Can Classical Musicians Be Funny?

Pianist Hyung-ki Joo and violinist Aleksey Igudesman certainly think so.

Aleksey Igudesman and Hyung-ki Joo will perform on Friday, October 18 at the Symphony Center.   Photo: Courtesy Aleksey Igudesman and Hyung-ki Joo

Among the few well-known classical music comdians are P.D.Q. Bach aka Peter Schickele, who wrote an oratorio called Oedipus Tex (it includes a movement called the “O.K. Chorale”), English comedian Dudley Moore who liked to compose in his spare time, and locally, the folks behind Lyric Opera’s collaboration with Second City this past June.

Still there’s always room for more humor in music’s most self-serious genre. Violinist Aleksey Igudesman and pianist Hyung-ki Joo certainly seem to think so. The duo, who go by Igudesman & Joo, have gotten major hits on YouTube for their classical music parodies (See: Rachmaninov had big hands).  Before their show at the Symphony Center on Friday, they took a few minutes to chat:

What’s Big Nightmare Music like?

Aleksey Igudesman: Our first show, A Little Nightmare Music, encompasses a lot of zany humor with beautiful classical music. Big Nightmare Music is our orchestral show, which we have done around the world, [such as] at the Hollywood Bowl with the L.A. Phil. But it’s all been a warm-up to one of the big ones: the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. It’s one of the most serious and most prestigious orchestras in the whole wide world. The whole program is based on arrangements of ours and original compositions of ours. It will include some things of the Igudesman and Joo favorites, like our version of “I Will Survive,” and many things people do not know from Youtube, like a very virtuoso version of the Blue Danube waltz.

Do the classical musicians you collaborate with ever turn up their noses at your comedy?

Hyung-ki Joo: For us there’s never really been a difference. We take our comedy very seriously and our serious music with some humor. Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven—their music was full of humor. [Back then,] there was less of a divide between the artist and the audience. There are famous historical accounts of Franz Liszt going into the audience and having a glass of wine, having a little repartee with them. There was much more openness, a feeling of anything goes. Somehow in the 20th century, things became very stale. It’s this staleness and elitism that Aleksey and I were allergic to.

So you’re really creating a music/comedy show, not a comedy show with a musical theme?

HJ: Humor is a part of the show when it needs to be. We always make sure we play beautiful music just as it is. It’s even stronger after the laughter.

AI: If we had to write a requiem or an elegy—it’s not that we just want to put humor in anything. It has to creatively make sense. We don’t say, “Let’s sit down and make something funny.” We’re always having fun with music. Often life is the most funny thing anyways. Most of our stuff is just stolen from life.

What kinds of projects are you hoping to work on next?

AI: We’ve always dreamt of a TV series and working in film. When we first sat down to seriously write A Little Nightmare Music, to write something for TV was our original inspiration. But all the stuff we were writing down is not going to work on stage. We had to rewrite it so it would work on the stage.

What wouldn’t work on the stage from your original ideas?

HJ: Well, time traveling is difficult on stage. You can’t be in two different places at once. On stage, we don’t have elaborate costumes. One work that we’ll be doing in Chicago is the baroque composers wrestling finals. Bach and Vivaldi have a slow-motion fight against each other on top of the music to Rocky. It’s nearly a TV-esque idea. It’s very funny on stage, but [we imagined it] in Madison Square Garden with all these fans dressed up, one side supporting Bach, one side supporting Vivaldi, singing famous Bach tunes or Vivaldi tunes. It screams for TV.

 Is time travel a fixation of yours?

HJ: When you keep going round and round, time traveling is kind of redundant. Time traveling is kind of redundant. What was your first question?

The duo perform at the Symphony Center on Friday, October 18. Buy tickets here

Share

Advertisement

Submit your comment

Comments are moderated. We review them in an effort to remove foul language, commercial messages, abuse, and irrelevancies.

Note: To serve its readers better, Chicago has migrated its comments to Disqus, a popular commenting platform. Please feel free to contact us with any feedback.