Anderson Piano Duo are Greg Anderson & Elizabeth Joy Roe
Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and pursue a career in music?
LIZ: I was fortunate to grow up in a family of music-lovers. My mother, aunts, and sisters are all talented and became accomplished at their instruments. My first instrument was actually the violin, but I switched to the piano at the age of six and instantly fell in love. Shortly after that I was accepted into Emilio del Rosario’s studio and during my teenage years, I also studied with Theodore Edel, the late Chun-Myung Kim, and Vladimir Leyetchkiss. My love for the piano teamed with the encouragement and support of my musical family and exceptional teachers definitely inspired me to pursue a career in music.
GREG: My parents hoped for well-rounded children and encouraged us to each take a year of piano lessons when we turned eight. I studied with my first teacher for a few months before switching to the sensational Kim Craig, based in St. Paul, MN. I worked with Kim for ten years before attending The Juilliard School for college. By the time I was in junior high, Kim would work with me intensively for hours every week—sometimes as many as eight per week—and she would attend all of my out-of-state rehearsals, performances, and competitions. Her devotion made all the difference. Not only did this afford us the time to work in great detail, but also it was incredible training and ample inspiration for life on a concert stage.
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
LIZ: One of my earliest—and greatest—influences is the Beatles; I grew up loving their classic albums and films, such as A Hard Day’s Night. I also idolized the incredible pianist Glenn Gould, who was ahead of his time; in addition to his iconic recordings (especially of Bach’s music) and eccentric performance style, he created these fascinating music videos. Sviatoslav Richter and Martha Argerich have also had a huge impact. I deeply admire their searing integrity, originality, and passion. I find their artistry to be incredibly riveting—they strike me as iconoclasts who have remained true to themselves, and as a result, their interpretations point to the truth within the music.
GREG: I greatly admire the spontaneity of the Romantic era pianists: Franz Liszt, Frédéric Chopin, Clara Schumann, etc. From what I’ve read, their concerts were wild affairs, filled with surprises, destroyed pianos, new music, improvisations, and humor. These events have served as a huge inspiration for the concerts Elizabeth and I perform today. Among my favorite living pianists is Alexandre Toradze; he becomes a dragon at the piano; he breathes inspiration and personality and fire!
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
GREG: We’ve been touring extensively for years. In addition to accommodating the travel, practicing, and personal life, there is also composing new music, editing and preparing music for publishing, filming and editing music videos, updating websites, writing (a seemingly endless inbox of) emails, etc. The greatest challenge is to balance it all; I wish the days were longer! Anyone who knows me knows that I work insanely hard, but I’ve recently begun prioritizing my family and self. It makes me a better person, and I think that’s worth it, even if I have to cut back on the number of projects I can tackle!
LIZ: Ah, balance: what an elusive, yet crucial, thing! I’m still seeking a meaningful balance between duo music, solo music, and chamber music; old and new repertoire; rehearsals and individual practice time; concertizing and teaching; time on the road and time at home; work and leisure; socializing and solitude… the list goes on and on. I’ve discovered that if I take one thing at a time and focus on whatever is right in front of me, it increases my enjoyment and appreciation of the endeavour at hand. Also, giving full attention to each experience is immensely important. I’ve realized that striking the right balance may ultimately boil down to choice: at the moment I’m happy with my many projects and pursuits, but I know that my palate of priorities will continue to shift.
Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?
GREG: Our recordings are like our children; they are all our favourites! That said, we’re very proud of our latest album, Mother: A Musical Tribute. Throughout the album, we carefully selected tracks inspired by the rich complexity of motherhood, spanning from the sacred (“Ave Maria”) to the saucy (“Mrs. Robinson”), and everything in between. We released it in April, and we’ve loved hearing how our fans have incorporated it into their Mother’s Day celebrations.
LIZ: I agree with Greg … it’s difficult to pick a favourite! In virtually every concert, there are many unexpected, hilarious, memorable, and special moments. Our very first recital, at Juilliard, is especially close to my heart—we had so much fun onstage, and there was this indefinable electricity in the air. We took chances with the programming and presentation, and the audience wholeheartedly embraced our inventive approach. This concert was certainly an auspicious start to our career as a duo!
Recent performance highlights include our ten-city tour of New Zealand, our debuts with the Vancouver Symphony and Rochester Philharmonic Orchestras, and the world premiere of our own Carmen Fantasy for Two Pianos and Orchestra with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra.
Which particular works do you think you play best?
GREG: One of our favourite pieces to play is Rachmaninoff’s Suite No. 1 (Fantaisie-Tableaux) for Two Pianos, Op. 5. We’ve been playing it for years and the complete suite can be found on our new album Mother. Both of our moms personally requested we include it on the album, and we couldn’t refuse. We’ve also just released two new music videos from the Suite, one fully produced by us in our usual style and another graphic video by fellow YouTuber, Stephen Malinowski.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
LIZ: We’ve always valued variety in our programming, pushing the boundaries of what can be performed in a classical concert: now it is totally natural for us to pair a masterwork from the standard classical repertoire with a contemporary pop hit cover. Our predilection for reimagining music from the pop world may seem unconventional, but composers like Beethoven and Liszt were doing something similar centuries ago with folk and operatic music; we do find value in blurring the lines between genre, as we feel that great music transcends categorization.
GREG: We also find that by reimagining pop hits, movie themes, or popular dance styles, we can further our mission to make classical music a relevant and powerful force in society. When we effectively juxtapose the music from contemporary society with 200-year-old works, we can help audiences see the older works in new light and remind them why they are still so relevant today.
