Pianists Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Roe believe that these days, when it’s so easy to stuff your earbuds into your head and stream your favorite playlist for whatever the occasion, a live concert should offer audiences something special.
“It should feel like an event,” Roe said. It “should be an experience and follow an arc, just like going to a movie. … We want it to feel like a once-in-a-lifetime event.”
The Anderson and Roe Piano Duo brings its concert experience to Jackson Hole this week with a “GTMF Presents” program that ranges from Brahms to the Beatles, from the dark corners of the soul to the soaring brightness of the spirit. The two are set to perform at 8 p.m. today at Walk Festival Hall in Teton Village and play a free family concert at noon Thursday at Teton County Library.
Musical partners (not romantic partners) since 2002, when they were students at the Juilliard School, Anderson and Roe have toured the world with their dramatic, daring performances for two pianos and piano four-hands, garnering such superlatives as “the most dynamic duo of this generation” (San Francisco Classical Voice) and “rock stars of the classical music world” (Miami Herald).
Their six albums have enjoyed weeks at the top of the Billboard Classical Charts, and their self-produced music videos — capturing and dramatizing their performances of works from Ligeti’s “Hungarian Rock” to Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” — have screened at international film festivals, been seen by millions on their website (AndersonRoe.com) and YouTube and even won Emmy Award nominations.
While today’s program of Brahms, John Williams, Radiohead, Leonard Cohen and the Beatles looks like a hodgepodge, it’s actually a carefully constructed odyssey through turbulent existential seas, they said.
“The first three-quarters of the program is almost this storm of frustration,” said Anderson, who, with Roe, spoke from Fort Collins, Colorado. “Then the last 10 minutes of the program is almost like the sun finally poking up, a spiritual awakening.”
“In general we like to hit on the vast variety of the human experience,” said Roe. “There’s some serious intensity, but also some lightness and joy.”
The first, all-Brahms half of the program features his sprawling, “insanely beautiful” Sonata for Two Pianos, Anderson said. ”It really tells a story.”
The second half also traces a storylike trajectory, though it’s a tale the pianists stitched together from popular tunes by 20th-century composers: a theme from John Williams’ soundtrack to “Star Wars,” a dense and expansive take on Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android,” a spiritual peak with Anderson’s “Hallelujah” variations, based on Leonard Cohen’s psycho-sexual choral, and the resolution of Paul McCartney’s canonic “Let it Be.”
Part of the spectacle of Anderson and Roe is pure musical entertainment but another part of it is the choreography required, especially when the two share a bench and a keyboard and have to keep track of four hands, 20 fingers, flying in all directions.
“Four-hand is so dancelike,” Roe said. “There’s so much interaction and collaboration.”
The choreography can also provide another opportunity for expression. It can grow out of and help communicate what the music is about.
“It takes daring feats of pianism to get through some of these,” Anderson said. “The end of the Brahms sonata is so technically challenging, my body is exhausted, we put in all this energy. But then you can’t pull back, you just have to throw yourself at the finish line. And there’s always the chance that it could go wrong. That’s what’s so exciting about that setting. … Live, we get one chance — ‘Will we do it?’”
Find out tonight. ￼