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Monday, November 5, 2012 - Page updated at 05:00 a.m.

Musical comedy duo Igudesman & Joo unafraid to mash up Mozart, James Bond

By Tom Keogh
Special to The Seattle Times

What's a little shredded dignity to a pair of virtuoso musicians?

If it means drawing people who know nothing about classical music to a concert hall, then for violinist Aleksey Igudesman and pianist Richard Hyung-ki Joo the act of singing badly in a falsetto voice, bumping one's head on the underside of a piano or playing fiddle after losing one's trousers is a small price to pay.

The accomplished duo — now both 39 — who met at age 12 at the Yehudi Menuhin School for young musicians in Surrey, England, and now travel the world as Igudesman & Joo — mix comedy with classical music for delighted audiences. The pair will be making a stop at Seattle's Town Hall on Monday, bringing their international hit program "A Little Nightmare Music" to the TownMusic series.

Check out their videos on YouTube and and discover calculated silliness for an all-ages crowd. (Looking for a classical program offering both great music and a lot of laughs for kids? This is it.)

Start with the artists' mashup of Mozart and James Bond's famous movie theme. Or take their arrangement of the gorgeous second movement of Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, which descends into a hilarious reading of Eric Carmen's mawkish 1975 hit "All By Myself" (which borrowed Rachmaninov's melody). Joo's sobbing vocal on Carmen's self-pitying lyrics is something to see.

" 'A Little Nightmare Music' is the first show we created," says Joo by phone from Vienna. "It's about all the nightmares that can happen in the span of a concert. When things go wrong — when the lights go out or a cellphone rings — that's when an audience suddenly comes alive, wondering what's going to happen next. Things going wrong often leads to something good."

Occasionally something both unscripted and very wrong has happened at an Igudesman & Joo performance.

"There's one point where I play the piano upside down," Joo says. "When I first did that, I hit my head and it really hurt. But people were laughing, so we've kept it in ever since. I probably have severe brain damage."

Joo, born in England to South Korean parents, and Leningrad native Igudesman are lifelong friends and collaborators. They are often cited as heirs to the legacy of Victor Borge, the Danish-American comedian and concert pianist.

"We owe much of our inspiration to him," says Joo, who also notes Dudley Moore, Spike Jones and P.D.Q. Bach as influences. "If you look back, Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven were mixing music and humor all the time."

The success of Igudesman & Joo has overtaken the partners' individual careers as soloists and composers. But their ability to entertain classical-music aficionados with inside jokes and novices with comic antics (occasionally pulling in other top talent such as Joshua Bell, Emanuel Ax and actor John Malkovich) finds them in constant demand.

"We write for those who get the musical jokes," Joo says. "But for those who don't, there is always something else going on. That's why we have such a widespread audience."

Tom Keogh:

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