Muskegon, Michigan, Sept. 15, 2015, — Friday, Oct. 16, West Michigan Symphony will present IGUDESMAN & JOO: AND NOW MOZART, at Muskegon’s Frauenthal Theater.
If Trey Parker and Matt Stone played the violin and piano, if Penn and Teller performed music instead of magic, and if Seth MacFarlane had a twin, they would be the brilliantly outrageous Igudesman & Joo. Violinist Aleksey Igudesman and pianist Hyung-Ki Joo are the inventive comic duo whose hilarious mix of music, pop culture and pure zaniness has won them fans of all ages and cultures worldwide. As evidence, their YouTube sketches have attracted close to 40 million viewers.
Highly trained musicians, their inspired silliness can start with Rachmaninoff or Liszt and find its way through martial arts, movie classics, rock, hip-hop, folk, heavy metal and disco, step dancing and Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks. Igudesman & Joo share the subversive comedic sensibilities of such influences as “South Park,” SNL, Ricky Gervais and the “Portlandia” team.
“There’s no real definition for what we do,” says Igudesman. “It’s a kind of theatrical comic event that works on multiple levels.”
As an antidote to the stuffiness of most concerts, Igudesman and Joo transform the concert stage into a musical Pee-wee’s Playhouse, where the three Bs can be Bach, Beethoven and Bond, James Bond. Igudesman and Joo don’t just play the violin with a vibrating milk frother or use wood blocks to tickle the ivories, they do it with dazzling virtuosity. The result, as “Vanity Fair” puts it: “the craziest, most hysterically funny music ever.”
The Oct. 16 engagement at the Frauenthal Theater is part of the first leg of two huge multi-city 2015-2016 US tours with performances of their show And Now Mozart…which may or may not include any Mozart. It’s typical Igudesman and Joo, several standard deviations from the classical norm.
The concert opens with “Photographer,” a piece that plays on the annoying disturbances that can ruin a concert. Of course, Igudesman & Joo take full advantage of the interruption. “We revel in the magic that happens when things get out of hand,” observes Joo.
In addition to the ingenious musical mash-ups that have become their concert calling cards, the show also includes such sketches as “Music Police,” in which Igudesman accuses Joo of speeding through Chopin and devolves into a rapid-fire, tour de force of styles, composers and techniques, from Tchaikovsky to Phillip Glass.
The pair’s loving but humorous homage to Gershwin, “Spanish Fly Rhapsody,” features Igudesman flamenco dancing and a tall tale about a guy named George. “Violaerobics,” is a fitness workout for the audience inspired by Richard Simmons with a leotard-clad Joo leading the festivities.
The second half highlights the subliminal random thoughts of a pianist playing Schubert, from “did I leave the iron on” to “why didn’t I practice this difficult piece a lot more.” “Navigation,” an ode to Siri and GPS systems, guides Igudesman through a musical performance.
Leaving no genre untouched, “Cars & Fiddles” takes country and western music for a ride. “Gravity” seems to defy the laws of physics by removing seemingly essential parts of the piano and then throws in head banging heavy metal for good measure. Oh, and about Mozart, perhaps he will show up in the duos’ now classic assault on Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.”
And, while most of the concert is played for laughs, Igudesman & Joo do show off their considerable musical chops with compositions of their own or from the classical repertoire. Ironically, if Igudesman and Joo weren’t such gifted serious musicians they wouldn’t be quite as funny. Their talent and extensive musical knowledge give them the freedom to be reverently irreverent.
The two met as teenagers, training at the prestigious Yehudi Menuhin School in Surrey, England. Each has a distinguished solo career, composing, arranging and performing with orchestras and chamber groups worldwide, as well as working on film scores and mentoring young musicians. The successful collaboration was born out of a desire to create a concert that they would actually want to attend.
“Aleksey and I have a Ping-Pong relationship,” Joo says. “Ideas get flung back and forth quickly though it often takes a long time before a sketch is really ready to present to an audience. The performances’ seeming spontaneity is the result of shows crafted with the utmost precision.”
Ultimately, Igudesman and Joo often quote the motto they have tattooed on their biceps. “We are never making fun of music. We are having fun with music.” All right, they don’t have the tattoos but they do believe, as their hero Victor Borge said, ”Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” For Igudesman & Joo, music simply provides the vehicle.
Often called the successors to such classical comedic forefathers as Victor Borge and P.D.Q. Bach, Igudesman & Joo take great pleasure in overturning traditional attitudes toward classical music. Like the musical humorists who have gone before them, they are brilliant performers whose technical expertise is as impressive as their comedic talents. The New York Times said of their New Year’s Eve 2013 debut with the New York Philharmonic:
“Their blend of classical music and comedy, laced with pop culture references and a wholly novel take on the word slapstick, is fueled by genuine, dazzling virtuosity.”
The Friday, Oct. 16, production is a West Michigan Symphony special event and starts at 7:30 p.m. at the Frauenthal Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Muskegon. Tickets to this special performance are offered in addition to regular season packages, the orchestra does not perform in this concert. Prices are $27.50 to $51.50, and student tickets are $16.50. Group rates are also available. Tickets can be obtained by calling the WMS ticket office at 231.726.3231 ext. 223, in person at 360 W. Western Avenue or online at westmichigansymphony.org.