A Persian Cafe, Edward Lord Weeks

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Who Type Out Their Setlists

Last night, I saw Igudesman & Joo performing at Bridgwater Hall. Alexsey Igudesman and Richard Hyung-ki Joo are professional violin and piano soloists respectively, who do musical comedy skits on YouTube and various places.

The playing was top-notch; the orchestral balance and the comedy, less so. They introduced the first number, a mash-up of the Molto Allegro from Mozart's 40th Symphony with the James Bond Theme, with a dialogue which consisted of little more than them yelling "Mozart!" "No, Bond!" at each other.

This was followed by an unusual rendition of Mozart's Rondo Alla Turca, which was highly enjoyable but demonstrated two issues which were to plague much of the concert. The first was the use of blue humour: there was a fair bit of comedy which, if not performed by a man of east-Asian extraction, would have been viewed as a relic of the late 1800s, not to mention not-too-subtle references to certain parts of the male anatomy. The second was that the balance in the accompanying orchestra could be off so as to make it difficult to make out anything beyond the brass and percussion. This only seemed to be a problem when both of the soloists were playing, which suggests to me that they may have rehearsed without listeners. I understand the desire to avoid a "proper" conductor and the third on-stage personality this would almost inevitably require, but some sections were simply not up to scratch.

After a ridiculously overdramatic performance of All by Myself, they turned to a "new work" - a love ballad sung by a lonely farm boy to his favourite cow. It was credited to one "Joseph Frizell Kerr", which at first I suspected to be a joke about sexually deviant Austrians but turned out to refer to a person who only exists on Twitter.

The next few songs, during the course of which there was an interval, were mostly big-band types - Fistful of Dollars, Gonna Fly Now, etc. Towards the end they reached the second work of the evening which was at the standard it ought to be - a demonstration of the only way the average person can play Rachmaninoff's piano pieces. Sergei Rachmaninoff had famously massive hands, each of them able to span two octaves. (For comparison, I can comfortably play one-and-a-third octaves, squeezing to a semitone short of an octave-and-a-half if I flatten my hand in a way no pianist ever should). To play the gigantic chords required, Joo had a set of wooden planks with bits sticking out to play the chords, which Igudesman would juggle behind him in order to pass the right one at the time it was needed.

After an orchestral version of Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive and a couple of encores, the evening finished. I didn't regret going, but it would be fair to describe it is one of the worse concerts that I have been to.

As a final point, I would like to ask: how is this commercially viable? There were perhaps 1200 people in the audience (the total capacity of Bridgewater Hall is 2,400, but the upper levels weren't in use) at a ticket price of £15 (£8 for students). That implies total takings will be approaching £18,000, and at least a third of that will have gone on hiring the venue. Include pay and accommodation for the orchestra - a couple of days' labour at semi-skilled or higher wages for 40 or more people, plus the costs of transport and accommodation, will probably at the very least in the region of £8000. That doesn't leave a great deal spare, especially after administration, insurance, and the myriad other costs which are difficult to remember but cause hell for small businesses.

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