—is difficult to refute."
--The New Yorker
"her relentless catalogue of criticisms is ultimately too convincing to be dismissed...a real eye-opener.."
DAILY TELEGRAPH (London)
The arts column: what classical music can learn from the diamond industry
Rupert Christiansen listens to an analysis from someone who is actually making the noise
Blair Tindall's autobiography, Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs and Classical Music, created quite a stir when it was published in America last month. I ordered a copy, in guilty expectation of a muck-raking page-turner as compellingly nasty as Gelsey Kirkland's expose of the business of ballet, Dancing on my Grave.
* * * *
Blair Tindall: an imbalance between supply and demand
Alas, Tindall doesn't live up to her titillating title. There's very little about Mozart in these pages, even less about the jungle. The sex is desultory, the drugs are Class C. But what makes the book well worth reading is its intelligent analysis of the state of classical music, emanating from someone on the floor, actually making the noise, rather than a pundit or academic.
Tindall was a professional, freelance oboist - clearly a very good one, but not a front-ranking soloist. She characterises herself as a product of the post-war boom in high culture, and specifically of the expansion and fetishising of symphony orchestras (a theme explored in Joseph Horowitz's magnificent study, Understanding Toscanini).
It's hard now to imagine the status and glamour attached to the career of a classical instrumentalist in that reconstructive era, but Tindall notes the significant statistics and phenomena - between 1940 and 1960, for instance, the sale of musical instruments in the US quintupled. Van Cliburn was greeted with a ticker-tape parade after winning the 1958 Tchaikovsky Piano Competition, and conductor Leonard Bernstein became one of the 1960s' superstars. Classical music was prime-time and, even if it couldn't be profitable, it was seen as fundamental to civic and national self-respect.
But a generation reared on Elvis, the Beatles and the space race, impelled to modernise and liberate itself, gradually lost its deference to the music of the old order, with its attendant class associations. Only the lifejacket of subsidy - whether European state funding or American private philanthropy - could keep it afloat, and when that deflated, the classical music industry finally had to accept itself as an over-valued commodity.
The system didn't adjust quickly enough to this social change, with the result that a glut of young musicians were groomed to enter a profession that was both puffed up and weighed down with its own status and restrictive practices. By the turn of the millennium, Tindall estimates, the imbalance between supply and demand meant that more than 5,000 music graduates were pursuing 250 orchestral vacancies.
The remainder of these instrumentalists earn their living in the freelance market, of which Tindall paints a graphic picture. In the 1980s, anyone established on the circuit could find plenty of work. The record companies were still busy, fired by the arrival of the CD format. Advertisers needed accompaniments for jingles, films had original orchestral scores. Broadway shows used large pit bands, and almost all orchestras allowed "subbing" (known as "depping" in Britain), whereby an instrumentalist could pass his chair at a rehearsal or concert to a substitute and take a vacation or a better-paid gig.
Twenty years on, the scene has changed dramatically. Classical recording has shrunk to vanishing point in the US. Classically focused radio stations have dumbed down or sold out. Many smaller civic orchestras have closed or merged, and even the most prestigious ones have battened down the hatches after weathering untenable deficits. Movies increasingly use rock soundtracks, and on Broadway the unions have capitulated to the synthesizers and a reduction in the size of bands. An extraordinary amount of orchestral music can now be effectively simulated by digital means.
In sum, classical music's great wave of self-confidence has subsided, and despite a flurry of clever marketing strategies, it is doubtful that it will ever win back its former eminence in the cultural hierarchy, or the attendances of the 1950s and 1960s.
I'm not convinced this is altogether a bad thing. The stable was dirty and stuffy: it needed cleaning out. Perhaps, Tindall wisely concludes, "classical music could learn from the diamond companies, which have transformed a relatively common mineral into something precious by limiting its abundance in the marketplace".
Too much of the recent debate about classical music has focused on the decline in the quantity of performance or the size of audience, compared with the levels achieved in that brief post-war boom. Yet the quality of music-making should also be considered, and surely nobody who heard the Royal Opera's Die Walküre or John Eliot Gardiner's Nelson Mass at the Proms last week could come away worrying about a decline in standards.
We may have less classical music communicated to fewer people than we did 30 years ago, but how much does that matter if the quality of performance and the enthusiasm of audiences remain undimmed?
OPERA NEWS (July, 2005)
Blair Tindall structures her fascinating memoir with a prelude, three movements and an encore. The book begins as a lilting fairy tale, segues into opera and evolves into a dissonant, postmodern work — unflinching autobiography, bitter cautionary tale and riveting exposé of the classical-music business.
