A fabulous and funny journey into genius

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It is difficult to learn how to play an instrument. It is very difficult to learn how to play it well and harder still to play a stringed instrument in tune. Imagine playing then, one of the trickiest virtuoso pieces in the repertoire on one of the hardest instruments in the world while jumping in the air, dancing, lying on the floor, kicking and – well, you get the idea. This is exactly what the professional comics, ‘PaGAGnini’ do on a regular basis. Families on Saturday afternoon were treated to a performance at the recently inaugurated ‘Royal Opera, House of Musical Arts’. Smaller but perfectly formed, the HMA provides a more intimate space for smaller productions – and this was just that; a four-hander extraordinaire.
Audience members of all ages were seated in their newly assigned seats in eager anticipation ads the lights dimmed. To their surprise a cellist was heard from behind, and began to walk and play through the auditorium. Cellos usually have spikes in the ground and are played by seriously seated musicians. Today, Bulgarian Jorge Fournadjiev had his instrument on a strap – like a guitar – as he approached the stage. From the other aisle Spaniard Fernando Clemente played violin acrobatics, and violinist Eduardo Ortega joined them on stage – but someone was clearly missing. Lights dimmed, they took their bow and as lights came up there on a podium, like a jack in the box, the Boss and youngest of the Quartet, the 38-year-old French Thomas Potiron appeared – and there was no going back. He was the virtuoso, the leader, the soloist, with his slightly scary looks and very expressive face, they launched into a satirical arrangement of Sarasate’s ‘Fantasia on Carmen’ with wicked antics. From the spoofed ‘Habanera’ to the outrageous interpretation of Carmen’s ‘Chanson Bohème’, the four were incorrigible – dancing, jumping in synchronisation and playing in every position conceivable.
Dressed in Dinner Jackets in pure Mr Bean caricature, the four seated themselves for a ‘serious’ performance of Manuel de Falla’s ‘Spanish Dance’. Clemente portrayed the small, shy, butt of jokes and soon to be thwarted-in-love guy, and painfully, his bow started grinding like an amateur. The Boss was less than impressed. Nudged up by his colleagues he improved, but Mr Fournadjiev dropped his Cello in disdain and picked up a pair of castanets which he played and danced with perfectly in a flamenco pastiche.
As these classically trained string virtuosos attempted to perform Boccherini’s archetypal ‘Minuet’ a telephone rang. A mobile in the audience? No, a ploy to get bossy Potiron off stage so the boys could do what they wanted – a bit of Cajun Bluegrass. Each time the maestro reappeared they reverted to type. Each time the phone took him off they could play Blues with Cello-bass, violin-mandolin and upturned fiddle-drum. The house lights turned to disco flashes, the audience was roaring and it just got better. They reinvented themselves as Rock Stars in dark glasses. The cello and fiddle became percussion while Ortega swapped his chin-rest for a harmonica and Potiron found his inner-cool. Another transfiguration produced Mexican Rancheros in large sombreros as the back lighting changed to blue.
A serious attempt at Pachelbel’s ‘Canon’ was treated with slapstick decadence and disrespect – though the music remained impeccable (almost!) throughout. There was wiggling, dancing round in a circle and then offstage, leaving the cellist, bow now ‘planted’ front of stage, to play pizzicato. They gradually all sauntered back on, Mr Boss finally realising, ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’, produced Jazzed-up Pachelbel à la Jacques Loussier. Things degenerated into a risqué take on ‘Hernando’s Hideaway’ as musicians played with a rose between their teeth.
It was audience participation time as a parody of Shigeru Umebayashi’s ‘Yumeji’s Theme’, from his 2000 album, ‘In the Mood’, augmented the Quartet to Sextet with the help of a small boy on Squeaky Toy and lovely lady on Cow Bell. Including Japanese singing and other contemporary compositional techniques, the guests did themselves proud but oh; Clemente was love-struck. He yearned for his lovely lady so much that he demurely serenaded her with the Gainsbourg classic, ‘La Javanaise’.
A highlight of the programme came as Ortega, disgruntled with Potiron’s spotlight-seeking bravado, stormed off stage and returned with a state-of-the-art electric violin, complete with effect pedals. From underwater to bass boom effects, he began building his own solo composition in layers using recording loops until he had created a completed folk-rock ballad in front of our eyes, adding a superb solo melody on top.
Finally the Pagagnini Quartet turned to a ‘Capriccio’ by their namesake, starting seriously but quickly morphing into a fully-fledged Jazzed-up interpretation, with lights flashing blue to red, green to black and clouds of smoke billowing on stage. The sheer energy and buffoonery of the performers did not stop during their exhausting 75 minute show, including an impressive Encore of a leaping, kneeling, sword-fighting, roaring extract from Vivaldi’s beloved, ‘Four Seasons’.
A shorter version of the show was repeated for school groups the following morning, arranged by the Education and Outreach Department of ROHM, to utterly transfixed and delighted youngsters.

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