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Igudesman and Joo: ‘We Make Mistakes on Purpose’

The comedy-music duo make their India debut this weekend

Jessica Xalxo Nov 28, 2019

(from right to left) Igudesman and Joo want to make classical music accessible to a wider and younger audience. Photo: Julia Wesely

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Russian violinist Aleksey Igudesman and British-Korean pianist Hyung-ki Joo may have a love for classical music in common, but they also share a penchant for comedy, pop culture and blunder. The comedy-music duo best known for their show A Little Nightmare Music (which comes to Mumbai’s Tata Theatre at the NCPA this Saturday) believe that their showcase is “one big mistake.” For many performers, faults and aberrations are the biggest nightmare during a performance, but for Igudesman and Joo, they’re elements with purpose. “Our favorite part in every show is if and when something goes wrong and we try to improvise and act towards the audience as if nothing went wrong. A lot of those ‘mistakes’ actually end up in being included on purpose in our show,” say the composer-performer duo. They can also be found poking fun at each other during the performance, whispering little obscenities when the audience can’t hear, adding new lines or doing something particularly silly. “That is a lot of fun too,” Igudesman and Joo intone. 

The classical musicians met while studying at the Yehudi Menuhin School in England at the age of 12. If they could go back to that point in time, Igudesman swears that he would tell himself to not be nasty to Joo and Joo would just offer Igudesman some fish and chips as a peace offering. They would have become friends and partners — in food, music and writing — quite swiftly then. 

Together, the duo has opened in concert halls as well as stadiums in front of crowds teeming in the thousands. Their collective dream? It’s to make classical music accessible to a wider and younger audience. 

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With their theatrical offering A Little Nightmare Music having been running for 15 years, where they’ve shared the stage with orchestras such as the New York Philharmonic and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for one of their other offerings BIG Nightmare Music and actor John Malkovich for The Music Critic, the duo know a thing or two about making classical music fun. “If one were to pick up a historical account of how music was performed in the last three centuries, one may be astounded as one would see that the performance of classical music of the past has no resemblance whatsoever with today’s performance,” they say. Igudesman and Joo know one thing with absolute certainty: there was a lot more spontaneity and fun in those times and less of a barrier between the performers and the public. And that’s what they want to bring back with their show. 

Igudesman and Joo’s India debut will be an international show that uses very little language. Photo: Julia Wesely

That’s where the pop culture play too comes in. The duo has always been close to theater, cinema and acting, listening and watching great comedians. Their biggest inspirations combine the worlds of music and comedy with musician-comedian Victor Borge, pianist Glenn Gould, disco queen Gloria Gaynor and British rockers Queen leaving a lasting impression on them. It’s no wonder that pop culture references form a strong quotient of the commentary in A Little Nightmare Music.  

“We are constantly improving A Little Nightmare Music. The day that we think the show is perfect we will stop performing!,” say Igudesman and Joo who are excited to finally perform in India and make their debut in the country. For Joo, Indian culture feels like home since he finds traditional English food to be a lot like Indian food, and for Igudesman, it’s his second innings in the country, having travelled to Varanasi over 15 years ago to study Indian classical music. “I fell in love with the country and I am happy to be back,” he says. 

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Speaking of performance locations, the duo may have ticked Norway, Switzerland, the U.S., the U.K. and more off their list, but they still do have some locations in mind. “Galapagos Islands, the warmest part in Antarctica and the dark side of the moon to light it up a bit,” they say. 

Their India debut in Mumbai will be an international show that uses very little language. They want to bring people closer to classical music instead of just trying to be different. “For us, the mix of music, comedy and theater is its own art form. We try to combine those three components to create its own synergy. It will be a very special performance which we will partly tailor-make for that occasion with many great surprises,” say Igudesman and Joo who have previously even featured rap and breakdance in their segments. And if their words are to be trusted, you can count on a lot of things going wrong!

Igudesman and Joo will put on their show ‘A Little Nightmare Music’ on November 30th, Saturday at the Tata Theatre, NCPA. Tickets are priced at Rs. 800 and upwards. Click here for more details. 

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