Mozart In The Jungle, by Blair Tindall

A view of life behind the prim and proper facade of classical music
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The Independent Culture

Presented with middle-aged hindsight, this autobiography wants to have it both ways: as a raunchy exposé of the music business and a serious critique of its politics and economics. It also presents itself as a morality tale, with the heroine renouncing thrills and spills for "a value-driven life". It's no surprise that a writer who describes her love-making as "exuberant" should open with an expletive-splattered prelude depicting a bunch of top-flight musicians snorting and flogging coke in a Harlem slum.

Her virginity - idealism plus talent plus hard work - gets its first brush with corruption from a fondling conductor, then two teachers at her conservatory. But the real game starts when she hitches up with the principal oboist of the New York Philharmonic, and discovers that through his patronage she can get plenty of well-paid work. Then she hitches up with another power-broker, then another, until economic reality hits her between the eyes. Her freelancing prospects look bleak "since the oboists in a position to hire me were either my ex-boyfriends, or oboe rivals who hated my ex-boyfriends".

So what's a girl to do? The following chapter is titled "The Pits", the pits in question being those of Lloyd Webber musicals - more sex and drugs, and a stable income to boot. But the clock ticks remorselessly, and desperation sets in with an accelerating whirl of abortive relationships. "I was in a narcissistic industry that was stuck in the 19th century. I gave myself permission to escape."

Tindall concludes with a magnificent swipe at the fat cat conductors and administrators who grow rich on the backs of the bands they run.

Readable and graphic though it is, this book's presentation of musical reality feels skewed by the fact that its hell is self-created; a different oboist might have told a very different tale. Its best residue is of incidental things: the vignettes of great musicians, and the way the disabled pianist Sam Sanders - briefly a lover - counterpointed Tindall's sick comedy with his own heroic tragedy.