In the famous Benaroya Hall, home to the Seattle Symphony, the internationally acclaimed show The Music Critic enthralled its packed audience with the first performance of its North American tour. A blend of classical music and comedy, the show creates a unique experience that features the work of some of the best composers in history like Beethoven and Chopin, performed by premier modern artists including pianist Hyung-ki Joo and violinist Aleksey Igudesman, along with renowned actor John Malkovich narrating. This seemingly unlikely trio meshes perfectly along with wonderful supporting musicians to create a show filled with beautiful melodies and hilarious reactions.
The Music Critic holds a collection of critiques of famous musicians presented by Malkovich, the ultimate critic. No matter the fame of the composer, Malkovich’s critic holds a sharp insult for everyone, believing all their music to be worthless. For each piece played, Malkovich speaks, and occasionally even yells, of the horrid music he hears, using quotes from critics in the past and, most hilariously, the internet. After the continuous barrage of insults from Malkovich, Igudesman, and Joo decide they have had enough and fight back. Igudesman crafted a clever musical piece accompanying critiques of Malkovich’s acting ability that provides a feeling of satisfaction as the evil critic gets a taste of his own medicine. After a seemingly fitting conclusion to the show, Igudesman and Joo carry on in the encore, playing Bach as a duet only to be interrupted by Malkvoich with such unintelligible recommendations, like somehow playing the piece more religiously, that made the encore extremely amusing and one of the best parts of the show.
The performance was overall marvelous. Joo shows his dexterity with the piano in his beautiful solo of Chopin’s Grande Valse Brillante in E-flat major, Op. 18. Additionally, Igudesman shows his amazing skill with Funk the String, which he composed himself; even more impressively, he plays the fast-paced piece with a bow a quarter of the size of a regular bow. Joo and Igudesman’s musical skill as well as their humorous role as fun composers provides great contrast with Malkovich’s cold and soulless performance that epitomizes the harshness of the critiques he recites.
With the first few pieces, The Music Critic follows a repetitive structure in which the musical piece is played followed by Malkovich’s critiques. These distracting cuts make it difficult to truly enjoy the music, similar to advertisements distracting from a TV show. Additionally, the critiques are very direct and hold little to no emotion, which makes the sarcastic remarks humorless despite the intended opposite effect. I could feel the awkwardness of the audience forcing laughs at some of his critiques that in all honesty were not funny.
Featuring famed composers, The Music Critic shows how everyone is subject to criticism no matter their status, thus emphasizing the importance of being able to take criticism and accept it. These composers persevered through their critics’ comments, in a time where critics held much more power, and created some of the greatest musical pieces in history.
Overall, The Music Critic is a one-of-a-kind experience that was wonderfully executed by an impressive trio. Malkovich’s occasional interruptions for critiques, though somewhat disruptive, offer thought-provoking commentary on the role of critics in the world of art. The music of Dvořák, Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, Kancheli, Debussy, Schumann, and Igudesman give the show diversity and each piece fills listeners with a wide range of emotions: beauty in Brahms and Chopin, chilling cries of sadness in Kancheli, and mesmerizing romance in Schumann whose piece could be described as addictive to the heart. Ultimately, The Music Critic celebrates the greatest musical pieces in history and composers' endurance through the critics to produce such marvels that still evoke powerful emotions in audiences today. The combination of such beauty with humor creates a wonderfully unique show and makes The Music Critic an ingenious piece of work comparable to the pieces it held.