The 2012 Montreal Chamber Music Festival took a deliberate misstep last night when the well-traveled musical-comedy duo of violinist Aleksey Igudesman and pianist Hyung-ki Joo, making their first Montreal appearance, found themselves up against an audience determined to laugh at the slightest provocation and a Steinway from hell that required a credit card and a password before the keyboard fallboard would open.
Igudesman and Joo have been chums since they met at the Yehudi Menuhin School in England at the age of 12, and gifted with a sense of the ridiculous that stretches from Mozart's scatological humor to Danny Kaye's scat-singing, their bungling efforts to present Mozart "seriously" took a packed house of willing Montrealers by storm.
This may not have been meant to be a comical stunt like New Year’s Eve, 2011, at the Vienna Konzerthaus, when Igudesman and Joo set a world record for the most dancing violinists performing together on stage (100), but the results were just as relentlessly hilarious.
The duo's "A Little Nightmare Music" concert in Montreal, on May 30, sandwiched in between two nights of Mozart's two-viola quintets, ran the gamut from subtle parody (endless-looped Beethoven minuets) to sophisticated grotesque (Igudesman playing at one point in a costume that was half Rameau's platypus from "Platée" and half Quentin Tarantino's bound-and-gagged Marcellus Wallace from "Pulp Fiction").
Wielding his 1717 Santo Seraphin fiddle and modern Benoît Marie Rolland bow with incongruous care and affection, Igudesman partnered Joo in pillorying more than just poor Wolfgang. But whether it was cell phone ring tones, on-stage positioning, Riverdance choreography or a string of tasteless, udderly funny cow jokes (Moooon River and the Sound of Mooosic), the audience was helpful before the comic onslaught.
When the two finally arrived at a serious moment—an unexpectedly serene and complete performance of Ysaye's short "Rêve d'enfant"—it was late in the evening, just before the final explosions of mirth.
The Danny Kaye connection was tangible when Igudesman drew on his Russian roots for a pop song (Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive," a huge hit in the pre-Perestroika former Soviet Union) and even a hymn, and when Joo echoed Kaye's "Manic-Depressive Pictures Presents" movie take-off from his 1942 film "Up in Arms."
The only thing Igudesman and Joo could have added would have been something along Peter Sellers' iconic piano concerto cadenza routine (music by Elmer Bernstein) in "The World of Henry Orient."
In a post-concert interview, Igudesman—who believes that making fun of classical music is healthy in every possible way—revealed the amount of diligent research and development that goes into the act. He claimed, for example, that his unorthodox scordatura technique, which allows him to come as close to snoring as a string instrument can, is his own invention, not Biber's.
Lesson to would-be classical music comics: practice and study first, then fool around.
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