Musical mayhem

Barry C Chung

Nightmare pair's big idea sees 60-strong orchestra play harmonious havoc with classical music concert concept

Barry C Chung |

Latest Articles

Coronavirus: What we know about the new Omicron variant so far

MC Soho and Kidney on using Hong Kong humour to ‘shake things up’

What is Uber’s vision for modernising Hong Kong transport?

Pushing back artistic boundaries, Hyung-ki Joo (left) and Aleksey Igudesman love to hear from fans who have been converted to classical music.
Classical music is sometimes accused of being elitist in its appeal. Such snobbery doubtless exists within classical circles. But over the years the boundaries of accessibility seem to be gradually breaking down. Two classical musicians would like to claim a share of the credit for that, having armed themselves with quirkiness and the audacity to blend theatre, comedy and pop culture with the music that's so dear to their hearts.

Aleksey Igudesman and Hyung-ki Joo met as youngsters at the famous Yehudi Menuhin School in England. The pair felt the rigidity and overly conservative nature of typical classical concerts, which Joo describes as resembling more a "funeral procession than a celebration of music", detracted from the music. In 2004, partly in response to this, they created the two-man theatrical show A Little Nightmare Music.

Even then the seeds of something "big" were planted in their minds. Their ideas were bigger than just the two of them. "Since we're both composers, we realised that if we had more than two instruments and more than two people, we could do a lot more," Joo explains to Young Post over the phone from Vienna. But since they were just starting out and had limited resources, they settled on a two-man act. However, once Little Nightmare became a hit, it opened up the possibility of going big. The time was ripe to give birth to Little Nightmare's big brother.

"Big Nightmare Music gets an orchestra involved," says Joo. "There are things specifically written for the orchestra. And it gets the orchestra involved as much as possible. So this time it's not just two of us on stage clowning around. It's 60 of us on stage clowning around."

The two-hour long show, which will play to a sell-out crowd at Hong Kong City Hall this weekend, consists of things you'd never see in a classical concert: orchestra members dance and sing, there are plenty of hijinks and, most of all, an absolute dedication to craziness. If it weren't for the luscious music, the show could be the antithesis of a classical concert. "People love it when things go wrong," says Joo. "We have a show where things go wrong on purpose ... That's why it's called Nightmare."

The show's success aside, most of the pair's gratitude comes from knowing they're influencing fans. They often receive letters and e-mails from people who've developed an interest in classical music through watching the pair's YouTube videos. Some say they first picked up an instrument after seeing their show. And that, Joo says, is "the biggest compliment" they can receive.

Igudesman and Joo's approach seems groundbreaking and unorthodox, but Joo admits the idea is pretty old-fashioned, and that it had been done before by one of the founding fathers of classical music.

Joo adds: "We thought it was an original idea until we realised that Mozart had already done it 200 years before us."