Fun with comical and classical mash-ups

Coming across much better in the flesh, violinist Aleksey Igudesman and pianist Hyung-ki Joo's two-hour gig was enhanced by the connivance of the excellent and sporting Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Orchestra.
Coming across much better in the flesh, violinist Aleksey Igudesman and pianist Hyung-ki Joo's two-hour gig was enhanced by the connivance of the excellent and sporting Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Orchestra.PHOTO: FACEBOOK/ IGUDESMAN & JOO

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Igudesman & Joo with the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Orchestra Conservatory Concert Hall

Last Saturday


The musical comedy duo of violinist Aleksey Igudesman and pianist Hyung-ki Joo have been delighting audiences, live and on YouTube, for years. Coming across much better in the flesh, their two-hour gig was enhanced by the connivance of the excellent and sporting Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Orchestra.

Musical jokes tend to be a little too sophisticated for casual audiences, more often suited for cued-in listeners than being outrightly hilarious. Igudesman and Joo, however, found a happy medium by adding a little slapstick to their schtick, but stuck to being seriously good musicians.

Whoever thought they could both sing or conduct? They took turns leading the orchestra in An Austrian In America. The five-movement spiel was to mash up classical tunes by Austrian greats with American standards. The Overture saw Strauss' Die Fledermaus Overture mixed with Old Folks At Home, Simple Gifts and Yankee Doodle. Schubert Loves America muddied Die Forelle (The Trout) with, well, America.

Oh My Darling Johann Strauss had Wiener Blut bloodied with Clementine, sounding like La Valse gone horribly wrong. And no prizes for guessing what melodies got marching orders in Stars And Radetzky Forever. The audience also got its spot of synchronised clapping.

Speaking of the audience, there was a send-up to its bronchial members in the form of a concerto for a coughing violinist. The soloist did not get to play a single note, but his respiratory affliction soon infected the conductor, orchestra and audience, resulting in a ca-cough-phonous conclusion.

"And a piece by Rachmaninov," announced Igudesman, and that was the entire first movement of the Second Piano Concerto. After its sonorous opening chords, Joo showed that the first few minutes could easily be faked as the orchestra's tutti soared with the big tune. As it turned out, he could also play the tricky solo bits as well, and fairly convincingly too.

Among the best spoofs was the baiting of Richard Wagner, a controversial figure perceived to hold racist views. The idea of turning his Ride Of The Valkyries and Bridal Chorus from Lohengrin into a riot of Klezmer and Kalinka was a brilliant riposte to the boor of Bayreuth. At its climax, Igudesman, sporting a Darth Vader mask, proclaimed: "I am your... bride!"

In the same vein were uproarious orchestrations of that pesky Nokia ringtone (originally a waltz for guitar by Tarrega) in the styles of Mozart, Brahms and Schoenberg and culminating in a battle between conductors, where Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Ravel and Dvorak tussled for the right to conclude the work. Beethoven (his Ninth Symphony) won.

There was even a spot for young Singaporean guitarist Kevin Loh to share the limelight, alongside original compositions by the duo.

The fun had to end sometime and it was to the strains of Zorba The Greek, Sabre Dance and Chariots Of Fire.

It should be concluded that Igudesman & Joo are the best comedians among musicians and the best musicians among comedians.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 19, 2018, with the headline 'Fun with comical and classical mash-ups'. Print Edition | Subscribe