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Just when you think that the performers at the Brevard Music Center might be running out of gas in this, their final weekend of the Season, think again. The titanic energies of Aleksey Igudesman and Hyung-ki Joo blew into town, and with the Brevard Sinfonia, under the inspired and energetic direction of Maestro Ken Lam, ignited the house with their explosive act. Playing fast and loose with classical composers (especially poor Mozart), pop tune artists, Broadway hits, and traditional melodies, nothing was off limits to these incredibly talented artists. Their gifts are many — perfect timing, ridiculous facial expressions, slapstick antics, and use of custom-made props. Their arrangements of the materials (including choreography) are engaging and clever, their performing abilities (Igudesman on violin and Joo on piano) phenomenal. These guys can really play while galvanizing those with whom they collaborate, as was seen here.
The two headliners met at the prestigious Yehudi Menuhin School, in England when they were twelve. Out of their friendship grew their first groundbreaking show as a duo, “A Little Nightmare Music,” to be followed by the BIG Nightmare Music Show with orchestras. They also conduct a workshop called “8 To 88 — Musical Education for Children of All Ages” at universities and music schools internationally. They have worked with celebrated artists and composers for film and on stages around the world.
Appearances go a long way in the world of comedy, and in this department the men are well served. Igudesman is trim and lithe with an impeccable violinist’s stance which, as part of the act, is repeatedly compromised with rubbery legs and a blank, wide-eyed stare. He can also play beautifully on his 1717 Santo Seraphin violin while moving, no small feat. Joo is a looming, broad-shouldered presence who sports a longish coat and rock-star-like mop of hair, his main prop. Together they are dynamite. If anything negative could be said of the jokes is that they occasionally went on too long, and then wore themselves out.
BIG Nightmare’s modus operandi is the elaborate messing around with a written score, splicing in other tunes and even framing the interjected melodies as a musical argument. Do we want Mozart or James Bond? Well, we got both in the opening number, a Mozart Symphony No. 40/Theme from 007 combo. The shtick of argument extended in the next piece to the choice of modality — should Mozart’s "Rondo alla Turca" be in its original A minor, or, because “they do high stuff here in Brevard,” should it be in A major, a quandary settled by changing the mode completely by the insertion of a quasi B-flat to “something more Jewish/Oriental/Turkish.” Next was the Adagio Sostenuto from Rachmaninov’s Concerto No. 2, Op. 18 which morphed into Eric Carmen’s maudlin “All By Myself,” and a full-blown crying jag on the part of Joo and the orchestra.
The “New Work” was an open “rehearsal” of an “unrehearsed” sort of Ode to Bessie the milk cow, complete with animal sounds on the violin and some raw bellowing on the part of Joo at the keyboard with echoes of “Moooooon River.” The “Tango Russo” for Violin and Orchestra showcased Igudesman’s stylistic flair, to the accompaniment of some violent outbursts from the orchestra. The “Winterpolka” went in the direction of base comedy; Joo’s miming of many of the effects of a case of the flu calculated vulgarity. The "Blue Danube Waltz" morphed into an étude of sorts in one of the most madcap arrangements of the evening.
Two of the funniest sight gags occurred after intermission. In “Sonata Facile” (the Mozart’s Sonata in C, K. 545), Joo was at odds with the Steinway-activated-only-by-a-credit-card-with-lengthy-phone-tree-instructions. The Rachmaninov Prelude in C-sharp minor, Op. 3, No. 2 was the platform for one of their best-loved routines — Joo’s performance of some of the massive chords with “mechanical assists.” Igudesman got the laughs with his swizzle stick “bowings” and a rendition of Gloria Gaynor’s hit tune “I Will Survive” turned into a raucous sing-along. With “Morrisons Jig” he morphed into a pied piper, leading some of the violinists to stage front for a rousing ol’ Irish fiddle-cum-stepdance. And so it went with more jokes and gags…. into a standing ovation and two encores.
Huge kudos go to Ken Lam who pulled the show together beautifully despite a shortened rehearsal schedule due to storm-related power outages. Not only did his college student musicians perform the difficult and stylistically diverse scores well, but their engagement with the act (including choreography) was a joyous thing to watch.