There’s something intriguing about piano duo and Juilliard graduates Anderson and Roe.
Years ago, I went to Juilliard with both Anderson and Roe, though we had something of a passing acquaintance while we were there. Now, I find not only their music videos fascinating, but also their ideas about classical music.
Greg and Liz take an iconoclastic pleasure in smashing through the stereotype of classical music as a tame and harmless anachronism. They want audiences to have powerful, visceral reactions to their music. After hearing their exuberantly virtuosic take on Strauss’ Blue Danube Waltz at a concert in Oregon, one woman in the audience leapt to her feet and shouted “Now that’s a waltz!”
I find much to admire about this “reimagining” of classical music performance. Case in point: here’s their rendition of the Imperial March from Star Wars, arranged for two pianos.
Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Joy Roe met each other as freshmen at Juilliard, and became fast friends. Their partnership was formed shortly after this meeting, and since then, they have drawn notice, touring all over North America. In 2008, their debut album, entitled Reimagine, was released. As stated on their website, their mission is to…
To make classical music a relevant and powerful force in society.
To connect with others; to engage, provoke, illuminate; to serve as a conduit for the composer’s voice; to express our inner lives; to share the joy and fulfillment that only music can elicit.
…to free the world from the constraints of sleep-inducing concerts.
This idea stemmed out of a dissatisfaction with the present concert scene. Anderson found himself falling asleep at concerts. Some aspects of the concert experience seemed even destructive. Why were people responding to fun and exciting classical music with seriousness and solemn silence? Clap at the proper time, don’t dance in the aisles, sit correctly and nod in approval. Even the performers themselves imbibe this classical music with a sense of solemnity, as if this music is for the intellectuals. It’s a bit elitist, you’ve got to admit.
Not to mention the lack of emotional connection to the pieces.
It is these problems that Anderson and Roe want to confront.
[Greg Anderson] knew that if even classical musicians were less than excited about going to classical concerts, then the general public would continue to yawn their way through concerts or just avoid them entirely.
And he’s right. In the past, I’ve complained before about our treatment of classical music. We don’t realize that we are preventing our audience from forming an emotional connection to the music through our treatment of it as something exalted, nor do we realize the importance of one.
But I have to say that I was impressed with their methods: combine a revolutionary way of executing an idea with excellent playing with electrical chemistry and the fact that they’re also young and cute. To be honest, this idea of arranging various works for four hands and two pianos isn’t revolutionary. Composers like Mozart have been doing it for centuries. However, piano duets don’t have the reputation of being exciting and electrifying. Instead, they seem to be a method for teachers to give their little students the experience of how to play nice with each other.
But when one listens to Anderson and Roe’s arrangements, one cannot help but notice the sheer virtuosity of the performance. These pieces are technically difficult, clearly out of the realm of “domestic” piano duets.
Not only that, these works are not just arrangements of classical piano repertoire. They’re arrangements of classical orchestral works, like the Blue Danube Waltz, or arrangements of works from the Star Wars soundtrack by John Williams, or mainstream pop tunes.
These are actually… fun to listen to.
Anderson and Roe supplement the album and concert appearances with music videos.
Their music videos, though they seem at first to be the “typical” shots of them playing at a piano I’ve complained about before, prove to be anything but. The shots focus on the intensity of the performance. Maybe the music video doesn’t a particular story or concrete idea, but watching them is an unique experience in itself, and the music videos bring this out by focusing on the interplay between their hands, the breathing in sync, the exchanged glances, the interactions they have with each other. Throughout, there is a sense of awe at their talent, as well as the work and dedication it took.
The music videos bring out this excitement, focusing on the interplay and chemistry between Anderson and Roe, with shots of their hands moving together and over each other without stumbling, the glances they exchange, and the breathing in sync.
The videos also focus on how amazing this music can be, bringing out certain emotions and feelings and moods from the music by rearranging the notes and the texture, as well as through the expressions on their faces. It is always about the musical experience, not only an exchange between the two of them, but also an exchange with their listeners.
In some senses, it all comes back to this: classical music is not altogether a somber experience. Where are we if we play each concert as if we are playing classical music into its grave?
So is it innovative? Should it be better known than it is? Yes. Instead of a funeral for classical music, they are celebrating what it has to offer. They present classical music as something alive. Something that an audience can most definitely connect with. Something that one can fall in love with. They are proving that classical music is neither tame nor harmless. It is not just music for little children to play at piano recitals. It’s exciting, powerful, and deeply passionate, evoking wild emotions as well as peaceful ones.
What is the music about? It’s about the human experience, it’s about racing heartbeats and physical friction, it’s about the passions that undulate beneath the restraint of daily life, about the timelessness of dreams, the manic states of being, the unrest of our current times.