professor kubínek meets the symphony


Tomáš Kubínek may be billed as a ‘Certified Lunatic,’

but the master comic is quite serious about his work.

For three decades he has been creating, producing and performing his own solo shows all over the world, from Hong Kong to London, Lisbon to Ketchikan. His vaudevillian charm has stolen the heart of the symphony orchestra, accentuating its talents while helping to broaden its appeals. The classical world will never be the same ...

How did you start working with orchestras?

An agent from Opus 3 Artists saw me on tour and sent a note. He said that orchestras needed an artist like me and I should consider creating something for them. I wasn’t very interested. I thought it would be boring — little did I know.

What changed your mind?

On a big tour of Italy, where I played in all these amazing historic theaters, my sound technician told me that in the old days everybody attended opera and classical music concerts. The upper balcony was reserved for the real die-hard fans on shoestring budgets. If performers missed a note or forgot words, people sitting up there would whistle and holler. They knew their stuff. I liked imagining that. Art for everybody — no pretension. It got me thinking of a more irreverent way of working with orchestras.

Like what?

Bringing anarchy and playfulness into the whole ritual.

That’s the job of a fool: Being the charming orangutan at the tea party. To mess up their hair, metaphorically speaking. I imagined things like having the orchestra play a march conducted by a windshield wiper invention I’d create to give the conductor a break while he reads a newspaper and I shine his shoes. Or taking turns at the podium in a conducting duel with the maestro. All sorts of surreal, beautiful physical schtick to get the musicians really laughing — as much as the audience, while still sounding fantastic and coming off looking like heroes.

How did the idea develop from there?

Around the time I was beginning to concoct the show, a huge flood hit Iowa, wiping out the theaters of The University of Iowa’s Hancher Auditorium and Orchestra Iowa. When, oblivious to the disaster, I contacted my friend Chuck Swanson, Director of Hancher, he told me they needed innovative projects to take on the road while their new halls were being built. Chuck commissioned my zany symphony project and started raising money.

What was it like working with Maestro Timothy Hankewich, Music Director of Orchestra Iowa?

Really great — he’s a straight shooter and very knowledgeable.

He also has an amazing laugh. When we weren’t at the piano we did a lot of our planning in Japanese restaurants. From all the laughing you’d have thought we were a couple of schoolgirls planning a bank heist.

How did the two of you choose the music?

From the get-go we wanted a score with a wide spectrum of emotion to support the theatricality of the pieces I was creating — a grand entrance where I’m carried in like an emperor; a tender vignette with a little puppet; the quirky campfire scene where the maestro and I roast sausages skewered on conducting batons.

Tim made sure we chose pieces an orchestra could master in a single rehearsal so the show could tour and stay affordable, and he also oversaw the arranging and publishing of the music so it would be user-friendly for other orchestras.

What do you think is effective about pairing comedy and orchestra?

Laughter gets everyone breathing together, music gets them feeling. When those things come together, the combination is hilarious, and it also goes deep on an emotional level.

Laughter is miraculous — it never gets old.

How does the orchestra respond?

From outright mutiny to falling on their instruments.

Honestly, it seems like it’s a breath of fresh air for them and they’re having a ball.

With this performance I feel like audiences are getting a new take on symphony musicians. They’re seeing a very human side.

People in the audience get to see the players getting drawn in just as much as they are, and it creates a very special rapport. When you see somebody engaged and laughing, you see their spirit. One thing I often hear after a show from musicians and conductors is how much they enjoyed being part of this dynamic with the audience. It’s something they didn’t realize was possible.

What do you hope to accomplish with this show?

To singlehandedly take over the universe...

Really, I just want people to have an amazing time — to laugh and see their orchestra in a whole new way.

For orchestras I want to be part of the solution. The revolution. I want to give them this compelling and engaging program that is inspiring and sparkling and alive and energizes the entire community. I want to help to create this very human and joyous event that keeps all of us doing the work we love and keeps all kinds of people coming to the concert halls and theaters.