Chapel Hill native scores with Amazon series

smacknee@mcclatchy.comApril 5, 2014 

After Netflix proved with “House of Cards” that shows born online could find mainstream success, Amazon announced four new original series in March, one with roots in North Carolina. “Mozart in the Jungle” is based on the racy 2005 memoir by Chapel Hill native Blair Tindall of her life as a classical oboist.

Tindall, 54, was a professor’s daughter in Chapel Hill who went to high school at the N.C. School of the Arts in Winston-Salem and then played in the New York Philharmonic, the San Francisco Symphony and on Broadway in the ’80s and ’90s .

Like her memoir, the show centers on a young oboe player from North Carolina who is bemused by the rampant sex, drinking and drugs behind the scenes of the outwardly staid classical music scene. Music jobs dried up for her after the book because of its tell-all nature. She talked recently about the show, her book and career; these are edited excerpts of that conversation.

Q: Did the reaction just after “Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music” was published give you any reason to expect a success like this, down the road?

A: I was not prepared for the vitriol and lack of understanding of our unique world, but I’m OK for round two. People feel free to say anything online without realizing what it might mean to the people involved. I fantasized this show might happen, but never imagined it really would, and in such style.

Q: When you wrote the book, was there interest in filming it?

A: This subject and book was out of left field. My agent kept getting comments that no one is interested in classical music. He went to bat for the book deal, and he got the job done in style, but it took a couple of go-rounds. The tome was featured as book of the week in Entertainment Weekly, and I think that’s where (series creator) Jason Schwartzman saw it. He picked it up within days of publication. I have not met Jason yet, but I’m a fan.

Q: Have you seen any uptick in book sales since the pilot went online?

A: Yes, in a surprising way. Within the last year, Bookscan has given authors access to their own sales info. In the last month I saw a big jump, plus a few new Amazon reviews.

Q: How involved have you been in the show?

A: I’m not at all involved, nor should I be. This is created by Jason Schwartzman, grandson of the famous conductor Anton Coppola and star of “Bored To Death” on HBO. The script was co-written by Broadway great Alex Timbers. There’s major talent on the show, including director Paul Weitz and the terrific actors like Malcolm McDowell, Bernadette Peters and Mexican hearththrob Gael Garcia Bernal. These people know what they’re doing. I stay out of the way. The show was filmed in Manhattan, and I’m in L.A.

Q: Do you see any signs that the TV series will also delve into the book’s theme of the rise and fall of symphony orchestras and how that contributed to the desperate competition among musicians?

A: Rise and fall was the whole point of the book – the memoir was a late afterthought. I was impressed by the TV-makers’ storyline, including the board chairperson and outgoing conductor. This is a prominent subject right now, especially regarding the horror that just happened with the Minnesota Orchestra, and that their CEO collected his nearly $600K “nonprofit” salary while the musicians were dispatched to find retail and restaurant jobs, if they could, and most of us are too old. The main message of the book is that the nonprofit model has got to change.

Q: Do you still play oboe professionally?

A: I am playing chamber music in a Vermont chamber music festival in July, first performance in a few years. Thanks to the show, I just got a new top-model Loree oboe. But I have not been able to be hired because of the book, and I look forward to playing for fun. I was originally a pianist and now plan to start composing.

Q: How has the TV project changed life for you?

A: I was so destitute this time last year, I was driving an airport limo, which is not a job for someone of AARP age. It’s been a quick, weird trip. I sincerely hope the show might popularize classical music. In the Amazon comments, I read how much people love hearing the music.

Q: Any new projects in the works?

A: Yes, I made a travel show in Bali about world music. A screenplay about a black Civil War hero (my father, George Brown Tindall, was one of the originators of Southern history in the 1950s). A second memoir that I like to think is humorous. I also work for a ghostwriting firm.

Q: How often do you get back to North Carolina?

A: Every other month. I’m a Chapel Hill native, Tar Heel-born, etc. My mother, Blossom, is almost 93. I have many good friends in the RDU area as well and always identify myself as a North Carolinian – because that’s what I will always be. I was born, pre-Memorial Hospital, at what is now the N.C. School of Math and Science near Duke. Ironic.

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