The Ventura Music Festival, which continues through this coming weekend, is celebrating its 20th anniversary. Given that milestone, it would have been perfectly appropriate if the opening concert solemnly celebrated the intellectual heft and spiritual uplift of classical music.
Instead, we got Igudesman and Joo. And the large, appreciative audience could not have been happier.
Well known in Europe but much less so here, Russian violinist Aleksey Igudesman and pianist Hyung-ki Joo, a British native of Korean ancestry, are virtuoso musicians who also happen to be brilliant comedians. Their A Little Nightmare Music, which they performed Friday night at the Ventura Community Presbyterian Church, is a combination recital and sketch comedy routine. It finds them bickering, falling asleep, playing from various odd positions (such as lying under the piano, or standing on one foot), and, for a brief, blissful moment, Riverdancing.
Like their predecessors in this rather narrow field, Victor Borge and Peter Schickele (aka P.D.Q. Bach), they incorporate both highbrow and lowbrow humor; the more you know about music, the more jokes you will get. On one level, theirs is a traditional comedic partnership — Joo is the extrovert, Igudesman the nebbish who has to be coaxed into things — but the deadpan, absurdist feel of much of their material is very 21st century. This is musical comedy for the post–Andy Kaufman generation.
Their repertoire ranges from Mozart and Rachmaninoff to maudlin pop classics like “All By Myself” and “I Will Survive.” It’s both hilarious and a bit disconcerting to experience how easily they slide from one genre to another. They also fight relatable battles with modern technology, with an annoying cell phone ringtone becoming the inspiration for a set of clever variations. It’s brilliant stuff. Some Santa Barbara presenter simply has to book these guys.
Meanwhile, the Ventura Music Festival continues with performances by pianist Stanislav Khristenko, who will play Chopin, Liszt, Bartók, and Prokofiev on Friday, May 9, and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, which will re-create the traditional sounds of New Orleans on Saturday, May 10. For more about the festival, visit venturamusicfestival.org.