The Piano Duo:
The Story of Elizabeth and Marcel Bergmann

Interview by Tanya Levy (MGBH)

He is from Germany, she is from Canada.  They could have become competitors, but, instead, chose to complement each other’s talent.  Their love for music united them, and the Bergmann duo emerged to bring delight to the hearts of audiences across the globe.
Curious to know more? Here is our interview with Elizabeth and Marcel Bergmann (MGBT).

 

PPM: Elizabeth, you are from the town named Medicine Hat. What is it known for and what was it like growing up there?
EB: Aside from its cool and unusual name, Medicine Hat was a pretty good place to grow up in. It was one of those places where as a kid, you could get on your bike, spend all day outdoors, and your parents didn’t worry about you. It was a safe place. We still visit my home town at least once a year since my parents still live there. It has a population of about 65,000, located in southern Alberta, and in the summer, it boasts some of the hottest temperatures in Canada. There are a couple of stories/legends about how it got its name. One of them I usually tell is: “The Cree and the Blackfoot were having a battle and the Cree medicine man lost his headdress in the process- it was seen floating down the South Saskatchewan river. So, the place where that happened became known as “the place where the Medicine Man lost his hat.” Later it was called the “Medicine Man’s Hat” and then Medicine Hat.

So, the place where that happened became known as “the place where the Medicine Man lost his hat.” Later it was called the “Medicine Man’s Hat” and then Medicine Hat.

PPM: Marcel, please, tell our readers a little bit about your childhood.
MB: I grew up in the heart of Munich (Bavaria, Germany). I am an only child, but my parents made sure that I had a lot of opportunities to interact and play with other children.  I enjoyed being creative from an early age – playing around with words, language, drawing, painting…then, of course, music.  Growing up partially in the 60’s and then the 70’s, there was an atmosphere of change in Germany – similar to many other places. People tried out new ways of living, dealing with relationships, jobs, social justice etc. I realized from a very early age that I lived in a very political, kind of “politicized” environment, and all of that had a profound impact on my life later on.  My father worked as a journalist and filmmaker for the Bavarian Broadcasting Corporation, and my mother was a high school teacher, with French and German as her principle teaching areas.  My parents were and still are very much involved and interested in literature, art, music, theatre, and film.  As a result, I absorbed a lot of knowledge and experience in that area as my parents took me to public performances from a very early age.  I always loved those occasions and looked forward to them with much excitement and anticipation.

PPM: Has anyone in your family played piano or had musical background?
EB: My parents never had the opportunity to have music lessons as children, having grown up during WW II and, subsequently, being refugees.  They both came from large families (10 children on my mother’s side and 7 on my father’s), and money was sparse.  Music lessons were a luxury item, however, my grandfather taught himself to play harmonium, and my uncles all played brass instruments in church as they grew up.
MB: My mother had piano lessons for a few years when she was growing up.  Her mother had had piano lessons when she was young, and so, despite the limited resources after WWII, my grandmother felt that this was an important part of a good education. On my father’s side, my uncle played the trumpet in various Dixieland bands for about 30 years. He was basically self-taught, but was determined to learn to play the music he loved. Although he had another job for most of his life, he played many concerts with the “Old Merry Tale Jazz Band” as their main trumpet player.  They also produced a fair amount of records over their 25 year existence, and my parents and I listened quite a lot to his music at home and went to occasional concerts when they happened to play in Munich.

PPM: How did you start your acquaintance with classical piano?
EB: When my parents were in Canada and first got married, one of the first things my mother bought was a piano. My parents were very determined about providing the opportunity for music lessons for my sister and I. I started out with classical piano lessons at age 7. I couldn’t wait to start!  I had voice, theory, guitar, and piano lessons and sang in a girl’s choir.  In my spare time I accompanied choirs and played the organ in church.  Both my sister and I pursued careers in music.  She became a music therapist and has specialized in working with children with autism spectrum disorder.
MB: My parents signed me up for an Orff class that provided some basics about music, notes, rhythms etc. when I was about five.  I was drawn to the piano and always quite excited when the teacher would sit down and play something. I also loved percussion and was always very drawn to rhythm, pulse, and grooves.  My parents said the interest that I showed toward the piano at that time lead them to buy an instrument and get me started with piano lessons around age 6.

PPM: What made you choose piano as a profession?
EB: I was very involved in music throughout my childhood and had success at it, especially participating in local music festivals. I knew from around age 13, I wanted to be a pianist – and that was it.
MB: As I got so much overall enjoyment out of being at the piano, I had a desire to explore and study the repertoire more extensively and in-depth, deciding to follow up with further studies in Hannover and Montreal that eventually lead to a professional career.  My concert experiences as an audience member as well as listening to my favorite piano recordings were also a big influence and inspiration.

PPM: Can you, please, tell our readers how your duo started?
EB: We met at the music school in Germany (Hannover) where we studied with the same teacher (Arie Vardi (MGBH)).  We instantly became friends and soon realized we had a lot in common including our musical approach.  We became a couple first and then started playing together.  Our first collaboration was playing the Bach (OBM) C minor 2 piano concerto in Greece.  We were at a summer music festival, and there was a concerto competition as part of it.  We could have prepared a solo concerto each, but our teacher encouraged us to do something together.  In the end, we were chosen to play with an orchestra and had such a great time during that performance that we decided to pursue it further.  That is when it all started.

