‘Mozart In The Jungle’ Shows How Hot-Shot Conductors Can Really Achieve Musical Greatness

Mozart In The Jungle (producer: Caroline Baron) is back for a new season, and the musical drama has left Italy and is spurring its characters in a new direction. After discovering that her passion for music doesn't stop at the oboe in Season 3, Mozart In The Jungle Season 4 will be all about Hailey Rutledge (Lola Kirke) attempting to make an impression as a conductor by winning the Fukumoto competition. The series blends fact and fiction well, so is the Fukumoto conducting competition real?

Well, as it turns out, Hailey will be competing for a fictional prize, but the core of her story is based on real experience. This particular fictional contest is named after Masi Oka's character, Fukumoto Akihiro, who's introduced in Season 4 as a wealthy potential donor who could help save the symphony. If Fukumoto is passionate enough about classical music to fund a New York-based symphony, then of course the Japanese tech millionaire has the funds to create a conducting contest in his name.

According to Mozart writer Susan Coyne's comments at a premiere event, this story will show how difficult the conducting career path can be for women. "There is still a phenomenal barrier for women to become conductors," she said at a premiere event, per the Savannah College of Art and Design Connector. "There are about 150 major orchestras in the world and only four of them are led by women." According to The Guardian, female conductor Marin Alsop was the first woman to conduct the Last Night of the Proms (a series of British orchestral concerts called "Promenades" that date back centuries) in 2013. "I’m shocked," Alsop quipped. "There still can be firsts for women."

Geoff Johnson

While sexism is hardly ever surprising, star Lola Kirke told Nylon that even her tutor — a female conductor herself — was happy to see this storyline. "She was very moved by the representation," Kirke said, "because there had been nothing. So I’m very excited to get to be one of the early representations of women conductors on screen."

And while it is rare, there are some outstanding female conductors out there. Take the accomplished Susanna Mälkki, who went from a professional musician to being chief conductor of the Helsinki Symphonic Orchestra, the LA Philharmonic, and guesting at the Met Opera in 2016. So while the path for women can often be difficult, women conductors have achieved greatness in the field, something Hailey should take as an inspiration.

Unfortunately, there are some who still believe women shouldn't break into conducting. In an interview with the Telegraph, conductor Mariss Janson said in 2017, "I grew up in a different world, and for me seeing a woman on the podium… well, let’s just say it’s not my cup of tea," though after a backlash he did apologize, releasing a statement that read, "Every one of my female colleagues and every young woman wishing to become a conductor can be assured of my support."

Rodrigo can sometimes leave his head in the clouds when it comes to artistic accomplishment, but in the trailer for Season 4, he very practically points out that winning a competition like Fukumoto's could be a huge milestone in Hailey's burgeoning career. And in real life, aspiring conductors do turn to competitions in order to boost their profile. There's the Donatella Flick Conducting Competition, specifically designed to be an opportunity for young conductors to get professional experience through a partnership with the London Symphonic Orchestra. The process sounds similar to what Hailey is going through, with multiple rounds and a highly selective process — according to the competition guidelines, only three of the 20 competitors make it to the final round where they conduct the LSO.

There's certainly a long way to go before Hailey is as accomplished and well-known as Rodrigo, but this competition could be the boost she needs to move on to the next step.