McLennan Community College celebrates its 10th year as an All-Steinway School with a Friday night concert by Anderson & Roe, a piano duo known, even acclaimed, for giving their Steinways a thorough workout.
Anderson & Roe — Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Joy Roe — return to Waco for the third time and their second Steinway Series appearance at MCC’s Ball Performing Arts Center. Like their previous performances, Friday night’s concert promises a rich centuries-spanning program of soaring, dynamic two-piano works and intricate four-hand arrangements, each threaded with a sweet lyricism.
For the Juilliard-trained duo, it’s all about the music, but it’s music that bears their distinctive stamp in performance.
The duo performed with the Waco Symphony Orchestra in their last Waco appearance, but Friday night’s concert returns to a two-piano affair, appropriate to commemorate MCC’s move a decade ago to upgrade all the pianos in its fine arts program to Steinways.
The program includes Brahms’ “Variations on a Theme by Haydn” and Part I of the duo’s commanding arrangement of Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” in the first half — “There’s a lot of drama,” noted Anderson — and, in the second half, a series of their “ad hoc arrangements” among which are eight variations on Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”
Previous Waco concerts have included pieces by Coldplay, Michael Jackson and John Williams mixed in with the likes of Brahms, Mozart, Rachmaninoff and Bizet. That colorful eclecticism is an Anderson & Roe hallmark, as is the duo’s considerable library of theatrical music videos, with 38 now available on their extensive website.
The two were recovering from a recent video shoot in Montana that had them performing outdoors under a big Montana sky at different times during the day. “It was like a Monet painting,” explained Roe, referring to the French impressionist’s studies of one scene captured in sunlight changing over the hours. To do so, however, meant the duo had a 4 a.m. call time, not an hour experienced by many musicians. “I’m still exhausted,” added Anderson, calling from Los Angeles while Roe was simultaneously on the phone from Texas.
Anderson & Roe’s commitment to video interpretations not only have featured varied locations, but pianos set on fire or launched into the ocean — though Anderson is careful to point out those pianos were past their usefulness and destined for destruction.
Why? It’s following the creative muse. “That’s Anderson & Roe. It’s become a signature,” Roe explained, with her fellow keyboardist chiming in, “It just feels inevitable and essential. We have to do it.”
“It’s the right thing to do,” Roe agreed. “There’s an alchemy when Greg and I come together. It’s almost like a tennis match between us. It feels like we’re kinda playing in the sand and creating castles.”
The duo’s creative output isn’t limited to performance and slickly produced videos. Sixteen years into their post-Juilliard professional career, they are enormously active online and in social media. Anderson, who writes and arranges many of the duo’s pieces, also sells his piano scores which are eagerly snatched up by piano teachers and their students, even as some ask him post-concert to create something simpler. They record, with “Mother: A Musical Tribute” the latest of six albums, and both play solo engagements and have solo recordings.
Last year, Anderson & Roe debuted a “New Music New Video” competition where the contestants wrote an original piece, then submitted a video of its performance. The response surprised them.
“It was so moving to see so many fans and styles of artistry,” Roe said. Anderson added, “We saw pieces that people had poured their heart and soul into and said, ‘This piece is for you’ . . . It was worth taking the time (to judge), but it was dastardly difficult.” In true distinctive Anderson & Roe fashion, the winner of the 48 submitted videos was self-taught and had never had one of his compositions performed by another.
Their love for encouraging passion in music and expanding the circle of contemporary classical fans continues to drive them. “We often see very young faces in our audiences . . . and those make us very happy,” Roe said. “We play as if somebody was hearing a concert for the first time.”