I had hoped to make it to classical comedy duo Igudesman & Joo's El Paso debut on Sunday, part of the El Paso Chamber Music Festival. But I didn't. Fortunately, Ruth Taber, a former professional musician and accompanist in New York City who writes about food and travel for us, did. Here's her review.
By Ruth Taber
Music lovers, families with children and other people not watching the AFC/NFC football playoffs were treated to an evening of musical virtuosity — and inspired musical lunacy — at El Paso Pro-Musica's ongoing El Paso Chamber Music Festival on Sunday at UTEP's Fox Fine Arts Recital Hall.
Violinist Aleksey Igudesman and pianist Hyung-ki Joo performed their "A Little Nightmare Music" show to an audience that barely had time to catch its collective breath while laughing non-stop.
The duo came onstage, announced a Mozart work and suddenly Joo played a common cellphone ring tone on the piano – repeating it between bars of Mozart – before improvising an entire composition based on the ring tone.
Igudesman was not afraid of playing the fool or straight man to Joo’s pretentious know-it-all musical pronouncements. Joo had no qualms playing the piano (a work by Satie) while sitting on the floor below the keyboard.
Exercise? How about Igudesman playing and performing Irish step dancing while Joo, dressed in a whimsical apron, was busy sweeping around and between the violinist’s legs? Or incredible hip wiggling and foot waving while busy bowing folk-like music?
Hysterical would be the only way to describe Igudesman, who, forgetting his next number, referred to the GPS conveniently located inside the piano for “directions” before proceeding to a Bach sonata. “After the next two measures, slow down, turn right into another key….," it instructed.
There was another inspired bit, a voice-over recording telling us what Joo was really thinking as he played — beautifully! — a Schubert impromptu. Those thoughts included, "Did I turn the oven off – or look at that cute woman in the third row?”
Gershwin’s "Rhapsody in Blue" turned every color of the rainbow when the duo got going.
Nothing was sacred: Igudesman wanted to play a Mozart work, Joo wanted James Bond music. They argued, then settled on Mozart. Not long after the beginning phrases, the familiar Bond themes crept through, Joo’s delightful grin announcing he won.
During the course of the evening, we discovered Joo’s great voice, including a fabulous Louis Armstrong impersonation, and more vocal tricks (along with piano and violin playing) on their abridged version of "West Side Story," on which they performed all parts.
Audience participation was encouraged, clapping to Irish-, Spanish- and Russian-themed “music” and singing appropriate “moos” in accompaniment their love song to a cow. As one of their encores, they treated the audience to an entire musical work, the beautiful "Meditation Intermezzo" from the opera "Thais" by Massenet, with incredible “singing” sounds from both musicians.
I loved watching a little girl in the front row ecstatically dancing and laughing at her seat in response to their antics onstage. Before the concert, Pro-Musica director Zuill Bailey told the audience he had no idea what would transpire during the performance, but hoped it would be suitable for kids since his two young sons were in the audience.
Not to worry. Everyone seemed to get it, love it, and want more.
Igudesman & Joo are treasures. If you missed their gig in El Paso, I can only offer condolences.
If you want to see Igudesman & Joo in action here are a few of their popular YouTube videos: