Interview: Anderson and Roe speak to The Flying Inkpot about ‘The Forte Awakens’
nderson & Roe is a piano duo like no others you have heard. Forget the chaste siblings playing “chopsticks”. Re-imagining music from Bach and Mozart to Coldplay and Taylor Swift, A+R describe their music as ‘piping hot with an unhealthy dose of adrenaline, 2-4 servings of sexual tension, and a dash of the unexpected.’
For one night only on 16 June, get tickets to their concert on SISTIC at http://www.sistic.com.sg/events/forte0616
Read on for their exclusive interview by Soo Kian Hing with The Flying Inkpot!
A very warm welcome from Singapore, Greg and Liz. We are overjoyed that you’ve decided to return to Singapore!
Could you tell us how Anderson & Roe came about, and how would you describe your music?
LIZ: We met during our first week of college at The Juilliard School; we coincidentally lived on the same floor in the dormitory! We quickly developed a close friendship and mutual respect, and when musicians are friends, the natural tendency is to play music together.
GREG: The first time we ever played together was an electrifying experience! The music we were sight-reading was notoriously difficult to s
ynchronize exactly, but we played perfectly together. That same innate sense of musical timing (you could even call it “mind reading”!) has followed us throughout our career; we rarely spend rehearsal time on the basics of ensemble.
LIZ: We gave our official duo recital debut at Juilliard during our third year there as students; we had such an exhilarating time onstage, and it turned out to be a resounding success with the audience, our friends, and our teachers. From that point onward, we felt inspired to continue our duo pursuits. It also became clear that we shared the desire to energize and reimagine the presentation of classical music.
GREG: Here’s how we would describe our music: piping hot with an unhealthy dose of adrenaline, 2-4 servings of sexual tension, and a dash of the unexpected!
LIZ: We ultimately aim to represent and celebrate the full spectrum of the human experience.
You have established a huge presence both online and off, and you have been called the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers of piano. What has it been like playing together for the past 14 years, and how have you developed as a duo?
GREG: From the beginning, our duo has been built upon friendship, a tremendous respect for each other’s artistry and ideas, and a shared mission: to make classical music a powerful and relevant force in society. Due to this mutual respect and friendship, playing together all these years has really been such a joyous adventure, and we’ve shared so many fun, wild, and unforgettable experiences: from film shoots in the desert (while performing on a flaming piano) or with dozens of millipedes crawling over our hands … to all-night long brainstorming, composing, and editing accompanied by pizza and experimental musical mixology cocktails!
LIZ: Yes, we’ve had the privilege to travel around the world, perform in incredible venues (like the Esplanade!), share our music with millions of wonderful people, and pursue our creative aspirations. In terms of our development as a duo, we were lucky to begin with an organic and immediate connection, but over the years we’ve certainly become more unified and daring; the more we grow, the more our vision expands. One of the gratifying things we’ve witnessed over the course of our career is the shifting attitude toward the piano duo genre; piano duos weren’t in vogue when we started playing together 14 years ago, but now it seems to be quite the phenomenon, with duo performances popping up everywhere! It’s such an exciting time to be a musician, and we hope to continue evolving while honouring the timeless integrity of this art form.
How differently do you do things now compared to, say, the first few years?
LIZ: Our musical chemistry and adventurous approach were there from the very start, but I would say that our understanding of each other has deepened, which certainly affects our artistic output. We’re very free and spontaneous when we perform because there’s a sort of wordless telepathy at work.
GREG: We always joke that we should publish a handbook of our catchphrases! We’ve definitely developed a unique shorthand in our communications, which give our collaborations (onstage and off) momentum and flow.
We also have incorporated social media more significantly into our activities as a duo, creating content of substance (program notes, blog posts, music videos), humour (fake album covers), and oddity (musical mixology). We’ve increasingly enjoyed our interactions with fans on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram through these posts, and we’ve found we feel more connected with our concert audiences as a result.
How do you settle disagreements in the musical aspects of your performance? Do you toss a coin?
GREG: Thankfully both of us are harmonious people, and we rarely argue—we’re open to each other’s perspectives, and we both want the music to unfold as naturally as possible.
LIZ: We don’t need to dictate minute technicalities because we feel the music in a very reciprocal way. Although we may not completely agree about certain details, we are respectful of each other’s ideas and open to experimentation. This approach gives our rehearsals an exploratory and even playful energy. Plus, we believe in letting the music breathe—in performance our interpretations tend to shift from night to night, depending on our mood and other factors. We always want the music to be alive. When all the elements come together perfectly in a performance, the result is magical: it feels like we are a single organism, with one mind and one heart.
We love your videos! Does acting in front of the camera come naturally to both of you?
GREG: Thank you! Acting is definitely not our specialty—in fact, we often dissolve into fits of laughter during our video shoots! That said, the duo dynamic is very versatile; depending on what we’re performing we can act as friends, lovers, rivals, etc.
LIZ: Yes, we draw upon the music itself for inspiration. Both music and acting are powerful means of storytelling, and there is an innate element of theatre to any kind of performance. We both get so passionate during the filming process that it’s easy to tap into a theatrical state of mind whilst filming!
From where do you draw inspiration for these videos, and how do you decide what to do next?
LIZ: Both of us are highly visual people with a penchant for delving into uncharted territory. From the beginning we were interested in exploring the artistic potential of classical music videos. I grew up watching a lot of pop/rock music videos on MTV so I was particularly influenced by this aesthetic, but Greg and I have drawn inspiration from many additional sources: film, all forms of art, our own vivid imaginations and personal experiences, the world around us, and of course the music itself.
GREG: When we started playing together, we quickly discovered that the motion of our four hands on a single keyboard was an impressive spectacle, especially in its dance-like choreography, and we wanted to share this unique vantage point with others. Furthermore, we believe that classical music is such a rich source of inspiration for the music video medium; if pop songs can receive such colourful and exciting visual treatment, the possibilities are endless with classical music in all its complexity and variety. In terms of deciding what to do next, we’re always open to trying new things, filming in cool places we come across, and again, taking artistic direction from the music itself.
Your latest album was based entirely on Bach’s music. Tell us more about Bach’s music and how you ended up choosing the particular pieces you did.
GREG: We’re addicted to Johann Sebastian Bach (right) ! Bach is universally considered the epitome of the Baroque era and even the ultimate composer of all time. Through a variety of his sacred (St. Matthew Passion), secular (Concerto for Two Keyboards in C major), and scholarly works (The Art of Fugue), we aimed to present a complete portrait of Bach, the master and man, and showcase the extraordinary range of his compositions. As always, we sought a balance of music in an attempt to fully represent our topic (in this instance, Bach and his music!), surprise and delight our audiences (beloved staples of the repertoire alongside unexpected novelties), and challenge us as performers. In the end, this album is a testament to the timeless vitality, depth, and power of his music.
From Mozart and now Bach – do you feel that you are going back to the “roots” of Western music, or is that a happy coincidence?
LIZ: It was our intention to honor both these musical giants; they stand at the crux of Western art music, and we wanted to pay homage to the mind-boggling breadth and mastery of their creations. Both Bach and Mozart explored the fullness of the human experience: the blissful and tragic, earthy and spiritual, humorous and profound… Also, Mozart and Bach are two of our very favourite composers, so we eagerly took on the opportunity to immerse ourselves in their fascinating and sublime musical worlds.
How difficult is it to conceptualise and re-make these “serious and old” music in a contemporary and hip setting that will attract new audiences? What can we expect to be featured in your next album?
GREG: As we’ve mentioned, it is our mission to make classical music a relevant and powerful force in society—this mission informs all our decisions as we prepare to present our music to the public, from the process of composing and arranging to the final presentation on stage or in music videos. We start by articulating the spirit of the music we hope to convey: for example, “sensuality” and “danger” in a tango, “noisemaking” and “revelry” in Mozart’s Turkish March, or the tension between our earthly existence and the divine in Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. From here we find strategies (through performance, presentation, social media, music videos, and/or arrangements) to make this musical spirit its most potent, so that our audiences feel it from the gut—viscerally! We’ve been very inspired by historical performances (the concerts in the 1840s were such wild affairs!), and we’ve learned a lot through experimentation, but we think all the time and energy we put into everything are worth the effort. The success of our mission ultimately makes such an impact on audiences’ perception of this fantastic music!
