Leaves Audiences Howling with Laughter
The age-old question, can a concert be simultaneously bone rattling and sidesplitting now has an answer. As if Igudesman & Joo weren’t outlandish and ghoulish enough, they’re upping the ante with “Scary Concert,” a no-holds barred musical salute to the dark side that manages to tingle your spine and tickle your fancy. Under the pair’s spell, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra has no choice but to give in and play along in special Halloween-themed performances from Heinz Hall in Pittsburgh on October 31 and at the Lyell B. Clay Concert Theater at West Virginia University on November 2.
Violinist Aleksey Igudesman and pianist Hyung-Ki Joo are the wildly inventive comedy team whose YouTube sketches and musical mash ups have attracted close to 40 million viewers. Seriously talented musicians with the wit, sensibilities and improvisational bent that bring to mind Monty Python, “South Park,” “SNL,” and “Portlandia,” Igudesman & Joo hilariously waltz their way from Mozart to martial arts, Haydn to hip hop. By breaking down barriers between the stage, audiences and orchestra, their concerts roam several standard deviations from the classical norm. Anything can and usually does happen to the delight of enthusiastic fans worldwide.
Following in the tradition of their “Big Nightmare Music,” these masters of mayhem and mirth again commandeer a full-size symphony orchestra, whose members will channel their inner pirates, wizards and zombies and don costumes to match. “Halloween is a wonderfully zany holiday because it combines things that are really scary and really fun,” Igudesman says. “It’s a time to let the folly out, perfect for us.”
The Halloween homage mines the musical canon for the chilling and creepy as well as featuring the duo’s original works. “Horror Movie,” for example, is the violinist’s own brilliant paean to the creaky and crackling, the squeaks and squeals, sounds that frighten the living daylights out of filmgoers, but are sure to have listeners screaming in laughter.
In “Danse Macabre,” Igudesman appears, disappears and reappears, showing up anywhere on the stage all the while displaying dazzling technique in playing Saint-Säens’ devilish work about a violinist who makes the dead rise from their graves. Equally unnerving, Joo tackles Ravel’s “Le Gibet,” a hauntingly beautiful piece about the corpse of a hanged man.
“Decomposing Composers” pays tribute to those artists long dead, grateful they’re no longer around to hear Igudesman’s & Joo’s rendition of the Michael Palin classic honoring those six feet under. In the same vein, pianist Joo tries to salute his performance partner in his composition “My Perfect Man,” if only he could find a quality worthy of praise.
“Tango del Diablo” is a diabolically difficult piece that Igudesman wrote and regrets that he made so hard because now he has to perform it. And the “Celebration Polka” is anything but joyful for Joo, who is forced to dash through the full spectrum of piano classics at breakneck speed. No worries, no necks will be broken in this concert unless absolutely necessary.
While “Scary Concert” may have an orchestra—and probably the audience—in outlandish makeup and costume, it will be difficult for anyone to hide from the irresistible joy Igudesman & Joo bring to every performance. The cheeky duo continue to challenge our perceptions of the classical concert. Whether they’re playing it straight or spooky, they always astonish with their astounding virtuosity and incredible musicianship. The fact that they can also have fans howling, well, maybe they did make a deal with the devil.
What others say
“Aleksey Igudesman and Hyung-ki Joo played at my 80th birthday celebrations. I nearly died laughing. I’d like to invite them back for my 85th, but that might be considered reckless… Great musicians, great fun.”