They are classical musicians who don’t do classical concerts, cabaret artistes who don’t do cabaret and comedians who don’t do stand up. Who are they? None other than the highly acclaimed international celebrities Worbey and Farrell. Never heard of them? Unlikely. Never seen them live? Possibly. In that case an exceptional opportunity presents itself this week as they add yet another spectacular location to their list of venues by performing in London’s famous Cadogan Hall on 6th September.
So what do they do? At its most basic, Steven Worbey and Kevin Farrell share a stool and play a piano to an audience of hundreds, and sometimes thousands who listen in awe. They studied at the Royal College of Music in London. Upon graduation they enjoyed work in related fields for a while but nothing gave them the same thrill as playing together: four hands at one piano. As Worbey observes, “It just clicked - the humour, the synchronisation, the improvised sense of fun. We discovered that we played the piano together in a way that had never been played before”. They teamed up, initially calling themselves Katzenjammer. It was an ironic choice given that the German word usually refers to something discordant or the sound made by a cat, although it can be used colloquially to refer to a hangover, in which context it eloquently conveys that feeling. They’ve both been known to wake up and say, ‘I’ve got a dreadful katzenjammer!’. It turned out that the name was also in use by another act. Although they had a legitimate claim to it the boys decided on a change. Now they are known simply by their surnames.
The two Edinburgh residents have delighted audiences for many years at the Festival Fringe, but have not been seen there for a couple of years. They filled large venues, often with their loyal local following and others who knew their act from the luxurious liners on which they had been guest performers. They rank among an elite of starring acts to take the stage on the maiden voyages of all three Cunard liners: Queen Mary 2, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria. Their act didn’t fit neatly into any of the categories under which shows are listed at the Fringe. They form a unique genre that covers so many elements from several fields that to put them into any one box fails to do them justice and can mislead audiences. Many doubted the wisdom of not performing at the Festival Fringe. There was certainly disappointment amongst their fans, but the pair had other things in mind. They have incrementally built up their careers and they had their sights on a different venue. Instead of working for almost every day in August they decided to give one grand performance In Edinburgh’s most distinguished venue, Usher Hall. It was a resounding success both financially and in terms of audience numbers. Combined with their international tours to over 150 countries, particularly to South Korea, where they enjoy huge popularity and regular appearances on BBC Radio 3, this triumph had taken them to a new level.
Their professional training and dedication has enabled them to complete arrangements of some of the largest and most complex musical pieces. For the most part they take well-known works that have popular appeal and a comfort factor, but they are also composers in their own right. The Cadogan Hall concert exemplifies this perfectly and also illustrates the ambiguity of their art. From the classical repertoire it features Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture and Saint-Saën’s Carnival of the Animals. These are monumental works for a full orchestra. In the hands of this duo months of work and compositional expertise render them convincing on a single instrument. Breaking the barriers of traditional programming they then take on Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody; not something that would normally be found in the same context. Between the pieces will be their characteristics banter, perhaps the odd story and maybe a few comic turns. Those who know them well might shout for the pouring of gin and tonics while playing Für Elise, although the Steinway piano might be rather too valuable to risk that. The huge TV screen gives a close-up of the action during several of the numbers, no matter where you are seated. Their concerts are not just a feast for the ears, but the eyes also. Seeing their dexterous digits dance over the keyboard combined with the overlapping of arms and occasional swapping of positions on the stool is a jaw-dropping experience. Whatever else they throw in there will be no shortage of entertainment. In their own words, ‘Expect exhilarating rhapsodies, dazzling toccatas, beguiling boogie-woogies and sensational piano-playing’.
The Cadogan Hall performance marks another stage in their rise to increasing celebrity status. Their originality, wide audience appeal and unique blend of diverse skills make them a rare commodity on the entertainment circuit. They have achieved much in their fifteen year partnership but are not ones to rest on their laurels. New works beg to be arranged and bigger venues are on the horizon. They have plans for years ahead, but that’s no reason to miss this opportunity. If you can make it to this latest extravaganza then in their own words, ‘Prepare to be moved, delighted and utterly gobsmacked’.