Classical music duo inject comedy into performances to stave off boredom

Korean pianist Joo Hyung Ki and Russian violinist Aleksey Igudesman (both above) will be in Singapore for two nights of concerts.
Korean pianist Joo Hyung Ki and Russian violinist Aleksey Igudesman (both above) will be in Singapore for two nights of concerts.PHOTO: JULIA WESELY

Classical music duo Igudesman & Joo get creative in their performances, injecting pop culture and humour

8Q

When Russian violinist Aleksey Igudesman and Korean pianist Joo Hyung Ki combine their musical talents to form a duo act called Igudesman & Joo, the result is comic and refreshing - and might well change your idea of classical music.

The two musicians will introduce a new genre - classical comedy music - to Singaporean audiences at their upcoming concerts at the Victoria Theatre on July 7 and 8.

Speaking to The Straits Times over the telephone from Vienna, Austria, where he is based, Igudesman shares that the idea for it comes from their drive to create music that they themselves would love to listen to.

"We strive to make a celebration of music, not a funeral, as what most would associate classical music with," the 42-year-old says. For example, they might combine classical music with pop culture - as in a cover of Gloria Gaynor's 1978 disco hit I Will Survive - or perform with unorthodox devices, such as a vibrating milk frother, a vacuum cleaner and even boxer shorts.

When the two met at the age of 12 in Yehudi Menuhin School in Surrey, England, Igudesman admits that it was "hate at first sight".

We strive to make a celebration of music, not a funeral, as what most would associate classical music with.

''RUSSIAN VIOLINIST ALEKSEY IGUDESMAN of the musical duo Igudesman & Joo

It was only after Joo offered him some fish and chips as a conciliatory offering did their relationship improve and they then started making music together.

He says: "We both love to embrace and combine different styles of music, like mixing Latin or rock with classical music. Besides that, we share the same love for food, art, comedy and all the good things in life."

The duo's inventive and humorous take on classical music has won them fans of all ages and from across the world, with their YouTube videos attracting close to 40 million viewers in total.

1 You always say that you're "not making fun of the music, you're making fun with the music". Why is this important to you?

Music is something extraordinary. It has a power unlike anything else and it can be a life-saver for everyone.

Humour has that ability too. You can make light of a heavy situation and everything instantly becomes better.

  • BOOK IT / IGUDESMAN & JOO

  • WHERE: Victoria Theatre, 9 Empress Place

    WHEN: A Little Nightmare Music, July 7, 7.30pm; And Now Mozart, July 8, 7.30pm

    ADMISSION: $45 to $125 from Sistic (go to www.sistic.com.sg or call 6348-5555)

    INFO: www.igudesmanand joo.com

So we want to make fun and humour audiences, and with the help of music, lift their spirits up.

2 Have you been snubbed by your peers for your comic take on classical music performance?

No, not at all. We've always been encouraged by our peers and we've had such wonderful positive responses about the kind of music we make.

Our music is known to be respectfully irreverent and even serious musicians applaud us. Everyone loves to have fun and we make music in such a way that everyone can have fun with it.

3 What is the toughest period that you guys have gone through?

We used to share an apartment in Vienna, Austria, many years back. We didn't have a lot of money, so our apartment had no windows and no furniture and it got pretty cold during winter.

But I was so much into food, instead of buying the essentials, I would buy the best meat in town with olive oil and vinegar, and we would have the most incredible meal on the floor in our apartment, even when it was freezing cold.

4 How do the two of you resolve arguments?

We usually argue about the tiniest things, such as "Why did you put your feet up on the chair? I want to sit on it."

It's better to have arguments over tiny issues than the big important ones.

Even when it comes to big disagreements, we try to talk about them as calmly as possible. When we're coming up with a new performance or sketch, it is a very enthusiastic process. We would throw ideas at each other.

No matter how stupid or ridiculous the idea is, we'll just throw it out. At the end of the day, we love music and we love what we're doing, so that helps.

5 What has been your most memorable moment on stage?

There have been so many. One memorable moment was when we shared the stage with American singer-songwriter Billy Joel and American violinist Joshua Bell at the Carnegie Hall in New York.

We also performed at Cadogen Hall in London with comedian Terry Jones, a member of comedy troupe Monty Python. We grew up with Monty Python as our inspiration, so performing with him was very memorable.

In fact, we loved performing with so many inspirations, such as American classical pianist Emanuel Ax. It's special when you get to do something fun and crazy with serious musicians.

6 What has been your weirdest fan encounter?

We have experienced getting mobbed by fans, which is very endearing, but quite scary at times. It kind of puts me in a dilemma because I don't want to be squashed by people who love me.

We haven't had any declarations of hate yet, so that's good.

There was this time in New Zealand when a fan made finger-puppet versions of us. I wouldn't call it weird, to be honest, because I actually find it very endearing. In fact, I keep the two finger puppets in my violin case everywhere I go.

7 Do you think you have achieved your aim of making classical music more accessible?

I wouldn't call it an aim. It is more like a wonderful by-product. Fans have said that they'd never heard of classical music pieces before, but through Igudesman & Joo, they want to know more about them. Ultimately, our aim is to make music that doesn't bore us.

8 How would you like to be remembered?

I would like to be remembered as a tall, beautiful, blonde woman, but we know that will never happen.

But really, we want to be remembered as people who have the craziest dreams and as composers who are creative beyond genres.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 27, 2016, with the headline 'Comic take on classical music'. Print Edition | Subscribe