Anderson and Roe dazzles the ivories at PianoArts concert
If one Steinway & Sons grand piano can create memorable music in the right hands, two of these pianos with four hands playing becomes mesmerizing. This happened last Thursday night as Milwaukee-based PianoArts hosted its 10th Anniversary Concert with guest performers Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Joy Roe (known in circles as Anderson and Roe) in the Bradley Pavilion in the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. The concert hoped to raise funds for its educational and scholarship programming that as PianoArts alumnus Roe stated “combines and celebrates education and the performance arts.”
The evening’s program also included a short testimony from an 11-year-old boy from A.E. Burdick School on Milwaukee’s near south side, who benefited from Piano Arts. Music makes miracles in children’s lives, the boy’s mother stated. The boy is involved in the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra and a jazz combo where he played classical and jazz piano. This night, he bravely stepped in front of an audience to declare, “When people clap, inside I jump high in the sky, but then I just bow and get off the stage.”
Roe credits the PianoArts organization with helping her attain what is now national success. She became the first PianoArts competition winner in 1999 at the age of 15, and went on to win classical competitions throughout the world afterwards. Yet she treasures the participation and mentorship PianoArts provided to winners long after they’ve collected their prize money. Winners have returned to Milwaukee to plan cultural presentations at schools and retirement centers within a four county area demonstrating the power of music and teaching master classes, passing on their experience and training to other students.
It was just after winning the PianoArts competition that Roe formally met Anderson at The Julliard School in 2000, although they had known each other through national music competitions since high school. Both were Midwesterners – Anderson hails from Stillwater, Minnesota while Roe traveled from Chicago – but it was in New York that the pair forged a fast friendship and connection; each has a September birthday only ten days apart, and they each strove to perfect a classical technique and composing talent.
To say the anniversary concert actually mesmerized the audience understates the effect. The concert, a sensuous blend of two keyboards and souls completely in sync, provided an unforgettable emotion similar to star-crossed lovers in Shakespeare’s sonnets who end up fulfilling a blissful destiny. Anderson and Roe sway their shoulders, rhythmically lift hands, move heads and facially emote grace with expressions as if dancing with the piano keys, flirting, caressing, and cavorting the instrument and music as one seduces the other.
After performing a world premiere piece, Grand Scherzo based on Mozart’s Act One of the opera Cosi fan Tutte, they constructed a duet for four hands on one piano. As the pair crossed over and under each other’s arms, the subtle nuances of notes and measures evoked a passionate response from both musicians and audience. You needed to catch only a smile, or a lean into the other’s shoulder by either piano player to sense the intense synchronization of genius.
Whether playing on one to two pianos, the audience kept their eyes riveted on the 25-year old-virtuosos from Rachmaninoff all the way through an innovative rendition of a Radiohead composition. Even the presentation of each piece, which came with pre-performance dialogue relating the story behind a concerto or duet, communicated their love of the classical tradition while they transformed the music “into its spirit rather than over the exact notes on the page.”
It was the encore that actually best completed a marvelous crescendo as Anderson’s fingers embraced the ivory while Roe leaned inside the piano and physically held down or plucked piano chords to compose an entirely new sound. Before the completion of the piece, Anderson then did the same while Roe performed. I still have thrills and chills that echo in the mind from listening to that evening’s concert.
PianoArts has begun to prepare for their major June 2010 schedule, since the competition became a “North American Biennial” in 2003. The continual determination and enthusiasm of cofounders Sue Medford and Stephanie Jacob reinforce the value of music, especially classical piano, which reverberated through Bradley Pavilion that June night. The organization indeed deserves its own applause and support from the Milwaukee community, whether for the voice of an 11-year-old youth beginning a career dream or the stellar piano performances offered by the established Anderson and Roe. As one of the night’s speaker claimed, “This instrument speaks to emotion, passion, and commitment without saying a word.”