When she was seven, Blair Tindall lived in Vienna and fell under the spell of classical music. After seeing Arleen Auger in Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail, she dreamed of wearing a beautiful magic dress. In her elementary school, instruments were handed out alphabetically, and she drew the oboe — not a magic dress but a magic instrument that would transport her into the world of classical music. She discovered the joy of making music speak for her. That joy came with a cost — cutting, measuring, gouging and scraping reeds — a messy, daily task.
Tindall grew up fast. By age sixteen, as a student at North Carolina School of the Arts, she played the oboe beautifully but remained ignorant about Shakespeare, American history and even rudimentary math or science. Later, as a freelance musician in New York, she moved into the Allendale apartment building, a Valhalla for hip young musicians, managed by a bossy, bellowing Brünn-hilde. By the end of her tale, free of romantic illusions, Tindall sees the Allendale for what it is — a shoddy, disintegrating tenement swarming with cockroaches, broken locks and boarded-up windows — an apt metaphor, she decides, for the classical-music business, a narcissistic nineteenth-century industry.
Like an intrepid explorer, Tindall describes the music-business jungle with unsparing honesty and sardonic humor. She trades sexual favors for jobs, takes the stage-fright drug, Inderal, has a love affair with Sam Sanders (Itzhak Perlman’s pianist), runs frantically between private lessons, out-of-town gigs and subbing at the Philharmonic, and once in a while succeeds in making beautiful, transporting music. After failing to win a full-time position with the Philharmonic (sabotaged by an uncontrollable reed), Tindall played in various Broadway shows, earning $1,100 a week while suffering acute boredom and noise and environmental pollution.
Tindall’s symphony has an upbeat ending. She flees the music jungle, earns a master’s in journalism from Stanford University, becomes a working journalist and decides that she never needed a magic dress after all.
"Blair Tindall blows the lid off the world of classical music in his book that transcends the genre of memoir. While an intensely personal and revealing story, Mozart in the Jungle is also fine investigative journalism, with an abiding sense of history. It's a remarkable multi-layered work of non-fiction.
She entered the sacred temple of classical music--for so long shrouded in mystery, off-limits to critical examination--emerged with this tale of a non-profit "industry" bent on self destruction, conductors feeding at the trough of excess, both monetary and sexual. This book is a must-read for anyone concerned about the arts in America."
--Dale Maharidge, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning "And Their Children After Them."
"Parents of young classical musicians beware. After reading 'Mozart in the Jungle' you may want to redirect your children towards more wholesome pursuits, such as playing drums in a speed-metal band."
--Jacob Slichter, author of So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star and drummer for Semisonic (Closing Time)
"This is the most candid and unsparing account of orchestral life ever to see print. It details both the petty corruptions of power - the cliques that control who plays in orchestras and who doesn't - and the more sordid corruptions of flesh and cash. Blair Tindall tells it how it is - the sex, the drugs, the influence racketeers. The abuses she exposes begin at high school and persist at the deathbed. But she also illuminates, vividly and unflinchingly, how classically trained musicians have lost their grip on reality and, with it, their place in society. This is a valuable book, a must-read for anyone who cares for the preservation of live performance."
--Norman Lebrecht, Whitbread Award winner and author of "The Maestro Myth" and "Who Killed Classical Music?"
"It's always fun to read a book with so many of your friends in it! Blair Tindall's book combines a personal memoir of her years as a gigging oboist in New York's Upper West Side musicians' ghetto with a trenchant analysis of what's wrong with classical music today. No other book I know on the subject does this to such powerful effect; she leaves us with a disturbing, fact-filled portrait of American musical life that is both humorous and human."
--Composer William Bolcom, 1988 Pulitzer Prize for music
"In her wonderfully eloquent memoir Blair Tindall takes us into the rehearsal rooms and the orchestra pits, the dressing rooms and the bedrooms of the classical musicians who make such beautiful music in some of America's best known orchestras. Mozart in the Jungle is a remarkably candid and courageous book."
--Margot Livesay, author, "Banishing Verona"
"Blair Tindall opens up a fascinating world which most of us---fans of classical music included---know nothing about. Mozart in the Jungle is funny, startling, heartbreaking, informative, and utterly absorbing. Blair Tindall writes like an angel."
--Lee Smith, author, "The Last Girls"
"Busloads of kids arrive in Manhattan daily, driven to 'make it there.' But for many, the climb to the top is more often like a trek through a jungle. Blair Tindall brilliantly captures the energy, excitement and existential angst of it all, including the Allendale Apartments, the place where the lives of so many of us - musicians, artists and writers - intersected. It took a 'double threat' like Blair Tindall - a world class oboist whose musical talents are matched by her journalistic skills - to tell the story. It makes me long for those days, leaky ceilings and all."
