What happens when Mozart and Monte Python meet on the same stage?
You get Igudesman and Joo, a pair of conservatory trained classical musicians whose idea of an evening of classical music includes pop-music mashups, heavy metal meltdowns and slapstick humor veering to the edge of “South Park.”
“Our main thing is to ... create the kind of concert we would want to go to ourselves and to let audiences have fun,” said pianist Hyung-ki Joo, half of the Vienna-based duo that also includes Russian-born violinist Aleksey Igudesman. “To say it’s OK to have fun with music.”
Take their heavy metal schtick for “Do You Believe In Gravity”: the pair strip parts from Joo’s piano — a leg that’s actually a handheld portable keyboard, the kickstand keeping the lid up, which turns out to be a skinny, electric violin. The pair wail away in a blast that sounds much bigger than just two guys.
Another sketch has Joo being arrested for playing Chopin too fast.
The cornerstone of their new show “And Now Mozart,” which they are bringing to Centennial Hall on Wednesday, March 23, comes at the end when they perform “Mozart Will Survive.” It’s a mashup of Mozart snippets with the 1979 Gloria Gaynor disco hit “I Will Survive.”
But the pair will have us believe “I Will Survive” was actually composed by Mozart. The lyrics are the same, but the Mozart version has bits and pieces of unmistakable Mozart charm.
“We found the original manuscripts in Vienna so we will be playing the original version from 1778,” Joo said during a phone call early this month from a concert stop in Canada.
Don’t mistake what they do as mocking classical music.
“It’s not just about having fun but finding new ways to make music that’s 100 years old relevant again,” Joo said. “There are a lot of composers that I think we would be part of the same club: Hayden, Purcell, Mendelssohn, Schumann. Liszt would famously go into the concert hall and have a glass of wine with the audience then go back and play.”
“There was less distance between the audience and the arts,” he added. “There wasn’t this concept of classical concert.”
Igudesman and Joo have been performing together for a dozen years. Their musical relationship goes back to when they first met as 12-year-olds at the Yehudi Menuhin School in England. They remained friends and in their teens started doing bits and pieces of what later evolved into their stage act.
“And Now Mozart” follows the pair’s 2004 “A Little Nightmare Music” — imagine Victor Borge and Dudley Moore taking hilarious liberties with Mozart’s “Eine kleine Nachtmusik” (A Little Night Music) and then throw in chopsticks played with actual karate chops on the keyboards and piano acrobatics — which launched their act in spectacular fashion. Their videos on YouTube have garnered more than 35 million views and their shows world wide have been critically acclaimed.
“We always had a good feeling about this,” Joo said. “We’re just very lucky that it caught on and people liked it. We always believed it was just necessary for us to realize that there was a different format for music. What we do is fundamentally retro. In the times of Mozart and Beethoven the concerts were open and much more free.”
The Tucson concert is part of the pair’s five-week U.S. tour that includes a show Tuesday, March 22, in Mesa. They also do a show with orchestra that they brought to Colorado and Seattle, Washington, on this tour.