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Music duo will mix Mozart with humor during stop in Rochester

Music duo will mix Mozart with humor during stop in Rochester

I did not know what to expect when interviewing world-class violinist and composer Aleksey Igudesman from the musical duo Igudesman and Joo. I prepared, wide-eyed and with a sinking feeling that I was far out of my league, by reading articles from Vanity FairLA Times and Wall Street Journal.

As if their impressive fame and respect by those “in the know,” were not enough, I was also intimidated by their medium — classical music, my experience with which was mostly limited to a beloved but limited Spotify playlist and to a semester abroad in which I remember peering over the balconies mesmerized by the graceful wrists of the violinists, feeling totally out of place. The tuxedos, chandeliers, polished wood and brass, the posture of the musicians, white gloves, precision of the opening notes and swelling of denouement, were altogether wonderful and foreign.

A mere moment into my conversation with Mr. Igudesman, I was put at ease when I realized I must be speaking to one of the nicest people on the planet. He laughed at my apology for being a surgeon-in-training, and not a real reporter, exclaiming that it would make the interview much more fun.

He thoughtfully answered every question right up until the moment of his curtain call for his performance that evening. It was not only the substance of his answers, but his welcoming and kind demeanor, that gave me a clue as to what he and Mr. Joo are aiming to accomplish with their innovative musical theatrics of, And Now Mozart.

By injecting hilarity and playfulness into this reverent musical genre, they are welcoming folks like me into the classical-music fold. As our conversation flitted between discussing his Santo Serafin 1717 violin to his inspiration by Monty Python, Chekhov, and Oscar Wilde, I realized that they are bringing out the substance, culture, and relevance of music, classical and non, as expressions of joy.

After the interview I thought about it, and I realized that my current music collection includes about 10% classical, 10% pop, 20% folk rock, 50% indie-rock, and a smidge of hip-hop and other stuff. Igudesman and Joo draw from an immense pool of the most revered classical musical pieces — practiced for hours, even years, by disciplined music pupils — and inject pop anthems of enthusiasm and sass.

They mastered the craft of performing the classical music behemoths long ago and to such a degree and they are now simply playing — in the playground sense — with these masterpieces in order to compose the fast and loose, but exquisitely precise, And Now Mozart. They perform their playful, spinning, masterful, original works for a focused purpose: joyful humor.

Igudesman and Joo will perform Wednesday, Oct. 21 at the Mayo Civic Center in Rochester. General admission tickets are $26 each.

Interview excerpts

Joy: Are your performances as fun as they look?

Igudesman: Oh definitely! It’s probably more fun than it looks. We surprise each other regularly onstage and try to catch the other one off guard, which makes it unexpected and fun.

Joy: What inspires your music that you write for the show?

Igudesman: We are inspired by anything and everything. We start with, “Oh my God, you can’t do that,” and then go further.

Joy: With world-wide touring, have you come across new musical genres that are now incorporated into your performances?

Igudesman: We are coming across new music all the time. We have played  bluegrass.  We have combined classical with Rap and heavy metal, which you will see in the show.

Joy: What has been your riskiest performance idea?

Igudesman: We have a new project called League of Extraordinary Musicians, which features many amazing musicians, and there is a violinist who is also an acrobat doing back-flips while playing the violin. I would say that is very risky.

Joy: What is the funniest piece of music?

Igudesman: That one is very hard to answer. All kinds of music can be funny; there is humor in classical music and pop music. There was a movement in the 20th century with neoclassical music which involved a lot of humor in music. Do you know Flight of the Concords?

Joy: Well, yes! I don't think I would have survived med school without them.

Igudesman: I would have to say the funniest music is Flight of the Concords.  

Joy: What is the funniest genre of music?

Igudesman: That one is impossible to answer I think. All music can be funny. Pop music lends itself to humor very well. You know the song, “What Does the Fox Say?” (Yes.) It was written by a Norwegian band who are comedians that regularly write very high level pop music, and was fully intended to be funny.  The Beastie Boys have a great sense of humor. Sometimes the humor is hidden, sometimes it is obvious.

Joy: What is the best language for performing musical comedy?

Igudesman: I think definitely English, because you can be both very dry and elaborate. Certainly it works better than German.

Joy: I understand that you use some unconventional objects to play music in your performances, such as playing the violin with a milk frother. What is your favorite non-musical instrument to play?

Igudesman: I do love my milk frother, but I also love our new piece in which I remove one of the legs to Joo’s piano and play it as an electrical violin.

Joy: I read that Mr. Joo had to convince his parents at the age of 10 years old that he wanted to be a musician rather than a doctor. Now you are playing in Rochester for what will undoubtedly be an audience with a lot of doctors. Do you know if that carries any special significance for him?

Igudesman: Well, We have a lot of friends who are doctors, and I think that it is very common to find doctors who are also enthusiastic music lovers. Those fields seem to attract one another.

Joy: I read that you have workshops in which you instruct aspiring musicians to be great performers. What advice do you have for students preparing for performances?

Igudesman: Well it might be surprising because it goes against what people have heard over and over. But have fun doing what you’re doing rather than just practicing and being serious. Also to be aware of how you handle yourself onstage.

Joy: What is the best compliment you have ever received about one of your performances?

Igudesman: That’s a hard one. I guess it is when parents come up and say we have inspired their kids. Like, they were not practicing their instruments before our show but now they are practicing diligently.

About Joy Hughes: Joy is a former lit major and current general surgery resident at the Mayo Clinic. She enjoys hiking with her dog, Ramble, sharing musical and literary discoveries with friends and family, traveling, and exploring this vibrant medical city.

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(Cover photo: Igudesman and Joo)

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