Fort Worth — What a great idea. Bring classical crossover ensembles to a club more accustomed to hosting pop and jazz, and see what happens. What happened Thursday night at the inaugural performance of the Cliburn Sessions at the Live Oak Music Hall and Lounge in the Fairmount area of Fort Worth was a packed house for a high-energy performance by pianists Greg Anderson and Liz Roe, known as the Anderson & Roe Piano Duo. True, there were lots of pianists in the audience, but also a fair number of folks who didn’t regularly attend classical concerts, such as the man I spoke with before the concert who had brought his two piano-student daughters to hear the duo. Many people who don’t ordinarily attend classical concerts (and let’s face it—that’s a lot of people) have the idea that concerts are stuffy affairs. They’re dressy. There are esoteric rules (no applause between movements!), and the stuffy, dressed-up concertgoers will glare at the uninitiated if they mess this up. No wonder many people are intimidated by the notion of attending a symphony concert or a recital.
So: classical music in a club. It’s a sort of gateway drug to classical music. Start with these concerts, and before you know it, you have season subscriptions to the symphony, you’re a regular at Cliburn competitions, you have opinions about which Glenn Gould recording of the Goldberg Variations is superior, you’re even going to an opera or two…you’ll be an addict. That’s surely the hope, anyway, and if concerts such as Thursday’s keep happening, may well be the reality.
Thursday evening’s performance by Anderson and Roe was an entertaining romp by two highly skilled, energetic young pianists, with only a few missteps. The performance opened with their own arrangement of Mozart’s Rondo Alla Turca. Although it retained Mozart’s melodies, it lost any sense of Mozart’s style. But most of the program worked far better. The second movement of Rachmaninoff’s first suite for two pianos, Op. 5 (La nuit… L’amour), was solid, and since there were no programs, Anderson and Roe provided excellent program notes from the stage, reading an English translation of the short poem, “The night… The love…,” on which the piece was based. The two pianists had really wonderful, sensitive ensemble here and elsewhere throughout the evening. They seldom had a misstep in that regard.
After the Rachmaninoff, the pair went in a crossover direction with their own arrangement of “Billie Jean” (yes, that “Billie Jean”). It was a clever, complex arrangement, to be sure, but already seems a bit dated. Rachmaninoff wears better than MJ, it would appear.
However, their piano four hands performance of their arrangement of the first section of Stravinsky’s ballet The Rite of Spring, which turned 100 last year, was timeless. Although those familiar with the original orchestration might have found it a bit odd hearing a piano rather than a bassoon or horns or strings, it was a formidable task to cover all those voices with just two players, and Anderson and Roe did a more than creditable job.
The only part of the performance that dragged was a set of pieces by Erik Satie inspired by automatic writing. These included narrators drawn from the audience. While the narrators without exception did a great job, bringing them up to stage and setting them up for what were very short pieces was distracting and disrupted the pace of the performance. On the other hand, after the workout of the Stravinsky, the pianists probably needed the rest.
The Satie pieces did further the theme of the middle of the show, however: beginning with the Stravinsky, continuing with the Satie, and finishing with their own, elaborate arrangement of Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android,” the duo made their way through Modernism, into Dadaism, and then cascaded into postmodernism, before retreating abruptly into Romanticism for their fine take on Carmen—a 13-minute sort of Carmen Fantasy, but for two pianos.
The best thing on the program, though, was the first of their two encores, a version of Ástor Piazzolla’s “Liebertango.” They performed the tango with verve and finesse. Their take on “Flight of the Bumblebee,” the last offering of the evening, was a crowd-pleaser, but was a bit messier and less convincing.
Well played, Cliburn. A good initiative, and from the looks of things, a popular one. Crossover artists such as these have broad commercial appeal. They get people listening and having fun doing it, which are the keys to keeping classical music organizations viable through the 21st century.
» The next concert in the Cliburn Sessions series is Time for Three, April 29. See our listing