Aleksey Igudesman is perhaps best known as one half of inventive and irreverent classical duo Igudesman and Joo, who have taken the world by storm with their unique and hilarious theatrical shows, combining comedy with classical music and popular culture.
Igudesman and Joo’s YouTube clips have to date gathered over 35 million hits, and the duo has appeared live and on television in numerous countries.
But there’s a lot more to St Petersburg-born Igudesman, who describes himself variously as “The World’s Most Ambiguously Inglorious Composer”, “Most Accidentally Immoral Producer” and “Most Attractively Intense Violininst”.
Insectopedia is one of Igudesman’s latest projects, a collection of ten insect-inspired solo piano pieces for the intermediate pianist (the book would suit players around UK Grade 4) which aim to be as educational as they are entertaining.
From the rear cover of the beautifully presented Universal Edition publication, global superstar pianist Yuja Wang tell us:
“Reminiscent of Bartók’s Mikrokosmos, you will have a lot of fun with this little album. In fact, the more you are involved, the more fun you will have with it. The music in Insectopedia is so vivid that you feel like you are becoming one of the insects. Well, perhaps not the cockroach, but try not to fly away after playing it!”
Well that got my attention! Intrigued? Let’s check it out…
Fun with Insects
According to Igudesman,
“Insects can be creepy, crawly and scary, but mostly I think they are fun. At least on the piano, they are. Inside of the piano, they are not. Get them out of there.”
The ten miniature critters which inhabit the collection are:
- Ant Maple
- Bread and Butterfly
- Bug Hug
- Grasshopper Dennis
- Cockroach Approach
- Bye, One Day Fly!
- Helicopter Dragonfly
- Tick me off
- Most Mosquitos
- Bee Have
If you are already enjoying the daft puns, hang in there and you will have lots of fun with the pieces themselves…
Playing through each of the ten, ‘quirky’ is the word that immediately describes all of them. Igudesman composes with supreme musical intelligence, but his priority here is certainly pictorial humour and amusing characterisation rather than, for example, melodic beauty.
This isn’t to say that the pieces are unmemorable or lack a sense of coherence and phrasing: the pieces work on any level, it’s just that they immediately and entertainingly portray… insects.
Yuja Wang’s comparison with Bartók isn’t as left field as I suspected it might be; while these pieces don’t exactly tell the tonal system to buzz off, they do include enough acerbic dissonance to have the powdered wig-wearing classicist reaching for a can of Raid.
As Yuja Wang elaborates,
“Aleksey entices us with his immense creativity into his work of colourful imagination. Be it a real or imaginary foreign land or a kingdom of animals or insects, one can always sense his big warm heart imbued with love, care, joy, sensitivity, all that’s important in life and, above all, the symbiosis between life and creating art.”
Those familiar with the high quality of UE’s recent Mike Cornick and other publications will be delighted to see the same attention to detail and outstanding design here.
Insectopedia has a gorgeous glossy cover dominated by colourful art that immediately piques our interest:
Predictably, the inside of the book is equally lovely, the notation well spaced and clearly engraved. And in his Preface at the start of the book the composer provides an engaging and humorous introduction to each of the pieces, announcing the dramatis personae populating the collection.
A particular delight, the cover illustration is matched by black-and-white cartoon illstrations for each piece, supplied by Nelly Josten, of whom the composer writes:
“I met Nelly when she was ten years old. She played violin with me and Daniel Hope in a concert. Nelly also wrote a beautiful composition for violin solo that Daniel premiered. Back then she showed me her drawings. I was so impressed that I asked her to illustrate one of my books. Now at the age of twelve she did it quite brilliantly, don’t you think?”
Yes, I do! Nelly’s illustrations are a perfect foil for Igudesman’s humorous introductions, and really are the icing on the cake!
Just one fly in the ointment though: oddly the book includes no fingering. And given that the target market is children at intermediate level this is a mite disappointing, although of course any good teacher will be able to hop in with some helpful suggestions.
So does Insectopedia bite? Certainly these are enjoyable pieces, and children of all ages who respond to Igudesman’s quirky sense of humour and imagination will be itching to get their fingers crawling over the whole collection.
From an educational point of view, too, the pieces succeed by incorporating an interesting and useful hive of musical and technical challenges, giving the whole enterprise even more of a buzz.
Ultimately though, it is the infectiously silly and good-natured humour and imagination which sets this publication apart in a well-colonised insectarium. In short, Insectopedia is jolly good and deserves to fly off the shelves!
Okay, I’m Done. Time to go check my soundboard for an infestation …
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