artistic integrity

Regarding the "Top 10 Composers"

The website of the New York Times looks a bit like the American Idol comment boards these days, with everyone offering their two cents about the merits of Chopin over Stravinsky, Wagner over Verdi. A certain music critic has taken it upon himself to rank the top ten "greatest" composers, and his self-appointed task has unnecessarily riled up countless music fans. I appreciate the enthusiasm the articles have generated, but I fear the results. It seems to me that a society so obsessed with competition is turning music into a science... a society filled with overbearing sages is predetermining what experiences we should and shouldn't enjoy... a society that has fine-tuned its ability to listen critically is becoming unable to listen aesthetically. (For Liz and my take on "aesthetic" listening, please see our Music Listening Manifesto.)

I take issue with labeling music "great," as if music is some sort of artifact that belongs in a museum. Why should "greatness" be the ultimate goal of classical music? Is Schubert's B-flat Sonata nothing but a pristine, untouchable chapel for worship? Or is it a warm, pulsating, living being with a heart that connects to humans today? Do we not approach Schubert's music with the same mirthful, reckless merriment as the Schubert who played music with his friends? Or do we dissect his music in a scientific study and merely comment on its perfection? Yes, I want to be elevated by great craft in music, but there is so much more I long for in addition: simple joys, compassion when I'm sad, feckless laughs, a good cry, midnight snacks, and the feeling I get when I rest my head on my pillow after a really long day.

"Two is Company" - A&R featured in Clavier Companion!

We're on the cover of this month's "Clavier Companion." The corresponding article is spot-on: Nick Romeo (the author) actually "gets" us, our mission, and our artistic pursuits, and he swirls it all together into a mighty read! Kudos to Nick!

We need batteries, duct tape, and a flashlight,” said Greg Anderson, a doctoral candidate in the piano department at Yale University. Greg and I were walking to a thrift store in downtown New Haven with Elizabeth Joy Roe, Greg’s friend and partner in the Anderson & Roe Piano Duo. “Are we going to be destroying anything in slow motion?” Liz asked, in a serious voice. “We can bring that lamp I don’t want,” Greg said. Arriving at the New Haven Salvation Army, they fanned out and searched the aisles for flared jeans, bell bottoms, tapered shirts with pointed collars, anything reminiscent of the 1970s. Greg found a marigold shirt with a brown floral pattern and a pointed collar that fit him perfectly. He made for the register. “I haven’t seen one of these in a long time,” the cashier said as he counted out change.

In a few hours, Greg and Liz were shooting footage for a music video of their two-piano paraphrase of the Bee Gees song Stayin’ Alive.

... Greg and Liz take an iconoclastic pleasure in smashing through the stereotype of classical music as a tame and harmless anachronism. They want audiences to have powerful, visceral reactions to their music. After hearing their exuberantly virtuosic take on Strauss’ Blue Danube Waltz at a concert in Oregon, one woman in the audience leapt to her feet and shouted “Now that’s a waltz!”

Read the entire article here.

Music listening: an incomplete manifesto

The prototype for the following document was graphic designer Bruce Mau's “An Incomplete Manifesto for Growth” from his book Life Style. While our music listening manifesto is a new document designed to challenge and excite music listeners everywhere, points 1, 7, 18, 21, 24, and 27 were paraphrased with appreciation from Mau’s source. Other sources of inspiration: music, our personal experiences, and the incredible beauty that surrounds us.

Music listening: an incomplete manifesto

by Greg Anderson & Elizabeth Joy Roe 

  1. Allow music to transform you. The prerequisites for transformation: the openness to experience events and the willingness to be changed by them.

  2. Embrace the new. It takes courage to depart from familiarity and escape your comfort zone: only with change is there life.

  3. Make every encounter new. Every listening adventure – no matter how seemingly familiar or repetitive – is new. All musical occasions are an opportunity for transformation, growth, and discovery.

  4. The musical experience is yours. You live it. You create it. Your engagement is a vital ingredient.

  5. If you are bored, see points 1, 2, 3, and 4.

  6. Woah. The music doesn’t always happen where we think it ought to. Instead, it happens somewhere else – in the silence, in the reverb on the walls, in the performer’s gasp for air. Music comes charged with a palpable energy created by its surroundings at that very moment. Under any other circumstance, it would be different.

an innate necessity

We receive a hefty number of wonderful emails, both positive and negative, and we thank everyone who takes the time to share their thoughts with us.

I admit, however, to taking offense when our artistic integrity is called into question. Our websites and videos have never been about show-biz, nor are they simply about virtuosity. They were not created as gimmicks or to be clever.

