Mixing genres: Helvacıoğlu and Igudesman & Joo

Mixing genres: Helvacıoğlu and Igudesman & Joo

Musician Erdem Helvacıoğlu performs during a rehearsal for his April 19 concert at Borusan Music House in İstanbul.

April 26, 2013, Friday/ 15:42:00/ ALEXANDRA IVANOFF

On the busy classical concert calendar of April 19 were two unusual concerts on opposite ends of the stylistic spectrum, and both used and fused several musical genres. Award-winning electronic composer Erdem Helvacıoğlu presented his 10-year retrospective at Borusan Music House, while the comedy-in-music duo of Igudesman & Joo romped through their brilliant virtuoso vaudeville at Kadır Has University.

Since 2003, Helvacıoğlu has recorded 13 CDs of his own music, beginning with his “A Walk Through the Bazaar,” for which he used a hand-held microphone in the air during a walking tour in İstanbul's Kapalı Çarşı (Grand Bazaar). The raw material from that adventure, in which we hear vendors hollering amusing phrases like “only 2-and-a-half milyon!” and “hello, did we drop the price enough?”, was mixed with other effects for this debut album. Twelve more albums, each with different focuses and technical approaches, were produced by recording companies in the US, England, Sweden, Belgium and Turkey.

His retrospective concert included 14 selections taken from all of his albums, beginning and ending with “A Walk Through the Bazaar,” and visually aided by the expertise of light and sound designer Murat Ersan. Helvacıoğlu's program was divided into two 45-minute sets: “The first is abstract and ambient, the second is rhythm-based,” he told Today's Zaman during a rehearsal. To create the live soundscapes in Borusan Music House, Helvacıoğlu placed 13 speakers, including two guitar amps, on three floors. “My job at the control panel is the continuous adjustment of the sound emitted from every speaker, through individual control levers,” he explained.

If the chronology of this concert also represents how Helvacıoğlu has evolved, then he has injected more soul into his work, which contrasts with his more technically oriented beginnings. Hearing “The Hunted” from “Planet X” (as I also heard the complete album live at Berlin's recent March Music festival) and “The Boneyard” from “Fields and Fences” takes the listener to some heart-wrenching places. The spare grey of “Sadness” from “Timeless Waves” and the darkness of “Five Stages of Grief” (from the album of the same name) are more revealing of emotional content than the previous tech-smart experimental albums “Altered Realities” and “Freedom to the Black.” Those emotive aspects were further highlighted by Ersan's visual mood-setting via hand-held cameras and spotlights that created constantly shifting images on every surface, including the audience.

In describing the kinds of changes he has seen in his industry since 2002, Helvacıoğlu remarked: “During the 1990s we saw the most drastic changes. Then, we only had slow PCs. Later, laptops got cheaper and with them you could create a big studio. Before, I had to buy a lot of equipment, and now it's all contained.”

Helvacıoğlu's musical past also informs the present: “As a child I listened to Def Leppard, Deep Purple and Bon Jovi. Later I played guitar in rock bands. I'm proud of that, but most composers wouldn't admit it,” he said. “Def Leppard's unique sound was a result of working with sound engineers and producers who were committed to taking risks. That's the basis of my whole career -- the mix of many genres and not limiting myself by trying to define it.”

Igudesman & Joo: jokes and jigs

Classical musicians Alexey Igudesman and Richard Hyung-ki Joo also mix up musical genres -- and add topical jokes and physical humor. Their virtuoso vaudeville at Kadir Has had the audience of all ages rolling in the aisles. Violinist Igudesman and pianist Joo cleverly blend classical, opera, pop, rock, folk, James Bond film music, rap and a tasteful touch of slapstick comedy.

The two met and started performing while they were students at the Yehudi Menuhin School in England. Their comic antics together on stage arose out of shared frustrations. “Partly, it was just to annoy our strict teachers,” admits Igudesman. “We both felt that the world of classical music was taking itself way too seriously. Going to a concert often resembled a funeral rather than being a celebration of life ... we dreamed of changing this.”

This duo is one of the very few comedy-in-music acts in the world that spoof classical music and musicians with expert-level savvy and sass. Igudesman & Joo are both superb musicians who follow in the hallowed footsteps of the late Victor Borge, the Danish concert pianist whose inspired satire entertained generations until his death in 2000. The duo is also, incredibly, able to weave into their routines the local language; here they included plenty of Turkish words throughout, for excellent comic effect.

Borge created plenty of solo gags that have become classics. One of these never fails to get laughs -- falling off the piano bench, which Joo did after playing a particularly vigorous arpeggio. Other amazing feats were Igudesman's “Kung Fu Violinist,” where he impales himself with his bow as he plays (while dancing) Fritz Kreisler's high-speed etude “Tambourin Chinois,” and dancing a jig while sawing away at a Mozart melody that morphs into an Irish fiddle tune.

Joo's “Big Hands, Small Hands” used long wooden strips with pegs to play huge piano chords that were beyond his reach, and his bit about a pianist's mind wandering (we heard his thoughts through the sound system) as he played a Schubert piece revealed hilarious subject matter, including “Uh oh, here comes the hard part -- don't mess up!” Of course he messed up, royally.

For their encores, they started with a Mahler symphony quote that artfully turned into Charlie Chaplin's “Smile Though Your Heart Is Aching,” one of their more serious moments. Then they launched into a rap and beatbox version of a Purcell opera aria, and then the disco hit “I Will Survive” with a little Mozart mixed in. “Yeah, give it up for Mozart!” screamed Joo.

Can classical music be tons of fun? The entire audience thought so, including the children, who laughed the loudest.

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