Concert Review: Piano duo make classical music hip

The Anderson & Roe Piano Duo made up of Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Joy Roe will be playing for one night only at the Esplanade on June 13. -- PHOTO: KEN SCHLES
The Anderson & Roe Piano Duo made up of Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Joy Roe will be playing for one night only at the Esplanade on June 13. -- PHOTO: KEN SCHLES

Classical music has often been accused of being too serious, with the younger generation mostly preferring the head-banging of heavy metal and heart-thumping techno beats.

Attempts have been made to fuse popular culture with traditional works, but the results are often seen as dumbing down of the art, where complex music is diluted to make it more accessible to the masses.

It would be unfair to label the Anderson And Roe Piano Duo as crossovers, for they are serious musicians who do not have to resort to gimmicks and skimpy outfits to sell recordings.

What they do, and do very well, is to inject a level of entertainment and fun into music-making. Purists will probably pour scorn on any deviation from traditional performance practices, but didn't Liszt and his fellow super-vituosos break from custom to attract more audiences to concert halls?

Aside from Johannes Brahms' Variations On A Theme Of Haydn, all the works on the programme at their performance, titled Flights Of Fancy, at the Esplanade Concert Hall on June 13 were original arrangements by the duo.

Indeed, they wrote to their strengths which were an almost telepathic understanding of each other's musicianship and an outrageous and transcendental technique. Introducing each work in an informal manner, they showed themselves to be engaging entertainers too.

If the extreme rapid hand-crossings in Papageno! (a short fantasy based on Mozart's Die Zauberflote) and impeccable co-ordination in a Ragtime version of the composer's Rondo Alla Turca were not sufficient to convince one of their peerless partnership, the closing Carmen Fantasy For Two Pianos would surely put any debate to bed.

It wasn't just the level of accuracy in playing at breakneck speed, but also how they responded to each other and breathed as one, and every phrase was matched and delivered as one singing voice. This was most evident in the Brahms Variations, although it could have benefitted from a more emphatic sonority.

Who else would have dreamt of jazzing up Scarlatti's Cat Fugue from his Sonata K.30 or making Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight Of The Bumblebee sound like a hive of steroid-injected flying insects?

The more poignant moments in Villa-Lobos' Aria from Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 and Gluck's Ballet from Orphee Et Eurydice showed their more tender and sensitive side, but it was their transcription of two pop songs that reflected their ingenuity on the keyboards. Paranoid Android by Radiohead and Viva La Vida by Coldplay were lapped up by the audience.

The Coldplay number was offered as an encore, along with Piazzolla's Libertango, Khachaturian's Sabre Dance and Cantina Band from their Star Wars Fantasy, complete with a cameo appearance by the dark lord Darth Vader himself and his storm troopers.

Is this just a marketing ploy for the pair to reach superstar status? Honestly, who cares? Their music, their rules. And for one night at least, classical music became hip and cool again in Singapore.