Igudesman and Joo, who grew up watching Monty Python, bring their music comedy to CMF Saturday
By Peter Alexander
“We like to have the audacity to attempt to do crazy things.”
Aleksey Igudesman, a Russian-born violinist, is talking about the origin of his music-and-comedy duo with pianist Hyung-ki Joo. “We actually wanted to create a new type of performance which truly embraces music, classical music, but also theater, and comedy, and make a kind of a very special marriage of those three genres,” he says.
In other words, “something completely different”—which makes sense when you know that Igudesman and Joo both grew up watching, and loving, Monty Python.
The music and comedy duo will present their “A Little Nightmare Music” at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 1, in the Chautauqua Auditorium as part of this year’s Colorado Music Festival. Terry Jones, he of Monty Python fame and director of Life of Brian and Month Python’s Meaning of Life, called the show “very musical, very engaging and very funny.” You may purchase tickets here.
The first thing to know about Aleksey Igudesman and Hyung-ki Joo—the individuals apart from the duo of Igudesman and Joo—is that they are superb musicians who have their own careers part from their partnership. They perform as soloists and chamber musicians, and both are composers as well.
“I love conducting orchestras, especially my own compositions,” Igudesman explains. “For both of us composition has always been very important. Even in our shows it’s all our arrangements and original compositions, but we write and publish a lot of music outside of the shows as well.
“I’ve also been doing a lot of film music work, whenever I’ve had time. I’ve worked with Hans Zimmer, so that’s always been a fun side thing to do. We worked a lot on the Sherlock Holmes movies together, so all of the fiddling on that was me.”
Professional musicianship is the foundation on which their comedy is built—and make no mistake, they are virtuoso performers. (For example, notice just the quality of playing in this excerpt from one of their shows.) Without the virtuosity, most of their acts would not be possible. Igudesman believes this is one of the things that sets their shows apart from other comedy acts in music—that they are not primarily comedians, but first of all musicians who happen to take comedy seriously, too.
“We are an act who do music,” he says. “We are musicians, we’re passionate about music, but we are also passionate about humor. We have been very lucky to have wonderful orchestras invite us to perform with them. (They) have taken us seriously because we are very serious about both music and humor.”
Igudesman, who was born in Russia, and Joo, born in England to Korean parents, met when they were both students at the Yehudi Menuhin School in England. Their decision to perform a comedy act was inspired first of all by the many different kinds of music they encountered in school.
“We were inspired by many different things,” Igudesman says. “By reading theater, for example: Chekhov and Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde were all full of humor. At the same time we grew up watching Monty Python, we loved Monty Python.
“We were always passionate about classical music, but we were a little estranged about how serious the music business took itself—you know, how serious the whole thing around concerts tended to be. We always found that practically comical, that you’d have all of this passionate music, and people would play and then suddenly between movements nobody says a thing, just a few people cough. Somebody comes on stage, bows, doesn’t say a single word to the public, and then starts playing.”
Igudesman thinks it is a good thing that the worshipful seriousness around classical concerts is starting to change, and that performers talk and interact with audiences more than they did 40 or 50 years ago. “It’s going toward a much better direction,” he says. “In a way, it’s not going forward, because in the 19th century concerts were a lot more fun. (Performers) used to talk to the public, and used to do fun things, funny things between pieces.
“Of course with our shows we take it to the extreme. But we’ve been very lucky, (since) we manage to have a lot of audiences that not only love classical music but also audiences who don’t go to classical music coming to our concerts and then enjoying it and therefore getting into music. That’s a big bonus, I think.”
Igudesman likes to point out that a lot of the classical music they play has its own humor already. “It’s in most works,” he says, adding with a chuckle “maybe a little less so in Brahms’s Requiem.”
Of the music they use in their comedy act, he says, “one has the humor that people understand who know the music, and then there’s the humor that everybody can get. We try to combine that so that nobody is left out, and still to keep all of that on a very high level.
“That mix is very fine, and very difficult to get. That’s why it takes a lot longer than writing a regular piece, because you have to have all of those different levels. And then at the same time we try to make it look like it’s completely spontaneous and we just made it up on the spot, which makes it quite difficult.”
Occasionally, he says, a presenter will ask for a new sketch that might go with a regular concert program being planned a few days after their performance. He generally tells them, “give us year and we’ll see what we can do.”
Because it takes so long to perfect each sketch, he says that they are always working with new material. Even a set show like “A Little Nightmare Music” will have material that is new, or in the process of being fine tuned. “We always do that,” he says. “No two shows are the same. We always try to vary and have fun with them, so the people who come back will always see something new.”
Clearly, just listing a program for “A Little Nightmare Music” would not be helpful—you have to see each show to know what it really is. But if you want a little sample, here is the official preview of “A Little Nightmare Music” on YouTube.