The under-40 set makes up about 10 percent of the audience at the Sunset Center Thursday night. That’s pretty impressive for the Carmel Bach Festival, which in the words of spokesman Scott Seward has been “actively seeking to recruit younger listeners.”
It’s also a testament to the buzz around piano duo Anderson & Roe.
My husband and I, both 30-somethings, run into about a dozen fresh-faced scenesters we know, including Weekly food writer Shiho Fukushima and fashionable man-about-town Maddox Haberdasher. Most of us are seated in the less-pricey balcony section, which feels like the concert hall’s (very quiet and well-behaved) party zone.
It makes sense that Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Joy Roe, millennials themselves, would draw this slightly atypical Carmel crowd. San Francisco Classical Voice calls them “the most dynamic duo of this generation.” This week’s print issue of the Weekly offered a preview of their July 28 performance, and tonight the duo makes good on their promise of an “intense, wild program.”
They perform their first pieces, Brahms and Bach, facing one another on their respective pianos. Her shoulders curl inward as she plays; he pitches forward, spine straight. Their notes merge into something round, expanding as they rise from the carved wooden instruments to the auditorium’s Gothic-inspired arches.
Addressing the crowd between songs, Roe and Anderson are a portrait in contrasts. She roots in place, speaking in a chill alto. He’s a fast-talking tenor, his gestures big and spazzy.
They tell us about Bach’s fugues, full of harmonic dissonance and biblical remorse. Later they introduce a number inspired by legendary Argentine composer Astor Piazzola, then sit side-by-side at a single grand piano and, as Roe puts it, “tango with our hands.”
This explains why Anderson & Roe have earned hype beyond classical music circles. This is different. Their hands skitter and slide across the keys, crossing and caressing, then jerking back like a puppetmaster yanked their string. Sometimes they take turns, one manipulating the piano strings beneath the propped lid while the other plucks the keys.
At one point Anderson, standing, turns his head to Roe and they lean toward one another in slow-motion, as if to kiss, then abruptly snap back to business—to audience laughter and applause.
The duo re-emerges onstage after intermission in new outfits. (Roe has changed from a gown resembling an abstract musical note into a watery blue mermaid dress. I’d like to describe Anderson’s getup in preposterous detail—to parody the media double-standard of focusing on women’s clothing but not men’s—but it’s just a boring, well-tailored suit.)
By now, we as a collective audience are crushing pretty hard on these two. They don’t have to prove their mastery of classical form or their creative chops anymore; we’re putty in their hands.
They can play whatever. And they do, from Daft Punk’s “Lose Yourself to Dance” to Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android” (re-activating long-forgotten feelings of teenage ennui).
Then they’re back to Bach, with an apocalyptic waltz about the end of civilization.
Should I be scared? The music says otherwise. The story told through Anderson & Roe’s proficient hands is one of rules forged and held, then strained and broken. The crumbling of the social order creates space for human creativity.
The raging waltz rises like the smoke outside the concert hall, speaking the same language as the Soberanes Fire now burning nearby. It energizes us even as it destroys what we love, clearing space for new beginnings.