Clowning around with classical music

The MozART Group, comprising (from far left) Michal Sikorski, Pawel Kowaluk, Filip Jaslar and Bolek Blaszczyk, injects humour into its performance.
The MozART Group, comprising (from far left) Michal Sikorski, Pawel Kowaluk, Filip Jaslar and Bolek Blaszczyk, injects humour into its performance.PHOTO: ARTE GEMINI

On stage, Polish violinist Filip Jaslar plucks Habanera from Carmen with one hand while bouncing a ping- pong ball with the other. Sometimes, he stands on one leg while playing his instrument pizzicato.

That is just the style of his string quartet, the MozART Group, which puts fun back into the formality of classical music.

The group debuts its new comedy cabaret show, MozART Travels!, here at the Esplanade Concert Hall on Nov 2.

On the telephone from Poland, Jaslar, 44, says: "We are proud and happy that we can play in your great concert hall in Singapore, which is in the shape of the durian fruit - but the hall smells wonderful inside."

Laughter punctuates the interview because Jaslar cannot help making jokes. Classical music is not the first thing associated with comedy, but he and his 40something colleagues - cellist Bolek Blaszczyk, violinist Michal Sikorski and viola player Pawel Kowaluk - adore clowning around.

  • BOOK IT / MOZART MADNESS - MOZART TRAVELS!

  • WHERE: Esplanade Concert Hall, 1 Esplanade Drive

    WHEN: Nov 2, 7.30pm

    ADMISSION: $25 to $75 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

At their shows, they bounce table-tennis balls, breakdance to Michael Jackson and also pay tribute to great composers such as Mozart, Vivaldi and Beethoven. "We always play only the best music written," Jaslar says. "We'll play the greatest hits of Mozart, Beethoven, some Beatles."

Mozart is their musical patron because "he was a very funny guy, great sense of humour".

MozART Group's mission statement on its website goes: "We exist despite the sober formality of great concert halls, despite the boredom of classical musicians' life, despite fanatic lovers of classical music, despite fans of rock, rap or pop who are afraid of classical music. We treat our muse with a humorous irony and we're sure she will have nothing against it."

The quartet were friends in university - they graduated from prestigious academies of music in Warsaw - and got together 21 years ago for what they thought would be a one-off bit of fame. A Polish TV channel was looking for young musicians to present classical music in a light-hearted manner.

Their four-minute TV spot became such a hit that stage shows followed. It has now been more than 20 years performing in Europe, North America and Asia - they visited Singapore last year as well and three years ago - and the MozART Group intends to keep going.

Audiences mostly love the quartet. Only once, two older women left the hall after the first few songs because the concert was not what they expected. Jaslar says: "In Poland, the audience knows us from TV or from radio. Abroad, a few people might be surprised, but I hope they will not be upset."

Rehearsals are long sessions of drinking coffee or tea and eating cheesecake, apple pie - "a lot of sweets" - while brainstorming and playing pranks on one another. "We make a lot of jokes," he says.

Their families are so used to their brand of humour that when Jaslar took his four-year-old son to see the Warsaw Philharmonic, the boy, now 17, was shocked.

"I wanted him to see that classical musicians are not bouncing table- tennis balls onstage. He was surprised," he says, laughing.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 25, 2016, with the headline 'Clowning around with classical music'. Print Edition | Subscribe