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Dueling keys: Anderson and Roe mix classical and pop music for piano

For those who claim that classical music is a dead genre, piano duo Anderson and Roe are ready to show them otherwise. Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Roe met while studying at Juilliard and became fast friends. As often happens with musically inclined friends, they soon began a partnership.

The decision to dedicate their lives to music came naturally to both. “I had a fairly rural upbringing, but I started playing piano as a way to become a well-rounded citizen, or that’s what my parents’ dreams were,” says Anderson. “Now I have a life that is obsessively consumed with music and performing.” Roe’s background also began with her family. “I grew up in Chicago and I grew up in a family of music lovers — it was a very natural thing,” says Roe. “I just fell in love with the piano right away, and I decided to pursue it as a livelihood.”

Together, they’ve found a way to reshape the traditional concert hall performance into something unexpected and vibrant. Perhaps the most offbeat and even physically dangerous part of Anderson and Roe’s set involves them playing the same piano simultaneously.

“We initially began playing two pianos, but some concert presenters wanted us to play a duet on one piano. So we started adding that to our repertoire,” says Anderson. The technical and spatial challenges of four hands on the same set of keys are daunting, yet they manage to make the process look eerily natural in videos and in person.

Even with time, however, the challenge is not lost on the pair. “A lot of the four hands pieces that we play are highly choreographed, so we have to work out the intricacies of a four hands on a digital keyboard,” says Roe. “It’s a bit like figure skating or something,” Anderson adds, noting that some mistakes have resulted in bloody knuckles and painful elbows to the face. “It’s very choreographed and if one person is off it can throw off the whole situation, so we have to be very in tune with one another, and there’s not much room for error.”

The two pianists have much more to offer audiences than just their technical abilities, however. Anderson and Roe are known for their wide musical repertoire, ranging from their own compositions to classical pieces and pop favorites.

“Our shows are comprised of a balance of pre-existing compositions by the great composers of the classical tradition,” says Roe. “We’ll play music by Bach, Mozart and Brahms, and then we’ll fill out the rest of the program with our own reimagining of popular music.” Some of the pair’s arrangements include Michael Jackson’s hit “Billie Jean,” “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk and various film themes from “Star Wars” and other movies.

And 2015 looks to be a promising year for the young pianists. They revisited their classical roots for their most recent album, “The Art of Bach,” which was released this month. Dedicated to the legacy of J.S. Bach, the album explores his vast contributions to the world of music. “He was a master of so many different styles, from highly intellectual styles to music that celebrated God and was sacred, and then he also wrote for secular purposes. That incredible variety and versatility was what inspired us to put together a program of both his original work and also a collection of different conscriptions, including some by ourselves,” Roe says.

The pair is especially looking forward to touring, as well as filming some of their new music videos. “We have a tendency to make really wild music videos — sometimes we’re playing on burning pianos, or a piano will start eating us,” says Anderson. “We travel a lot together and we brainstorm and come up with new ideas for some pretty exciting stuff. I’m just excited to film those with Liz.”

Alaska is next on the list for Anderson and Roe. Naturally, they’ll be playing a concert, but the duo will also be playing in some special programs for local middle school and high school students. This sort of community-based outreach is something the pair tries to do whenever they tour, both in part to excite students about music as well as demystify the classical genre for those who may not have been exposed to it before.

“We try to do as much as possible to reach out, and reach out to as many people as possible,” says Roe. “In our concerts we attract a wide range of ages and different backgrounds. When we have the opportunity to reach out in schools it’s always such a bonus to interface with students in an interactive way and to make the music come alive.”

Anderson and Roe are looking forward to visiting Alaska on a personal level, but they are also looking forward to their performances on stage and in the community alike. “We look forward to meeting the audiences in Alaska,” says Roe. “We hope that people come with an open mind and heart and excitement for that collective musical experience.”

Article by Jeri Kopet, Published in www.adn.com