--Bill Lichtenstein, senior executive producer of public radio's "The Infinite Mind;" president, Lichtenstein Creative Media
“No book before this has so accurately captured the harrowing life of the free-lance artist trying to make a career in the music business as Blair Tindall’s “Mozart in the Jungle.” While her experiences are unique to her, all musicians recognize the financial insecurity, artistic frustration and personal chaos that she describes. And along the way, framing her story is an unblinking, thoghtful, detailed analysis of the recent difficulties in the symphony, opera, and ballet fields, and some insights into the current state of musician employment – or, more accurately, non-employment in the recording field. A valuable and engrossing work.”
--William Moriarity, former president, Local 802 American Federation of Musicians.
Copyright 2005 Associated Newspapers Ltd.
The Evening Standard (London)
June 15, 2005
HEADLINE: Sex, drugs 'n' Rachmaninov
BYLINE: NORMAN LEBRECHT
ORCHESTRAL life, at its best, is a cross between summer camp and labour camp. The Gulag aspect involves endless repetition of tasks at the command of a remote, sometimes cruel commander. There is fear, too, of weakness and betrayal. One wrong note overheard by a neighbouring player can undermine a musician's confidence and propel him or her towards dismissal.
The compensations are measured in comradeship. The orchestra is one big family; when a player falls on hard times, others rally round with homebaked cakes and cash. On tour, there is lots of fun to be had in bars and bed.
Or so the legend goes.
A grimmer reality is exposed in an explosive personal memoir, Mozart in the Jungle (Atlantic Books), that has just appeared in the US. It opens in a cocaine den, and then gets worse. Blair Tindall, an idealistic young oboist from North Carolina, discovered the facts of orchestral life in high school where the way to get ahead was by sleeping with the student concertmaster and the middle-aged professor.
Once in the swing of things, she found that getting gigs in the big city meant fixing a few tenured instrumentalists, one way or another.
She got to play in the New York Philharmonic with Tennstedt, Bernstein and Mehta and made her best money on a 40-week tour of The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber in Concert, where she leaped naked into a hotel pool with an English conductor who promised her a run in Aspects of Love. "I got hired for most of my gigs in bed," says Tindall, unaffectedly. She made $1,100 a week on Broadway, before they replaced real musicians with electronic machines.
Drugs were ubiquitous - coke, pot, poppers and, when all else failed, alcohol. A beautiful cellist in the American Symphony Orchestra wound up selling her body on the streets for a fix; diagnosed HIV-positive, she sold everything except her $350,000 Testore cello, a last shred of dignity.
Orchestras had plenty of gaps for freelancers, provided they fixed the job providers. A new, conductorless chamber orchestra called Orpheus assembled in the mid-Eighties spouting a superior ethos of equality. Tindall smiles out from an Orpheus photo on the front of a Deutsche Grammophon album of Elgar and Vaughan Williams, a picture taken during the band's debut at the 1987 Salzburg Festival. She slept with an oboist to get the job, and with other Orpheans to keep it going. None of her assignations sounds like much fun and her home life was no happier.
Freelance musicians in New York would rent small apartments in the Allendale, a rundown block on 99th Street that rang day and night to the misery of practising. Her one true love, the pianist Samuel Sanders, who accompanied Itzhak Perlman for a paltry fee, died of a congenital disease.
At 39, Tindall decided to call it quits and lift the lid on the whole rotten charade. Her story, admirably unvarnished and intelligently contextualised, has been authenticated by a former president of the New York musicians' union, Bill Moriarty, who says: "No book before this has so accurately captured the harrowing life of the freelance artist trying to make a career in the music business."
"I only wish I were making it all up," Tindall told me. She is a freelance writer now, keen on her new vocation and well shot of the Allendale. She plays the oboe still for pleasure but seldom attends symphony concerts, which she sees as a realm of unreality, paying fortunes to conductors and section leaders and a pittance to the rank and file who make most of the sound.
READING her vivid manuscript, I wonder whether anything can be done before orchestral life is consumed by its manifold corruptions. The London scene differs markedly from New York because there are more orchestras here, more openings for newcomers and therefore fewer opportunities for extortion.
Nevertheless, musicians have to toe the line and orchestras go to great lengths to protect miscreants.
I know of one key player whose school-gate prowls for young teens were laughed off by the band and others whose racism governs auditions. A friend of mine who was invited to try out as concertmaster for one of the London orchestras was subjected to barrack-room assaults of sadism and personal vilification. It was supposed to test his suitability for leadership but he concluded that viciousness was endemic to orchestral life and he went off to play in a string quartet.
