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Review: Anderson and Roe inaugurate Cliburn Sessions

Posted 11:44pm on Thursday, Mar. 13, 2014

Classical music buffs who visit New York City frequently lament that we don’t have anything here like Poisson Rouge, a nightclub that features the best classical artists, many of whom are in town to play in other venues. “Serving art and alcohol” is their motto.

Well, yearn no more. The Cliburn Foundation has brought us just such a venue, if only for an occasional evening at the Live Oak Music Hall and Lounge off West Magnolia Avenue.

The Live Oak usually features music, and a great variety thereof, from rock to jazz and even some classical. However, the new Cliburn Sessions series brought something original to both the Live Oak and the usual Cliburn audience that filled the place — Anderson and Roe.

Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Joy Roe are two youngish pianists who met at Juilliard and now tour as a piano duo, mixing music and mayhem. The Live Oak’s red-velvet-curtained stage barely held the two Steinway concert grands, which got a workout. Roe, in a short sequined dress, tossed her luxurious locks to underline her effort. Anderson, in a stylish gray suit, hair neatly in place throughout, attacked the piano with equal zeal.

They play some music originally written for duets, such as a movement from Rachmaninoff’s Suite No. 1 for two pianos, and Stravinsky’s own arrangement of his groundbreaking ballet, The Rite of Spring. But they also program their own arrangements of such things as a riff on Georges Bizet’s opera Carmen and a wild fantasy based on Radiohead’s Paranoid Android, a song about a trip into madness (I think).

Music as different as Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean and Mozart’s Turkish Rondo got the full Anderson and Roe treatment. Eric Satie’s strange little piano pieces, based on odd poems about the thoughts of sea creatures, brought some audience members up on stage to act out the poems. It was cute for a while.

The duo’s playing was marked by virtuosity and bubbled with youthful energy. Their running commentary, clever and informative, allowed them to create characters (surely based on their real personalities) that enlivened the recital format with a touch of whimsy. Anderson was mischievous, Roe strove for a modicum of control.

The evening was a complete success. Excellent music that was markedly different from what we usually hear, a full measure of originality, Cliburn-level pianism and an open bar. Woo-hoo!

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