4:44pm

Mon February 13, 2012
Music Videos

Igudesman And Joo: 'I Will Survive'

Originally published on Wed July 9, 2014 12:29 pm

Violinist Aleksey Igudesman and pianist Hyung-ki Joo believe that classical music should be fun. That's why they subvert it whenever they appear on stage.

Igudesman and Joo are professional musicians who kick the stuffing out of music. They use every means at their disposal to find a laugh: combining elements of serious music with pop songs, playing instruments with unorthodox devices and generally cutting up on stage. Their YouTube videos (beginning with one called "Rachmaninov Had Big Hands") have received more than 20 million views. Igudesman and Joo have been touring the U.S., and recently stopped by NPR to play — in both senses of the word.

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Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Violinist Aleksey Igudesman and pianist Hyung-ki Joo believe that classical music should be fun. That's why they subvert it whenever they appear on stage.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIEGEL: Igudesman and Joo are conservatory-trained musicians who kick the stuffing out of music. They use every means at their disposal to find a laugh, combining elements of serious music with pop songs, playing instruments with unorthodox devices and generally cutting up on stage. Their YouTube videos have gotten over 20 million hits.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIEGEL: Igudesman and Joo have been touring the U.S. and they stopped by here to play, in more senses of the word than one.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIEGEL: Aleksey Igudesman, you're from - originally from Russia.

ALEKSEY IGUDESMAN: That's right.

SIEGEL: Born in?

IGUDESMAN: Russia, so that's logical.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIEGEL: In - where are you from?

IGUDESMAN: St. Petersburg or Leningrad.

SIEGEL: Leningrad.

IGUDESMAN: Before that it was Petrograd. Before that Hetrograd, Sexograd, but that's a long time ago.

HYUNG-KI JOO: What's interesting about Aleksey is that he was born at a very young age.

SIEGEL: Yeah, mm-hmm.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IGUDESMAN: And, Mr. Joo, he was just born.

SIEGEL: In England or in...

JOO: Yes, my parents are Korean, but I spent quite a lot of time in United States of America. I studied here in...

SIEGEL: In New York City.

JOO: In New York City, yes.

SIEGEL: And I want you to tell us about where you met and how you thought up this act that you have.

JOO: Well, we met at the age of 12 at the Yehudi Menuhin School, which is a specialist music school. So, we're pretty highly trained.

IGUDESMAN: Yeah, we practice on top of mountains.

JOO: At high altitudes.

SIEGEL: That's how highly trained you are?

IGUDESMAN: Yeah.

JOO: Exactly. Well, the oxygen is much thinner up there so it pushes all the musicians to another level.

SIEGEL: I see.

IGUDESMAN: In any case, that's where we got our formal training. And already back then, we both felt that this world of classical music that we loved so much was taking itself way too seriously for its own good. We felt often that going to a concert resembled more a funeral. So, we were already back then dreaming up ways how to make classical music more accessible to a younger and wider audience.

We're going to do a little song from my home country. It's a little Russian song.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "I WILL SURVIVE")

JOO: Oy vey ist mir.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "I WILL SURVIVE")

SIEGEL: To say that you're moving the bow fast is a huge understatement. It's almost a parody of rapid, rapid bow movement. What are you doing there?

IGUDESMAN: We exaggerate the virtuosity of it. In a way, we put it back to the context of Russia where "I Will Survive," "I Veel Survive" originally came from. Gloria Gaynor, you know she's famous Russian...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIEGEL: Yes, great old Russian singer.

IGUDESMAN: A great Russian singer. But actually "I Will Survive" is a very, very special number for us because, in a way, it signifies for us that music will survive.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "I WILL SURVIVE")

SIEGEL: When you're playing "I Will Survive," Aleksey, you bring out instead of a bow, you play part of it with milk foamer.

IGUDESMAN: Milk foamer, that's right, which is also a traditional Russian instrument...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IGUDESMAN: ...that I've used for the first time ever on a violin. You know, we try to discover new ways of playing our instruments. And one time, just for fun, we were mucking around with a milk foamer and I tried it on my violin. It sounded like a balalaika gone mad.

(SOUNDBITE OF A MILK FOAMER MOTOR)

SIEGEL: So, we can hear it. That's the...

IGUDESMAN: So, we can hear it. That's just the motor sound. And when I put it to the string.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIEGEL: In the piece, after you've played your violin with the milk foamer, you then take the milk foamer to the...

IGUDESMAN: To the piano.

SIEGEL: ...the piano. The harp of the piano.

IGUDESMAN: It's kind of like this is more Hungarian zither-like sound.

JOO: Yeah, kind of a zither - it maybe sounds a little bit like Harpo Marx playing.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "I WILL SURVIVE")

JOO: Yeah, so that's it.

SIEGEL: What are the things that you guys find funny. What sets you off laughing?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIEGEL: Hyung-ki?

JOO: Well, each other. I hold the unofficial world record for laughing at his jokes. That's the luck that we have that we found each other. But we get inspired by life. We love things that go wrong, actually.

IGUDESMAN: We find that funny. In concert halls, whenever something goes wrong, that's when people wake up from their sleep...

JOO: And this is why our show is called "A Little Nightmare Music," because it's all about all different nightmares that happen during a concert or in the life of a musician.

SIEGEL: And the item you were working on before during our sound check, what are you playing with now when you...

IGUDESMAN: Well, we were trying out different things with "Tambura Chinois." "Tambura Chinois" by Kreisler.

JOO: Not the carmaker.

IGUDESMAN: Yeah, exactly.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIEGEL: Fritz, we're talking about.

JOO: Fritz, yes.

IGUDESMAN: And interestingly enough, that's kind of a Chinesey-sounding piece. And we were trying to have - incorporate some Chinese choreographies at the same time as playing the piece. Like me throwing the bow in the air and catching it at the same time.

JOO: Then I would come out, you know, play it with a slightly more vibrato.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "TAMBURA CHINOIS")

IGUDESMAN: Which could be also a very wobbly opera singer. So it's...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

JOO: Or a wobbly Chinese opera singer.

SIEGEL: So you work on these things and when you've got it right, you'll introduce it into the act and then...

IGUDESMAN: Yes. Actually when we got it wrong, we probably...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IGUDESMAN: ...introduce it to the act.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIEGEL: It occurs to me, you know, as I'm looking toward a finale here, that actually the ends of pieces are, you know, are just made for you guys to...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IGUDESMAN: Yeah.

SIEGEL: ...overdo the end of a piece. How long can you go in ending a particular number?

IGUDESMAN: Well, we could...

JOO: We could try.

IGUDESMAN: We could try and play the ending of a piece.

JOO: Let's just play the - shall we go from the end?

IGUDESMAN: From the - yeah, from the - just let's go from the end.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JOO: Hey, it's over.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

IGUDESMAN: No, now it's good.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIEGEL: Aleksey Igudesman and Hyung-ki Joo, thank you both very much.

JOO: Thank you very much.

IGUDESMAN: Thank you. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIEGEL: You're listening to ALL...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

IGUDESMAN: Ah.

SIEGEL: The duo violinist Igudesman and pianist Joo now touring the U.S. A tour that's scheduled to bring them to Carnegie Hall in April. And you can watch them perform in our studio at our website, nprmusic.org.

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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