Members of the Berlin Philharmonic took bribes from record companies in the bad old days; one had his mistress put on a media company's payroll. The professors of the Vienna Philharmonic are musically renowned for their moral flexibility - all in the service of the sacred art, of course.
IT IS an unstated axiom of orchestral life that naughty boys are protected by omerta and that civil law is suspended in the rehearsal room. This detachment, dangerous to mental health, aggravates the growing distance between orchestras and worldly reality. It is almost as if we are speaking different languages.
Orchestras like to pretend they are part of the living arts, but the composers they play are all dead.
They attach great importance to titular appointments that to an innocent eye are utterly meaningless. The new "principal conductor" of the LSO, Valery Gergiev, will devote no more time to it than he does to his other three jobs.
The London Philharmonic will go through the whole of next season without a visit from its so-called "principal conductor", Kurt Masur, though he is no more than a tunnel away, working with the Orchestre National de France.
Who are they kidding? Not the audience, which is in steep decline and is never consulted about anything.
Symphony concerts have fallen off the map of cultured people's consciousness. Tindall's book is an 11th-hour wakeup call to orchestras to clean up their act before it's too late. What is needed is more honesty, more democracy and more engagement with audiences who ought to have a say in choosing programmes and conductors.
Untenable? In my view there is no alternative if orchestras are to survive into the 21st century.
Copyright 2005 Telegraph Group Limited
THE DAILY TELEGRAPH(LONDON)
June 04, 2005, Saturday
HEADLINE: Sex and drugs in the orchestra Blair Tindall was the original classical babe - but her career was more tawdry than glamorous
BYLINE: by Michael Shelden
There are now so many daring beauties vying for attention on the classical music scene that one wag has playfully proposed a concerto for cleavage and orchestra.
Twenty years ago, oboist Blair Tindall was among the first wave of sexy young things to invade the ranks. A player at various times with the New York Philharmonic and the San Francisco Symphony, she made her solo debut at Carnegie Hall in 1991 and posed seductively with long hair cascading over one shoulder, oboe clutched to her chest.
It was the kind of glamorous image that was supposed to make oboists look hip, but as Tindall argues in her scathing new book on the classical world, Mozart in the Jungle, the business is still largely run behind the scenes by old-fashioned males who rule over orchestras like feudal lords.
Conductors haven't changed much in 200 years, she says, except that now they are paid astronomical sums. With a mischievous gleam in her eye, she tells me how a fellow player dismissed one millionaire maestro: "All that money just for waving his hands around and not making a sound."
Starry-eyed and ambitious when she played in her prime under Leonard Bernstein and other major conductors, Tindall is now thoroughly disillusioned with a profession that rewards a few stars extravagantly and pays the rest peanuts.
During most of her "glamorous" career in New York, she could barely afford the rent on her two-room apartment in the shabby Allendale, an old building at the centre of a crime-ridden neighbourhood. It was full of talented but poor musicians waiting for big breaks that never came.
"It was depressing," she says. "I lived at the Allendale for 21 years and was afraid I was going to become a lifer. Some people moved in and never moved out. They made just enough money from their music to survive. But that's no way to live."
To prove her point, she takes me on a tour of the Allendale, which is as a shabby as ever, and still full of hard-up musicians. The corridors are dark, the fire escape grimy, and I've seen closets bigger than some of the rooms.
Now that Tindall is 45, she is trying to get out of the business to which she has devoted so much of her life. She still accepts the occasional gig, most recently serving as the oboist in the pit of a Broadway musical, but these days she plays mostly to keep up her health insurance coverage, and not for the money itself or the pleasure of the music.
Her profession is so ruthlessly competitive that even the best players sometimes have to endure living in near-poverty as they wait for years to land a full-time position with a major orchestra. Tindall came close, but in the end all her jobs were temporary.
She faced daunting odds in America, as do most musicians in Europe. "If you take all the major orchestras in America together, there are jobs for only 100 full-time oboists," she says "Yet there are 300 union oboists in the New York area alone."
In her desperation to find work, she was prepared to do almost anything - even have sex, she confesses. "I did notice when I became involved in a relationship with someone in the business that my work picked up," she adds. "You need all the friends you can get. The music world is very incestuous."
Indeed, to hear her tell it, it is full of older men preying on the hopes and insecurities of young women.
"As a business, music can be very frightening - never knowing when your next job is going to come, waiting for the phone to ring," she says. "Hooking up with the older guys gave me a sense of security. I thought they could help me - and some did.