LIZ: Speaking of the 1840s, a great composer-performer like Franz Liszt inevitably leaps to mind: he constantly reimagined the popular and folk music of his time (see his operatic fantasies or the Hungarian Rhapsodies) while also creating transcriptions of older music by Mozart and Beethoven. We’re essentially working within this tradition but filtering the music through our own 21st-century lens—in a sense we’re acknowledging the compelling potential of our current playlist culture, when it’s possible to hear a Brahms work juxtaposed with a Radiohead song (which is something we’ve actually done in our concert programs!). As for our next album, we have an exciting concept in the works (to be announced…we like to surprise our audiences!), but one can expect a kaleidoscopic yet cohesive array of pieces.
Where do you see Anderson & Roe in, say, another ten years’ time?
GREG: We hope to make classical music a relevant and powerful force in society! Over the next ten years, we hope to expand the reach of our mission, connect with more people through our music videos and performances, and excite young pianists and musicians around the world. We frequently hear from piano teachers whose students are inspired by our videos (to practice more, to take more risks, to love music more!), and this, in turn, inspires us to work harder and be more creative in our projects.
We both have many hopes and dreams for specific projects, videos, performances, and albums, but we’ve found that sometimes our most successful adventures have happened serendipitously — and we want to continue to remain open to this.
As for specific album and repertoire concepts, we have many, many plans in the works, but we love to keep our fans guessing, so we’ll remain coy in our answer…
LIZ: Greg mentioned serendipity, and it’s true—before forming my collaboration with him I never would have imagined being in a touring piano duo, and it has turned out to be such a gift! Many unexpected and amazing opportunities have emerged on our individual and collective paths, so we just hope to remain open to life’s infinite possibilities for creative exploration and inspiration. The artists I admire are those who keep evolving, questioning, growing, transforming … hopefully we’ll do the same. And of course we hope our music will continue to impact the lives of others in a positive way.
You have a very successful musical partnership, and you guys have solo careers as well. Have either of you partnered as a duo with other pianists, and how did that go? Would you ever think of bringing in a third musician for a musical ménage à trois?
GREG: We’ve actually partnered with other pianists in the past; although the experiences were enjoyable and successful, it sort of felt like having an affair! And yes, we’ve collaborated with a third musician on several occasions, including clarinetist Richard Stoltzman and violinist Augustin Hadelich. There is an infectious and exhilarating energy when making music with other people, and we especially love performing concertos with orchestras.
LIZ: Playing with other musicians is essential for artistic growth, flexibility, and agility (plus the chamber and orchestral repertoire is so marvelous!). I also think it would be fascinating to collaborate with non-classical musicians as well as artists in other disciplines (dance, theatre, film, the visual arts, etc.). Possibilities are endless whenever imagination, inspiration, and passion are involved!
Your Star Wars Fantasy Suite was famously premiered at Juilliard in 2006 when you had to stand in for John Williams (left) Until now, we have had to be content with watching and re-watching ‘bootleg’ videos of that concert on Youtube. Now, at “The Forte Awakens”, will there be any changes to the original?
GREG: The suite has actually changed a bit since the premiere a decade ago, especially the final movement … you’ll have to attend the concert to see how the work has evolved. And please let us know whether you like the new version more (or less)!
LIZ: Don’t worry, the beloved musical themes are still intact!
What else can we look forward to at the concert? Do you have any words for your fans in Singapore?
LIZ: The program is very cinematic overall: it opens with a sparkling Mozartean overture, then moves into the brooding Romantic soundscapes of Rachmaninoff’s gorgeous Suite No. 1 (fittingly subtitled “Fantaisie-Tableaux“). The first half closes with Ravel’s stunning, apocalyptic La Valse. After the intensity and substance of the first half, we’ll perform a set of spicy Piazzolla tangos, the beloved song “What a Wonderful World,” and, of course, our Star Wars pieces. We hope to take our audience on a captivating, emotional, and thrilling ride through time and space (literally!).
GREG: We love performing at the Esplanade (it’s seriously one of the most beautiful venues we’ve seen), and we truly appreciate the support of all our fantastic Singaporean fans. We can’t wait to see you all there!
Last question: Have you developed a taste for durian since your last visit?
GREG: Well, yes, a little bit! The smell still makes us very nervous, but the flavor is so good! We enjoy trying new things, and there certainly is an element of surprise when eating durian — much like our concerts! 🙂 It is very difficult to acquire durian in the United States, unfortunately.