Mozart was a funny guy. Haydn a laugh riot. Wagner, well, not so much. These composers may not have been doing standup routines but the world of classical music abounds with humor. In their new WFMT Radio Network radio show, “You Just Have to Laugh,” the hilariously inventive Igudesman & Joo mine the rich vein of this oft-neglected side of so-called serious music. The duo, who as Monty Python alum Terry Jones notes, “brings surrealism to the concert hall and takes its trousers down,” has been delighting audiences—and some 40 million YouTube viewers—worldwide with their mash-ups of classical music, pop culture and pure zaniness.
Produced, written and hosted by the violinist Aleksey Igudesman and pianist Hyung-ki Joo, this one-hour special highlights the pair’s lively banter as they explain—offering musical clips, tidbits and performances as evidence—what makes some composers and their compositions downright funny. Igudesman & Joo’s give-and-take, a mix of erudition and verbal hijinks, provides an enlightening and comic spin on your average classical music experience.
Our hosts offer surefire ways to fail at an audition before exploring the humor found in music from the likes of Purcell, Haydn, Beethoven, Brahms, Shostakovich, Satie, Hindemith and Bartok. What makes them so richly amusing? Is it compositions that trade in anatomical references, bodily functions and sexual innuendo? Offbeat tuning, a la Haydn, that take a seemingly sober work in a totally different direction? Knowing the music’s backstory, such as the icy relations between Stravinsky and Schönberg or that a Bartok piece is really mocking Shostakovich. An excruciatingly bad performance of good music? Or maybe, it’s a composer who purposely creates a work that makes the orchestra sound terrible?
For Igudesman & Joo, it’s all of the above and listeners will learn and laugh along with them. Inspired by their musical heroes, Igudesman & Joo have penned their own comic classics, which are liberally sprinkled into the show, including the series’ theme song “You Just Have to Laugh,” a satirical ode to Wagner, “Ride of the Oy Valkeries,” and “Horror Movies,” a screamingly funny paean to film scores.
No strangers to radio, the duo has performed several times at WFMT and were acclaimed for giving one of the year’s most memorable live in-studio New York performances on WNYC-FM’s celebrated music program “Soundcheck.” Canada’s CBC Radio commissioned Igudesman & Joo to produce three comical skits for their own broadcasts, with the mission to “fix all of classical music’s problems,” following in the sizeable footsteps of another multi-faceted artist who transformed the medium, Glenn Gould.
Best known as a violinist and composer, Aleksey Igudesman has also established himself as an actor, comedian and filmmaker. His music has earned admiration for capturing the essence of diverse musical languages in a uniquely clever and joyful way.
Igudesman attended the Yehudi Menuhin School in Surrey, England. There he met Hyung-ki Joo, his comedy partner-to-be, bonding over a mutual passion for dead composers and deadpan humor. He later studied under Boris Kuschnir at the Vienna Conservatoire.
The violinist has enjoyed a successful career playing, composing, and arranging for his string trio Triology, recording several CDs for BMG, teaching master classes, and performing with Bobby McFerrin, Julian Rachlin, Janine Jansen, Joshua Bell, Gidon Kremer, Sir Roger Moore and John Malkovich, among others. Igudesman also directed, produced and starred in the feature¬-length mockumentary “Noseland,” an award winner at the Doc Miami International Film Festival.
As a composer, Igudesman has written pieces performed by ensembles and orchestras worldwide—including the New York Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Seattle Symphony Orchestra. He has frequently collaborated with Academy Award winner Hans Zimmer on movies, including “Sherlock Holmes,” nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Score, and “Jealous of the Birds,” which won Best Original Score at the Rhode Island International Film Festival.
He is one half of the deliciously daft Igudesman & Joo, whose inspired silliness can start with Rachmaninoff or Liszt and find its way through martial arts, movie classics, rock, hip hop, folk, heavy metal, disco and step dancing. Sketches from their concert shows shredding the classical canon have gone viral on YouTube, with some 40 million views.
Pianist and composer Hyung-ki Joo has appeared as a soloist and in chamber ensembles worldwide, with works performed by such renowned orchestras as the New York Philharmonic and London Philharmonic.
Enrolled at age 10 at the Yehudi Menuhin School in Surrey, England, Joo studied composition with Simon Parkin and Malcolm Singer. It was while attending the music academy that he and eventual comic partner violinist Aleksey Igudesman discovered a shared passion for Mahler and Monty Python, interests that helped inspire the tandems’ work in concert comedy.
Joo made his musical debut at Barbican Hall, with the Warsaw Sinfonia conducted by Sir Yehudi Menuhin. The Grand Prize winner of the Stravinsky International Piano Competition, Joo has worked with Academy® Award winning composer Vangelis. Rock legend Billy Joel chose him to arrange and record “Fantasies and Delusions,” a classical album of Joel solo piano pieces that was No. 1 on the Billboard charts. He has performed at the White House and co-founded a piano trio with violinist Rafal Zambrzycki-Payne and cellist Thomas Carroll.
He is one-half of the wickedly inventive Igudesman & Joo, who use pop culture, comedy, and slapstick to transform concert stages into musical funhouses. The pair’s uproarious sketches have attracted a wide YouTube following, with some 40 million views. Joo has appeared in several films including, “Pianomania,” “Noseland,” and “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Classical Music” and performed with such classical heavyweights as Joshua Bell, Gidon Kremer and Emanuel Ax and actors Roger Moore and John Malkovich.