Duo Delights Audience

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Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Roe perform at the Armstrong Auditorium.
Elizabeth Roe performs in front of a sold out crowd at the Armstrong Auditorium.
Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Roe play on the same piano at their performance at the Armstrong Auditorium.
Greg Anderson plays a gleaming Steinway during his performance with Elizabeth Roe at the Armstrong Auditorium.
Guest vocalist Paula Malone performs with the Anderson and Roe piano duo
At far right end of piano Armstrong college composition master Mark Jenkins and educator and choral director Ryan Malone play a quartet of American folk tunes.

The Anderson- Roe Duo Present Exciting, Transformative Concert at the Armstrong Auditorium

By Clif Warren

Still in their twenties and barely having stopped to rest from receiving their bachelors’ and Masters’ degrees at Juiliard, and with Greg even receiving a newly minted doctorate from Yale, the Anderson-Roe duo are fulfilling concert engagements with a single mission in mind: To transform the concert hall performances of the past that lulled generations to sleep into exciting new programs by re-mastering the masters.

Greg Anderson states it this way: “ . . . If we aren’t careful, classical music will become a warehouse for meaningless relics of the past. Boring concerts are the result of an artist who has lost touch with the world in which he lives.”

No, Anderson and Roe are not turning on the rich heritage we all know and love. Rather, they want to rededicate, enhance, and energize the concert experience. A full bill is represented on this March program tonight: Brahms, Bach, Stravinsky, Mozart, Villa-Lobos, Rachmaninoff, and Bizet, and for good measure, a tango by a Brazilian named Piazolla, as well as a playful take on a stack of American folk tunes in a mash up, wherein Mark Jenkins, Armstrong college composition master, who, like Anderson, arranges for the “5 Browns,” and Ryan Malone, educator and choral director par excellence, lend four more hands to the blend to send patrons joyfully off whistling into the night at the finale.

It helps that Anderson and Roe are physically attractive as well as accomplished. They look like they belong together on stage: Greg in a neat gray suit, with his short Joe College haircut and beaming his all-American features; matching him at medium height, Elizabeth looks like an exotic Asian flower. Slim, with fine facial features embellished by her long black hair stylishly arranged in a ‘pony tail,’ Elizabeth is buoyant and radiates charm. The simple floor length purple silk sheath she wears, adorned with small, well-spaced bouquets of beaded flowers, is the smart complement to his suit—a lovely and workable choice.

Starting with the Brahms variation on a Haydn theme, they walk over close to the audience to two small microphones for each in turn to present brief facts to set the song. “Song” is the overall theme of the evening. As they begin performing, the melody sounds light, breezy and warm. The pianists alternate attacks and moods on their gleaming new Steinways, echoing each other and easing the audience into the program.

The next selection, a serious Bach song—a meditation on death: “My soul rests in the hands of Jesus”—that follows, features the gorgeous, rich soprano solo the duo arranged especially for Paula Malone, vocal instructor and performer on the Armstrong College staff. So controlled, poised and haunting is the dramatic German text Ms. Malone sings over the lovely and balanced classical accompaniment that hers is easily one of the most stunning and memorable works on the program.

Stravinsky’s Part I of “The Rite of Spring,” Dionysian and erotic, rather than Apollonian, with its demanding dissonant chords and crushes of notes running together, tried first in 1913 before an audience that became riotous and threw things, becomes tinder in the hands of Anderson and Roe. With unerring readings on one of the most difficult scores ever, the duo perform like athletes on the same piano, reaching hands over hands, pounding in the attacks with all the fiery incendiary effects of a spring Oklahoma forest ablaze.

Anderson and Roe continue becoming intimately engaged with the music: their bodies twist and turn and extend, emoting what they feel. That happens again charmingly with the almost puppet-like characters, male and female, whose instrumental voices create hi-jenks on the keys, all based on a delightful aria from “The Magic Flute.”
The Villa-Lobos offering captures the rhythmic and sonorous Latin charm the composer is known for, while the “Libertango” of Piazzolla pounds with the great fun of the stressed movements of the tango while everyone anticipates the proper time for the dip.

The Rachmaninoff “Vocalise” as interpreted by Anderson and Roe suggests high romance and is one of the most appreciated songs. But it is the eleven-minute version of Bizet’s opera “Carmen” condensed to its fantasy and flourishes and re- arranged that is accorded huge applause.

With Anderson’s masterful ability at composition and at re-arranging the classical library, in addition to his extraordinary performance skills and being allied to an amazing partner in Roe who mirrors his moves and supplies many of her own, this duo should soon be the most sought after team on the concert stage.

Anderson and Roe wow their audience by connecting with each person individually. Their radiant performance, so affecting—note by note, phrase by phrase, mood by mood— happens because they are never stiff, or stuffy, or mannered. They are such virtuosos, and so relaxed, the audience feels totally at ease, responding to them in that way, too. So knowledgeable and capable is this duo, you feel they could toss all the piano keys up in the air, catch them, and keep on performing with every note still happily and satisfyingly in order: A transformation indeed.

Clifton Warren, who holds a Ph. D. in comparative literature and letters from Indiana University, is a former chairman of the English Department at Oklahoma City University, and former dean of the Liberal Arts college at University of Central Oklahoma, where he established an M.A. degree in creative studies. He is also a recipient of a Governor’s Arts award.

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