They were born out of an innate necessity.

Our websites, videos, performances, and compositions are an outcome of the spirit and joy inherent in music-making. They are the result of our desire to create real and authentic links with our audiences.

Our videos are not intended to be clever or “rock-style;” they are designed to enhance the meaning of the music performed. The "Pas de deux" video, for example, aims to intensify the intimacy and nostalgia already inherent in the music. Similarly, our video of the New Account of the Blue Danube Waltzes intends to visually dramatize what the music already conveys: as we wrote in our album’s liner notes, “our kaleidoscopic Blue Danube Fantasy takes the elegance of the Viennese waltz as a point of departure and plunges headlong into the passions that undulate beneath the dance's restrained facade.” We created the "Reimagine" trailers to represent, in a few short minutes, the impact and drama of the entire album and to encourage viewers to invest in the full production, just as a movie trailer intends to do.

Our compositions and arrangements are not pianistically challenging merely for the sake of virtuosity. For example, we wrote the hand crossings into our Libertango arrangement to visually communicate an element of danger: the racing heartbeats, the physical friction, and the charged chemistry between a pair of tango dancers. Many of our compositions and arrangements for four-hands are designed to withstand the demands of a 2000-seat concert hall, unlike so many works from the four-hand repertoire more suited for a living room; this also changes the way we approach the compositional process.

We do not select repertoire to be sensational; we select music that speaks to us, music that we love, and music that makes a statement. When asked to replace John Williams as composers for a Juilliard centennial concert, we chose to use the iconic Star Wars music as our source material for a very simple reason: we love the music. We really do. And we found great joy in making this music our own.

Our presence on the Internet is not simply about self-promotion; we maintain a strong presence on the Internet because we feel it is an effective way to share and discuss music with people, especially young people. It is an exceptional tool with the power to galvanize new classical music listeners. The questions and answers on our website, and the polling booth for that matter, are designed to give us an opportunity to communicate directly with our audiences (we hope to relate to our audiences as real people and not some aloof automatons on stage).

Everything we do is a result of our mission:

To connect with others; to engage, provoke, illuminate; to serve as a conduit for the composer’s voice; to authentically express our inner lives; to share the joy and fulfillment that only music can elicit. …to free the world from the constraints of sleep-inducing concerts. …to demonstrate that classical piano music can serve as a relevant and powerful force in society.

All that we do as musicians is geared toward these goals, is inspired by these goals, and is fueled by these goals.

If we were doing it all for gimmickry or attention, we wouldn’t have accomplished nearly as much (in fact, we’d be downright bored), and we’re confident it wouldn’t be nearly as good.

Comparing Butterflies to Parthenon Marbles

I came across a terrific article written by the always-entertaining Harold Schonberg while working on my book the other day. The piece, “Recitalists who Adhere to ‘Tradition’ in Their Programs May Court Disaster,” appeared the New York Times in 1960, and I’ve pasted an excerpt from it below.

No artist who ever lived has been master of all styles. Even a genius like Rachmaninoff sounded rather silly on those rare occasions he played Mozart of Debussy. And yet, year after year, march the divisions of hopefuls with programs that encompass a capsule history of music.
Thus we get the spectacle of an ardent young violinist, obviously of a temperament that would tear down the hall in Paganini, scraping away at unaccompanied Bach. Or the converse: a young man who would be only too happy to play unaccompanied Bach to the best of his considerable ability along those lines, but who feels it his duty to play Paganini miserably.
Why in the name of artistic suicide do these things so often happen? Simply because tradition, that dried-up and unimaginative old spinster, has so decreed.
It is high time that artists realized they should program only the things that they feel they can play, not the things they think they should play. If an artist has a romantic temperament, he should avoid Scarlatti or unaccompanied Bach, and confine himself to Chopin, Schumann, Liszt, Brahms. If his allegiance is to the moderns, on with Hindemith, Prokofieff and Schoenberg; out with everything else.
But then enters, draped in black, the figure of the wise man. How, he asks in his infinite wisdom, can an artist be judged until he plays Mozart and Beethoven? THEY are the ultimate test, and not until then can the artist be given a pass to the pantheon. So says the wise man.
But this argument, though it has been parroted for years, is nonsense, and dangerous non-sense at that. Is it not good enough that an artist does a particular segment of the repertory with flair? Is not a fine Ravel interpretation preferable to a second-rate Beethoven one? Should not an artist be given credit for what he can do, rather than insults for what he does not even attempt to do? What smug superiority it is to set up standards by which a butterfly must be compared to an Elgin marble!