Monday, 19 November 2018

UPBEAT / Igudesman & Joo / Review

Igudesman & Joo with the
Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Orchestra
Conservatory Concert Hall
Saturday (17 November 2018)

This review was published by The Straits Times on 19 November 2018 with the title "Fun with comical and classical mash-ups."

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-long gig was enhanced by the connivance of the excellent and totally 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 5-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 of guessing what melodies got marching orders in Stars And Radetzky Forever. The audience also got their spot of synchronised clapping.

Speaking of audiences, there was a send-up to their bronchial members in the form of a concerto for 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 1st 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 convincing too.  

Among the best spoofs was the baiting of Richard Wagner, the vilest anti-Semite among composers. 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, 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.   

Darth Voyder sticks it up to Richard Wagner,
"Up yours, goy!"

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