The vibrant and creative piano duo Anderson and Roe are throwing a belated party for their current CD (Better late than never, I always say) When Words Fade at the great Galapagos Art Space in Brooklyn, NY on Tuesday, May 22 at 8 PM. By the way, they’ll be performing as well!
The duo had time to chat with me via Skype about this concert and a few of their artistic endeavors.
CM: Can you talk about this promo for your version of the Schubert piece “Der Erlkönig” from your current album? It is a very visually twisted concept for a video!
ER: That was the sole video where we hired outside people to work on. Greg had discovered this really talented filmmaker named Matt (aka Matty) Brown, and he’s based in Seattle. He’s sort of a phenom, and we’ve seen some of his videos that show his beautifully creative aesthetic, and his visuals are stunning.
GA: He had a whole list of interests, and among them was piano, which surprised me, but, I shot him a quick email and asked him if he would be interested in working with pianists, and he got very excited very quickly. It took nearly two years for the circumstances to be right for us to finally work together. We talked to him about different pieces and venues. We finally found a way for the venue to direct the piece for us, because the piece has such a dramatic and horrific storyline, which is about the child being hunted down by death’s messenger, the Erlking, and in the end the child dies.
ER: In terms of the concept of the video, we managed to get the Steinway factory in Queens, and in that sense, the venue kind of shaped our concept and our vision for the video. We threw out several options for repertoire to Matt, and we were like “How does this sound?”, blah, blah, blah, etc., and then finally we decided the Steinway factory and this particular piece would be a great pairing.
The factory has this very haunting atmosphere, and we had access to some of the spaces that weren’t in regular use, so there were these older, quirky, dilapidated instruments or instruments that were in various states of disrepair. That kind of enigmatic and menacing atmosphere just folded in so beautifully with the piece, so we wanted to highlight the venue in addition to the narrative of the Erlking.
One of the things that drives us as a duo is that our music-making is something we see as intrinsic to life, or vice-versa, that life includes creativity, so we want to integrate different parts of art and life into our music, and we love watching movies, we love the visual arts, we’re very visual people, and there’s something about the dynamic of two pianists playing together. I think people enjoy watching that and the interaction between us.
GA: The music, even at its most miserable, is constantly exploding in our minds, in its narratives, its colors or its imagery, and it just seems to naturally pair with visuals. So when we first started making these videos, there wasn’t any promotional idea behind it, it was just something we wanted to do, we didn’t even know how YouTube worked.
DER ERLKÖNIG | Steinway Piano Factory (From the lieder by Schubert; Arr. for Piano 4-hands by Anderson and Roe; Video directed by Matt Brown; Cinematography by Nate Miller)
CM: I must say that your arrangement of “Billie Jean” is really good, and it sort of takes me away from the fact that it’s a Michael Jackson song. It’s hard not to think that, but it does make me focus more on what you’re doing.
ER: Oh good! Because you can’t compete with that song, it’s a classic, and it’s iconic!
GA: And the instrumentation of the original song, and the timbre of his voice are just indelible. It’s hard to just do that as a literal cover song, because then you’re just inviting yourself to comparisons. Our approach was to be inspired by his legendary dance moves. his quick rhythms and the sinister nature of the song, and take those aspects as well as his avant-garde nature especially at that time, and take those as points of departure, and then just use the melodic and motivic parts of the song and fuse them together in a way that spoke to Liz and me, but we just couldn’t try to imitate the way the track sounds.
Billie Jean (Michael Jackson cover; Arr. by Anderson & Roe; Video directed by Anna Whistler and Greg Anderson)
CM: Please talk about the Galapagos show!
ER: It’s a very, very belated CD release party, basically (For the CD When Words Fade, which dropped back in November 2011)! At the same time, in this day and age, it’s great just to have a celebration. I don’t think people are too fixated on when things come out. We’re just happy to have the chance to play pieces that we love for the New York audience! It’s always exciting!
GA: We’re also excited because the venue is really cool. These different venues that we play in are fun in that they re-inspire us when we perform, because they environment itself transforms the meaning of the pieces for us in those moments. In this case it’ll be a club with cool lights and people at tables will hopefully have alcohol in their hands. That’s very different from a regular concert format–It’s an environment that’s calmer and more relaxed. I think that the performance will be different because of that, and I think that’s great! The music on the program is so varied in its genres, ideas and themes, so to have a venue like that highlights the juxtapositions.
ER: That kind of environment will really enliven the experience for everyone, because when audience members are closer to you, there’s this electricity in the air, and there’s a really visceral connection between us onstage and the audience, and we’re sort of demystifying the whole classical music concert experience. I also think the program of our CD lends itself well to this venue.
CM: Have you guys ever thought about collaborating with Igudesman & Joo?
ER: They’re hilarious!
GA: They’re really funny! We work hard to keep our image, and we do the videos for YouTube which end up being fairly different from our live performances, and we find that there are some members of our audience that expect us to be fun and games, so we have to be careful and hold these images down so that people’s expectations are completely blown away.
ER: They’re brilliant, but we don’t want to overwhelm Igudesman with too much piano! [all laugh]
CM: One of you would have to not play piano for a second!
ER: We could do a song and dance routine! Or acrobatics!
CM: Or they could just drop in while you do your thing!
ER: That sounds good! A future video possibly!
Villa-Lobos: Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 (Milton & Peggy Salkind International Piano Duo Festival, circa 2010)