In Charles Dickens’ classic “A Christmas Carol,” he said: “There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor.”
When those words were penned, it’s safe to say he most likely did not have the realm of classical music in the forefront of his mind.
Though largely considered important and hailed by many as masterful, classical strains bring with them a heavy weight of convention and seriousness that, in original form, simply aren’t suited for all audiences. That is, until they are handled by the MozART Group, a Polish instrumental quartet that has been breathing new life into classical music since 1995.
In the group’s own introductory words: “We exist despite the sober formality of great concert halls, despite the boredom of classical musicians' lives, despite fanatic lovers of classical music, despite fans of rock, rap or pop who are afraid of classical music. We treat our muse with a humorous irony and we're sure, she will have nothing against it!”
The MozART group consists of Filip Jaślar, first violin; Michał Sikorski, second violin; Paweł Kowaluk, viola; and Bolesław Błaszczyk, cello; all of whom will be making the trek to Provo this week to showcase their skills and let their music do the speaking at the Covey Center for the Arts.
Though the group’s original language is Polish, members took some time to answer questions via email in regard to how the quartet formed, how it has reached audiences through the years and what guests can expect as they perform in Provo on Saturday. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
DAILY HERALD: What first sparked your love for music and interest in sharing it with others?
MOZART GROUP: When we were children, our parents noticed a musical talent in us and sent each of us to a music school. For a small child, playing an instrument is mainly associated with the obligation to exercise daily. The pleasure of playing comes a little later, often in high school only. When we were students, (we) came up with the idea of combining classical music with humor and creating a comedy string quartet. We began to play for an audience, which responded to our songs with laughter. It was and always is a great pleasure for us.
DH: What is your favorite part of performing around the globe?
MG: The Mozart Group will turn 25 this year. We are happy that we can perform concerts all over the world. It is connected with the necessity of taking long and not always pleasant trips. But every step on stage and every meeting with the audience is a reward for us. This definitely is the most enjoyable part of our work. If we were to indicate one country where we like to perform the most, then it definitely is the United States -- next to Poland. U.S. Americans are a wonderful, sensitive and spontaneous audience. We are very much looking forward to our next concerts in the U.S.A.
DH: How do you select the music you draw from for your performances?
MG: Creating our musical sketches, we use the greatest hits of classical, film or popular music, known not only to music lovers, but to ordinary people as well. We select songs in terms of associations with the theme of a sketch. For example, if the theme of the sketch is water, then we reach for “Water Music” by G.F. Händel, “Singin’ in the Rain” by Nacio Herb Brown, or the jazz standard “Caravan” by Duke Ellington.
DH: With so many classical artists, how did you choose the name MozART, and what do you think the original Mozart thinks of your performance style?
MG: First of all it is important to know that our full name is: MozART Group. The first song we developed in our own way was “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” by W.A. Mozart, and hence the idea that he would become our patron. He was known for his unusual sense of humor and so he suited us perfectly. Besides, we often use fragments of his works in our own works. Since we have been playing for 25 years together, we hope that W.A. Mozart has nothing against his name being part of our quartet’s name. He generously gives us new ideas, so we can surprise the audience with new skits.
DH: One of the most unique things about your art is how you make classical music, and even just music in general, accessible to all ages and interests. How do you think humor helps to build bridges and encourage that?
MG: The assumption is that our quartet presents what we think is funny, hilarious or even ridiculous. We make sure that our jokes are at the highest level of humor quality, do not offend anyone and are not shallow, banal or rude. I think it builds trust among our audiences of all ages.
DH: Do you have any advice for those who might be apprehensive to follow their passions the way you’ve followed yours?
MG: It is much better to do a lot of small things than to refine one to perfection and never show it to the world.
DH: As professionally trained musicians, how do you feel music can impact people on a personal level? How has it impacted you?
MG: In Poland, we have two sayings: “Laughter is health” and “Music soothes manners.” We use a simple intersection between these two sayings -- in effect we treat (with) music and at the same time we tame difficult matters (and) problems through laughter and gentle irony. That’s how music and comedy work at the personal level. That’s how therapists work as well.
In medicine, apart from music therapy which has been known for a long time, laughter therapy, which has a beneficial effect on the human psyche, has appeared. After our concerts, people come out smiling and relaxed like after a therapeutic session. Of course, we have immediate feedback in the form of reactions to our performance. But it is still amazing for us when viewers come to us after a show and talk about their personal feelings. It has happened many times that viewers said, for example, something like, “Guys you made my day!”
Some time ago, one of the viewers told us that he needed exactly that that evening; he looked at his problems from a new perspective. Recently a woman came to us after a show and confessed that her husband passed away a year ago and that she smiled for the first time since then during our show.
DH: What can Provo audiences look forward to during your show here?
MG: Viewers in Provo can count on the perfect combination of humor and musical virtuosity. Be sure to leave amused and relaxed after the show! We are counting on our viewers, because it is from them where an extraordinary power flows from. A dose of real energy that inspires us for a great performance.