REVIEW: Aleksey Igudesman’s ‘The Music Critic’ with John Malkovich

October 27, 2023, 1:38 PM · On the evening of October 20th, I found myself in Downtown Los Angeles, cursing traffic and unruly drivers and feeling immensely hungry after a full and rather crazed day at the office. I usually try to avoid Downtown Los Angeles like the plague (Covid?) unless I’m gigging, so I made a rare exception to be in the audience at The Music Critic, starring John Malkovich, at the Orpheum Theatre.

Orpheum Theater The Music Critic

I found parking pretty easily and since I had about an hour before the show, I made my way to Dune LA, a Mediterranean inspired eatery, which is a short walk from the Orpheum. Bolstered by a delectable lamb sandwich, smothered in spicy s’rug, and served in between freshly baked garlicky pita bread, I made my way to the Orpheum in better spirits than during my commute.

My date (my newly minted bride of two years) had double booked herself and couldn’t be present so to pass the time I made my way to the bar at the Orpheum and enjoyed a $30 domestic beer and stood watching the assembling crowd- a motley crew of diverse ages and backgrounds- some dressed to the nines and others delightfully informally dressed.

"The Music Critic" is written and conceived by concert violinist Alexey Igudesman and features his frequent comic collaborator, pianist Hyung-ki Joo, aka Igudesman and Joo. If you’re not familiar with their highbrow humor aimed at classical music aficionados, here are some of their past performances:

"La Cucaracha" - Igudesman and Joo with violinist Viktoria Mullova

Here is another: "I will survive" with Igudesman and Joo.

A previous generation of concertgoer might be familiar with the comedic stylings of Victor Borge, and Igudesman and Joo are cut from the same cloth, playing and re-imagining classical tropes while interweaving pop culture references. And, lest you think that they are all schtick and no talent, they were both trained at the Yehudi Menuhin School, where they met, and they’ve collaborated with some of the leading A-list musicians including Janine Jansen, Joshua Bell, Yuja Wang, Gilles Apap, Viktoria Mullova, and Roger Moore. (Yes, 007 Roger Moore).

In this staged production with John Malkovich, Malkovich plays a maddeningly verbose music critic who blends some of the most pointed music critiques of the last century written about some of the greatest works of music, with his unique form of sardonic caricature and intensely acerbic wit. "The Critic" takes aim at some of Western Classical music’s leading composers including Dvorak, Beethoven, Rachmaninov, and Schumann. Schumann, "fancies himself a composer," while Brahms is a "giftless bastard," and Claude Debussy is described as "simply ugly."

Assisted and supported by violinist Claire Wells, violist Hsin-Yun Huang and cellist Anthony Lysy, Igudesman and Joo capture the essence and flavor of several chamber music works while the music critic’s harangues continually escalate, to the increasing annoyance of the musicians onstage.

The Music Critic John Malkovich
The Music Critic: L-R - Violinist Aleksey Igudesman, pianist Hyung-ki Joo and actor John Malkovich. Photo by Julia Wesely.

The playing throughout the production was, understandably and tastefully, amplified. The Orpheum does not lend itself well to acoustic performances and the playing from the piano quintet assembled onstage was superb. The real humor and charm of the production lies in the fact that the cast of musicians are all high-caliber players and are using the essence of their art in the service of comedic delivery. The virtuosity and skill of the musicians only served to further highlight and enhance the acidic utterances of Malkovich’s critic.

The evening was full of lol moments from the warm and enthusiastic audience. The musicians, reaching their breaking point with the sour critic, eventually turn the tables on Malkovich’s character and deliver a fitting revenge, in the guise of an original composition by Igudesman. The audience loved it, and at the show’s conclusion Malkovich and the assembled musicians were lauded enthusiastically.

While this was the only performance in California, no doubt Igudesman and Joo will continue to collaborate, create, and tour. We’ll look forward to whatever tasteful gags they serve up in their next production. (There are a few more performances of The Music Critic, find the tour schedule on this page.)

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