Aleksey Igudesman (violin) & Hyung-ki Joo (piano)
Reviewed by: David M. Rice
Reviewed: 30 March, 2011
Venue: Theresa L. Kaufmann Concert Hall, 92nd Street Y, New York City
Aleksey Igudesman and Hyung-ki Joo made their New York City debut with their classical-music parody “A Little Nightmare Music”. The enthusiasm with which they were greeted by the capacity audience, which ranged in age from grade-schoolers to the elderly, demonstrated that they already had a considerable following – perhaps owing to the availability of video clips on YouTube.
The performance consisted of a series of brief sketches and set-pieces, stitched by a few running jokes. Many segments began as if the duo would be playing a familiar classical piece, but quickly diverged into outright comedy. One of the early segments began as a performance of ‘Rondo alla Turca’ (from Mozart’s Piano Sonata, K331) in which, after a few bars, the original key of A minor was transposed into the major and soon further distorted by flatting all of the B naturals. It seemed that the only point of this exercise was to prove that it could be done – even as Igudesman demonstrated his ability to play the violin whilst his body swayed and twisted from the hips down. The second half began with a clever sketch in which Joo encountered a piano with a disembodied voice that would not allow him to uncover the keyboard until he swiped a credit-card, and then frequently interrupted his attempts to perform Beethoven’s Für Elise to demand further payments.
Among the duo’s other parodies were ring-tones, themes from James Bond films, and “The Simpsons”. Both performers found occasion to play their respective instruments from unusual postures: Joo lying supine beneath the piano playing a Satie Gymnopedie, and Igudesman tuning his violin by moving the instrument up and down on the bow whilst he used it to sound an A on the piano’s keyboard. Although Igudesman and Joo were funny, I found their physical comedy, dotted with scatological references, wearing thin by the end of the evening. A very few musical chestnuts were quoted again and again, and the same jokes kept recurring, though the duo most often used music as a device for making jokes rather than as the target of their humour.
Igudesman and Joo lack the musical sophistication of the forerunners of classical music humour to whom they invite comparison – Victor Borge, Anna Russell, Peter Schickele (PDQ Bach) and Flanders & Swann. Those humorists all maintained the façade of giving a serious concert performance or lecture, which made the inevitable mishaps and unexpected twists all the more humorous. They also brilliantly skewered a wide range of musical genres, periods and composers. In “A Little Nightmare Music”, Igudesman and Joo tend to abandon that façade all too quickly and limit their musical references almost entirely to pieces that would be familiar, even to non-concertgoers, from television advertisements. I was only mildly amused but the audience gave them a very enthusiastic ovation.