Laughter is the Best Medicine!

931709By Georgina Benison — MUSCAT: Feb 19 – I have never laughed so much in the Opera House as on Saturday afternoon. The deliciously daft duo, Igudesman and Joo, were not just slapstick-funny but clever-funny, making the kind of musical jokes and puns that can only be achieved by highly trained musicians. The show really was appropriate for children this time. I didn’t hear a bleat or a cry for the whole 70 minutes, but there was plenty of irreverent, subversive comedy for adults, and for musicians too, though not much Mozart.
Korean-British pianist Hyung-ki Joo and Russian-German violinist Aleksey Igudesman met when they were only twelve years old at the prestigious Yehudi Menuhin school for gifted young musicians in Surrey, England and instantly bonded over a love of dead composers and dead-pan humour, Mahler and Monty Python. The result would become the craziest, most hysterically funny music ever, combining wicked inventiveness with dazzling virtuosity in a concert hall setting.
The performance comprised a series of skits which take twists and turns you just don’t see coming and end up with tunes within tunes, or juxtaposed with apparently unrelated pieces.
The opening sequence was a battle of wits between the violinist who wants to play Mozart and the pianist declaring that is boring and the audience would prefer Bond, James Bond. Mozart wins out and they play a little Mozart until Joo slips in the bass riff from — yes, the James Bond theme — and gradually the piece morphs from Mozart to Bond via various other irrelevant musical references.
Aleksey slipped off stage as Joo was playing a virtuosic piano passage, only to return towards the climax, dressed as a traffic policeman, and accuse him, in a Pythonesque sequence, of speeding and not being in control of the vehicle. To prove his sobriety, a whistle-stop tour of music-through-the-repertoire ensued, with Aleksey naming composers and Hyung-ki playing snatches of pastiche until the next order was barked. The styles were clearly identifiable as Chopin (a pun on shoppin’), Rachmaninov (lush), Schubert, Strauss and when he “passed” that test, the contemporary composers of Stockhausen (loud, ugly chords), Webern (sparse), Dallapiccola, Berio, John Cage (suddenly a pause, hands poised in the air), Terry Riley (a simple, repetitive pattern), Philip Glass (no change), John Adams (continues…), Michael Nyman (the same, but down a semitone) until they had run out of Minimalist composers, so another outrageous parody: Igudesman had to ‘navigate’ his way through Bach’s E major Prelude with the ‘help’ of a musical Sat Nav. I hardly need describe the potential for more zany musical mash-ups using this 21st century device.
The central section of the Matinee was based on a brilliant arrangement (and interruptions) of an extended version of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”, with the dazzling clarinet intro played like an angry fly by Igudesman on the fiddle. The rest of the Concerto was split between them, with Joo lampooning Louis Armstrong singing scat, and later, Aleksey picked up on an earlier ‘Spanish theme’ and sang a tango while playing a particularly rhythmic passage. He must be the only fiddle player who can dance, do contorted facial expressions and sing while playing — without skipping a beat!
There was the sketch where Joo, angry with Aleksay’s annoying fiddle playing, takes his bow away. Down-cast, he wonders how he can proceed — and 931705then miraculously finds a spare bow inside the piano — and continues playing. When that one too is confiscated he reaches inside again to produce a tiny bow — presumably from a child’s quarter-size violin. He then begins to play a virtuosic piece of Sarasate which gets a thunderous applause — until Joo removes both bow and fiddle. Magic prevails, and it transpires that an electric fiddle is masquerading as a piano prop stick and, with a yellow cable also hiding inside the piano lid, (however, was this Steinway able to play at all?) he transforms himself into a 1970s Heavy Metal Rock Star, joined by a leather-clad Joo who finds an electric guitar/keyboard taped to the piano leg. A backing track with drums and echo effects enabled a convincing performance to evolve out of this musical madness.
They are also both composers and treated us to a hilarious spoof on a Tom Lehrer ballad about laughing to stop yourself from feeling sad, recalling Victor Borge, “laughter is the shortest distance between two people”. The finale, however, was a stylistic parody in reverse; they played Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” in the style of Mozart, complete with theme and variations and Operatic aria. These guys are talented with a capital T. Their motto is “We don’t make fun OF music, we are having fun WITH music” and Muscat got lucky that day, unlike poor Mozart who drew the short straw. Better luck next time!