"When I started my career, there weren't many men around me who were my own age. I found myself turning to a series of father-figures."
The first was a music teacher. She was 16 and he was 43. After seducing her, while Tristan und Isolde was playing on the stereo, he made her do her homework and gave her a copy of Lolita.
Tindall soon discovered that sex appeal played well at every level in the supposedly prim and proper classical world. And she joined in the revelry with abandon.
After reading her book, no one who listens to the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra's recordings for Deutsche Grammophon will be able to focus entirely on the music. A group photo on one of their covers features several attractive young men and women dressed all in white. One of them is Blair, who recalls someone joking that the group resembled the sperm in Woody Allen's Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex."
From her stories about life on the road, you would think that there isn't much difference between rock groups and classical music ensembles. Both seem to have a fondness for sex and drugs before and after concerts. Certainly, Tindall claims to have witnessed a lot of cocaine use among her fellow players.
But there is a big difference, she insists, between her crowd and the rockers. "Sex and drugs are a show of exuberance in rock," she says. "In the world of classical music, they are more of an escape from a sense of confinement and depression."
Is she drawing this grim portrait because she is bitter at not making it to the top?
"No. I'm not bitter," she insists. "I only want to argue that classical music has to change if it wants to thrive. It has to be less formal, less intimidating, more honest about what it is and isn't.
"The atmosphere at the average concert is very forbidding. It makes everyone uncomfortable. But that's because the basic model that's in place has been there since at least the Sixties. It's too rigid, and the result is that classical music may not be dying, but it's certainly shrinking."
What has happened to Tindall's career is not uncommon. As a young girl growing up in North Carolina, she was encouraged to take up a music as a way to escape provincial obscurity and find success in the big city.
Her supportive parents dutifully packed her off to New York for training at the prestigious Julliard School of Music. Everyone had high hopes for her, but no one prepared her for the life of rejection and chronic financial hardship that lay ahead.
Now, rather sadly, she doesn't even care that much for the oboe any more. "It's really a pain to play now," she says. "I don't have an emotional attachment to the instrument. It brought me attention when I was young, and I liked that. But that's a bad reason to get into this business.
"Finally, I had to admit to myself that I didn't love it enough to take a job away from someone else who wanted to work."
She changed careers a few years ago, going back to college to get a journalism degree. Today, she earns her living by writing about the musical scene for the New York Times and other papers. Mozart in the Jungle is her first book, and its scandalous peek behind the decorous faade of classical music is bound to cause shock waves when it is published later this summer. An advance review from the critic Norman Lebrecht calls it "the most candid and unsparing account of orchestral life ever to see print".
She is already hoping that Hollywood will take an interest and see the cinematic potential. But there is one big problem: few actresses are likely to relish the prospect of appearing on screen with puffed-up cheeks, a red complexion and bulging eyes.
Tindall nods ruefully. "Unfortunately, nobody looks good playing the oboe."
KIRKUS REVIEWS, MAY 1, 2005
Oboist Tindall debuts with a provocative blend of no-holds-barred memoir and tough-minded reporting about the state of classical music.
Born in 1960, Tindall played the piano in elementary school and switched to the oboe at age 11. She was an indifferent student at her Chapel Hill, N.C., school, but music won her praise and pretty concert clothes similar to the "magic dress" she'd yearned for ever since she saw a magnificently garbed opera singer in Vienna at age seven. During the 1970s, it was easy to get scholarships to places like the North Carolina School of the Arts, scathingly depicted by the author as rife with drugs, sex and predatory teachers who hit on the students while doing nothing to prepare them academically for any career other than music. Interspersed with Tindall's personal story are chapters tracing the arts boom that greatly increased funding for classical music organizations, which promptly expanded with little thought for whether their audience base justified lengthier seasons, expensive new buildings and overpaid star conductors and performers. The results were ballooning deficits and a floating proletariat of musicians who, like Tindall, patched together a professional career of freelance gigs without ever getting a permanent orchestra seat or any real financial and emotional stability. Problematically, the author's tone is sour and disillusioned from the first page; readers never feel that she had a real vocation or even much love for the music. Tindall's clunky prose and overuse of that "magic dress" metaphor are also off-putting. But her relentless catalogue of criticisms is ultimately too convincing to be dismissed. She eventually got a master's degree in journalism and made her mark with a controversial New York Times article about the inflated salaries of executives and conductors at nonprofit (indeed, financially floundering) classical music organizations. She urges young people considering a career in music to "research the reality" and advises taxpayers to insist that their local arts institutions be fiscally responsible.