We have also been creating new repertoire for two pianos and orchestra, including our original Carmen Fantasy, an arrangement of Brahms’ powerful Double Concerto, and a dazzling free-for-all based on Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre. These works are often programmed or commissioned at the request of the orchestras themselves.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
LIZ: One of my favourite venues is the Seoul Arts Center in South Korea. I love the country and am proud of my heritage! I have relatives who live in Seoul and it’s always such a joy to perform there—the audiences are impressively knowledgeable and enthusiastic. Not only is the venue divine, but I’m always excited to bring Greg to South Korea so he can experience the amazing food and culture first-hand.
GREG: We love to perform in cities with access to great food: Rome, Seoul, Tokyo, London, etc.!
For me, a recent venue highlight was the Kennedy Center where we performed last February. The renovated space is wonderful, as was the audience and the proximity to Capitol Hill. We put together a slightly risky program to subtlety comment on the current political climate, and it was an overwhelming success.
Who are your favourite musicians?
LIZ: I’m a big fan of such musical visionaries as Radiohead and Björk. I’m also highly inspired by the greats in other disciplines, like Martha Graham, Meryl Streep, and Shakespeare, to name just a few; their art continues to shed light on the human experience, opening one’s eyes to new discoveries and revelations.
GREG: Two of my favourite pianists are Alfred Cortot and Ignaz Friedman. Unfortunately, I never heard either pianist perform live (they died before I was born), but their tremendous personalities live on in their recordings. Both were deeply sensitive and soulful performers.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
LIZ: Our recent performance with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra ranks right up there. An audience member suffered a heart attack during our performance of Mozart Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra! As performers onstage, we weren’t sure how to respond to all the commotion and only found out after we left the stage what had happened. (Thankfully the audience member is okay, and we wish him a speedy recovery!)
GREG: On the occasion our concerts sell out, venues often add stage seating. In one instance there were an additional 60 audience members seated on stage with us. While we were performing Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos, a young girl in the front vomited everywhere, including on the legs of the pianos! The audience gasped, and we had to take a break to clean up the stage!
On the happier side, among my most memorable concert experiences are the world premieres of our new works. During these performances, the energy between Liz and me is explosive. Although our interpretation usually becomes more refined as we perform the music over and over again, the premiere performance is filled with an unhealthy dose of adrenaline and spontaneity, and that makes for truly exciting music making!
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
LIZ: A fun and colourful career full of varied and unusual forms of artistic expression.
GREG: Following my instincts and maintaining my authentic passion for the music.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
LIZ: Remain open to new opportunities, discoveries, experiences, and pathways. Neither Greg nor I had ever imagined that we would be in a professional piano duo; we were on the conventional path of building solo careers, and we actually began playing together just for fun. But both of us did have lofty dreams and visions for how classical music could impact the world, and somehow we found that our ideals powerfully aligned (and this, alongside our friendship, is the glue holding our partnership together). We aim to keep open minds and hearts, as artists and people, because we hope to channel the full scope of the human experience through our music. And this openness has led to experimenting with different musical genres, performing in an array of diverse venues, and even setting a piano on fire for the sake of a music video. I would just urge musicians/performers to explore ways of integrating their art with the world around them, to live as fully as possible (i.e. beyond the practice room and stage), and to trust what feels most authentic in terms of their creative endeavours.
GREG: I would encourage aspiring musicians to explore the full potentiality of social media. For Liz and me, our mission to make classical music a relevant and powerful force in society, and what is more a powerful or relevant tool in today’s society than social media? Social media allows musicians to showcase the joyous, surprising, and life-changing potential of classical music to audiences far, far beyond the standard concert halls. The content we create for social media—whether it be our music videos, listening tips, or cocktail recipes—ultimately serves our mission and amplifies the listening experience for our fans, but also we’ve found that it enhances our performances as well, causing us to interact with our music from fresh and unique points of view. The impact social media has had on our careers has been immeasurable.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
GREG: I’m especially happy when eating a good meal. And when I’m with friends. Or when I’m making music. …and when I’m sleeping too. I love to sleep.
LIZ: Perfect happiness is when I am grateful and free, and truly connecting with a person, a moment, an experience, the music, and life itself.
Anderson & Roe’s new disc ‘Mother’, a musical tribute to the full spectrum of motherhood, is out now.
Known for their adrenalized performances, original compositions, and notorious music videos, GREG ANDERSON and ELIZABETH JOY ROE are revolutionizing the piano duo experience for the 21st century. Described as and “the most dynamic duo of this generation” (San Francisco Classical Voice), “rock stars of the classical music world” (Miami Herald), and “the very model of complete 21st-century musicians” (The Washington Post), the Anderson & Roe Piano Duo aims to make classical music a relevant and powerful force around the world. Their albums on the Steinway Label (When Words Fade, An Amadeus Affair, and The Art of Bach) were released to critical acclaim and have spent dozens of weeks at the top of the Billboard Classical Charts, while their Emmy-nominated, self-produced music videos have been viewed by millions on YouTube and at international film festivals.
Since forming their dynamic musical partnership in 2002 as students at The Juilliard School, Anderson & Roe have toured extensively worldwide as recitalists and orchestral soloists, presented at numerous international leader symposiums, and appeared on MTV, PBS, NPR, and the BBC. A live performance by Anderson & Roe was handpicked to appear on the Sounds of Juilliard CD celebrating the school’s centenary. Highlights of the 2017/18 season include concerts throughout North America (including their Kennedy Center debut), Europe, Asia, and New Zealand; concerto appearances with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, and Rochester Philharmonic; the release of their latest album, Mother Muse; and webcast hosting for the 15th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.