Anderson and Roe, the piano duo, at the National Gallery in DC, on October 30.
In a blog post called "Four Keys to the Future" I long ago said that we in classical music would have to play more vividly, if we wanted a new audience. Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Joy Roe do that. When music is supposed to be loud and exciting, they lift you out of your chair. When it's meant to be soft and caressing, you lean forward, all ears, to be caressed.
And then the program
I've put it online. The first half of the Rite of Spring, in Stravinsky's own four-hand arrangement. The gorgeous ballet music from Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice (which they played with ravishing beauty).
The deeply beautiful second movement (titled "Night…Love…) from the first Rachmaninoff two-piano suite (which counted as a discovery for me; I'd never known it existed).
La Valse and Danse Macabre. A Piazzolla piece, and some three pop music arrangements, two of them being Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" and Radiohead's "Paranoid Android."
From people wedded to classical music tradition I can already hear objections. All short pieces! Only half of the Rite of Spring! Pop music!
But the concert was designed to be entertaining, so, yes, no extensive two-piano sonatas. Only half the Rite? Play all of it, and it runs away with your concert. And I was impressed by how complete the Rite first half sounded.
Pop music? Yes, in Greg and Liz's own arrangements, which being the music alive for two pianos, using the kind of piano writing found in classical music. Which means that when you hear the arrangements you wouldn't know — especially in the context of the entire program — that you weren't hearing some new classical piece by a young composer.
Hear for yourself
Here are links to videos of Greg and Liz playing "Billie Jean" and "Paranoid Android." Amazing performances. And, no small thing, terrific videos. Because, as I'm going to note in a moment, Greg and Liz are model 21st century classical musicians, and part of that is their pro-quality use of video.
Full disclosure, since I'm using their first names. I know them both, because years ago both of them took my Juilliard course on the future of classical music. Since then, we've had very little contact, and when I saw them after their performance, I couldn't count how many years it'd been since we spoke last. I've just admired them from afar.
More reasons why…
…they're such an ideal 21st century duo. They present themselves flawlessly. They dress well, and talk well, telling their audience about the music they play in ways that make you like both them and the music. And without any glitz, any sense of self-promotion.
And they keep their concerts moving visually, switching positions at the two pianos, playing some four-hand stuff along with the two-piano music. So they don't just sit in the same places through all the program.
And they write exemplary program notes, going inside both the music itself, and what the music means. All written in a personal, communicative way. But again without glitz, and without any showmanship.
Here's my wife's review of them, which won't contradict anything I said, but goes deeper.
I can't remember when I was so much entertained at a concert, while being so deeply engaged artistically.
And as a footnote here:
I said a few posts ago that the standard repertoire is a millstone around classical music's neck. It drags us down by anchoring us in the past, so our connection to contemporary life seems (at best) vague. Not that the masterworks of the past can't be relevant today, but a steady diet of them — a steady diet of performances focused mainly on them — weakens us. It makes us far from anything resembling a contemporary art. And the audience for performances like that is fading away. Not because people aren't musically educated, but because they just don't — and won't — care.
This concert shows a post-masterwork performance. Including more than a few old masterworks, but putting some of them in new two-piano clothes, and mixing them with contemporary music.
And, more disclosure. When I've told people, as I sometimes do, that Greg and Liz took my course, I've always said that I didn't teach them to do what they do. They were doing it already.
So I was surprised — and, I have to say, grateful — to learn when I talked to them after the concert that they feel a strong connection with what I taught. It encouraged them, they said.
Which I have to say makes sense. Juilliard does many things well, but performers like Anderson and Roe (or the Five Browns, four of whom also took my course) may not find their kind of performance much included in most of what the school teaches. So contact with me, I can see, could be encouraging.
Original Content: An ideal concert