On the evening of Sept. 26, crowds of people gathered in Symphony Hall in anticipation of the sold-out Boston leg of the TwoSet Violin World Tour 2023/24. TwoSet Violin — a hilarious Australian comedy duo comprised of two violinists — boasts an impressive following of over four million subscribers on YouTube. For many in attendance, this evening marked the culmination of years spent enjoying the online content of Eddy Chen and Brett Yang — the group’s members — as audience members had another opportunity to witness the duo perform live on their second global tour.
The show commenced with a special guest, Sophie Druml, gracing the stage with a piano performance of Liszt’s “Mephisto Waltz.” While her rendition was exquisitely executed, the piece itself extended beyond ten minutes, toying with the audience’s attention span.
Nevertheless, this initial seriousness quickly gave way to the lighthearted charm of Chen and Yang. They kicked off their performance with a few playful jabs about the art of practicing their instrument before diving into a game of violin charades. In this interactive game, they skillfully imitated a variety of sounds using their violins, drawing uproarious laughter from the audience as they mimicked everything from birds chirping to Yang shedding tears of jealousy when watching a performance by a young violin prodigy.
TwoSet Violin’s ingenuity even extended to creating a unique musical piece from their violin charades, with assistance from Druml on the piano. When specific sounds, such as an ambulance, were featured in their composition, the stage lights responded by flashing red and blue, immersing the audience in a truly captivating and multisensory experience.
The central part of Yang and Chen’s performance revolved around a comedic odyssey, featuring the sudden appearance of an enigmatic figure donning a mask adorned with musical notes on the projection screen. Drawing inspiration from the hit series “Squid Game,” this character claimed to represent ‘The Academy,’ a supposed authority overseeing classical musicians, and declared that Chen and Yang were disgracing classical music. They were challenged to undertake the formidable ‘Ling Ling Exam’ — a whimsically concocted, rigorous musical test tailored for this show — in order to redeem themselves.
The test featured an array of popular classical music pieces, such as Massenet’s “Meditation from Thaïs,” Monti’s “Czardas,” and Beethoven’s “Violin Sonata No. 5 in F major, Op. 24.” However, rather than delivering these pieces in the traditional static manner typical of classical musicians, they found creative, innovative ways to elicit laughter from the audience. In particular, Chen, Yang, and Druml tackled “Czardas” while blindfolded. Chen and Yang also showcased their signature move of playing the violin while hula hooping, a feat they had previously demonstrated on their past tour and on YouTube.
One of the concert’s most beloved moments for the audience occurred when two fortunate attendees had the chance to select a piece for both Chen and Yang to perform as part of the ‘Ling Ling Exam.’ The selection process involved spinning a wheel, which featured 12 renowned violin concertos.
Chen first performed the opening of Saint-Saëns’s “Violin Concerto No. 3 in B minor, Op. 61” while Yang gently coerced a toddler into spinning the wheel so that it landed on Mendelssohn’s “Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64.”
The culmination of the exam unfolded as the enigmatic figure from ‘The Academy,’ reappeared, announcing his final stipulation: Only one individual could successfully pass the ‘Ling Ling Exam.’ Yang and Chen engaged in a spirited showdown for the coveted title, performing Wieniawski’s “Etude-Caprice Op. 18, No. 4.” In the end, Yang emerged victorious, securing his passage in this examination and a prize of a prestigious solo performance.
However, during the solo winner’s performance, Yang extended a warm invitation to Chen to join him back on stage, emphasizing the idea that classical music is most powerful when shared. Together with Druml, they delivered a captivating rendition of several compositions, including Handel-Halvorson’s “Passacaglia.” While the majority of the exam journey had been marked by humor, this part of the performance adopted a more solemn tone, leaving the audience unsure of how to respond to the shift in mood. The initial commotion from certain audience members posed some challenges for TwoSet Violin in starting their piece and created a bit of distraction not only for the artists on stage, but also for those who sought to enjoy the music in the moment.
Overall, TwoSet Violin’s concert was a breath of fresh air for the world of classical music, bridging the gap between comedy and the traditional formality that classical music often brings to the table. Yang and Chen seamlessly translated their online humor to the live stage, incorporating a unique blend of classical music, comedy, and theater in their performance and ultimately creating a captivating experience that resonated with everyone present.