PPM: What’s the story behind your William Bolcom (MGBH) album? What made you choose this composer and those particular pieces for your CD?
EB: We became familiar with his Recuerdos pieces that he wrote for the Dranoff Two Piano Competition and really liked them, deciding to take them into our repertoire. Then, later we were asked to play a half recital as part of the Calgary International Organ Competition where Bill was in the jury.  So, we prepared the Frescoes, which is a very cool and terrific piece for 2 pianos, harmonium and harpsichord, and his fun ragtime – The Serpent’s Kiss.  We played that repertoire for that specific concert without having had any time or an opportunity to have played it for him prior to that.  You can imagine how nervous we were to have the composer sitting there in the audience and not knowing if he would like it.  Luckily, we were on the right track with our interpretation, and he very much enjoyed what we did at that concert.  We really hit it off and spent some time together during that competition.  Later, CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) recorded some of that same repertoire and a CBC producer Harold Gillis (MGBH) suggested to us that we propose to record Bolcom’s complete 2 piano works to Naxos.  Coincidentally, we had a friend in Munich who worked closely with them (Naxos) and through him, we were able to make that connection.

You can imagine how nervous we were to have the composer sitting there in the audience and not knowing if he would like it.

PPM: If you could share your experience with a young piano performer who is interested in recording an album, what would be your advice?
MB: I feel that there should be a personal connection and particular interest in the repertoire chosen for a recoding project. The more strongly a musician feels about the chosen array of pieces, the more convincing the results.
There are some important steps to help prepare for the actual recording sessions, e.g. recording all of the relevant pieces several times at home and listening very carefully to those pre-studio/concert hall renditions.  Also, it’s very helpful to have a clear plan about what to start with, how much time to allocate to each selection, etc.  Naturally, some of those parameters might change during the actual recording process due to various aspects that can shift as things are going along.

The first rehearsal was difficult: I was quite nervous. To complicate matters, the rehearsal numbers of my edition didn’t match up at all with what the conductor had in his score.  My poor parents sat there, just as nervous as I was!

PPM: Do you remember playing with an orchestra for the first time? What was that experience like for you?
EB: Absolutely! It was one of the most exhilarating experiences as a young musician I could have asked for, and it remains an exciting one today. It felt wonderful to be enveloped by the sound of all those musicians. Once you have played with an orchestra, you are hooked.
MB: When I was 17, I had the opportunity to play with a professional orchestra for the first time, and that turned out to be one of the most amazing and formative experiences of my entire musical life. I played the first movement of Beethoven’s third piano concerto. The first rehearsal was difficult: I was quite nervous. To complicate matters, the rehearsal numbers of my edition didn’t match up at all with what the conductor had in his score.  My poor parents sat there, just as nervous as I was! But in the end, things did come together quite well, and the second rehearsal went much more smoothly. During the actual performance, I felt like in a kind of a trance – something I had never experienced quite that strongly before. It was a wonderful feeling, and I remember that I was completely stunned by the applause after I came out of that magical moment.

PPM: Who are you favorite classical and contemporary composers?
EB: That’s a difficult question to answer, but I would have to say some of the composers who have had the biggest impact on me are Bach (OBM), Beethoven (OBM), Brahms (OBM), and Mozart (OBM).  As for contemporary composers, there are so many who are very interesting, so it’s hard to name them all. Of course, I always enjoy my husband’s music!
MB: Not an easy one to answer as there are so many great ones – and the numbers have been steadily growing over the centuries. But here’s, at least, an attempt, albeit it’s a bit of a reduced version. Classical: Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert (OBM), Schumann (OBM), Chopin (OBM), Brahms (OBM), Bruckner (OBM), Tchaikowsky (OBM), Mahler (OBM), some Strauss (OBM). I developed more and more appreciation for Handel in recent years – and especially for Haydn (OBM), who is often, unjustly, neglected as one of the greatest creative minds of the classical era.  Onward from there: Debussy (OBM), Ravel (OBM), Varese (OBM), Poulenc (OBM), Milhaud (OBM), Messiaen (OBM), Dutilleux (OBM). Albeniz  (OBM), Granados (OBM), de Falla  (OBM), Villa Lobos (OBM), Ginastera (OBM), Piazzolla  (OBM). Berg & Webern (OBM), some Schoenberg (OBM) (especially his seminal Pierrot Lunaire) and various works by Hindemith  (OBM) (especially his earlier, jazz-influenced pieces, such as the Kammermusiken, are quite amazing) As for the Russians – Rachmaninoff  (OBM), Scriabin (OBM); then Stravinsky (OBM), Prokofjew  (OBM), Shostakovich (OBM); Bartok (OBM), of course… From America: Ives (OBM), Copland (OBM), Barber (OBM), Gershwin (OBM), Bernstein (OBM); Crumb (MGBH), Bolcom (MGBH), Corigliano (MGBH), Foss (OBM).   There are many contemporary composers that I could list here -to name a few: Ligeti (OBM), Berio (OBM), Schnittke (OBM), Denisov (OBM), Takemitsu (OBM), Feldman (OBM).

PPM: What’s your favorite aspect of being a piano performer?
EB: Communicating with an audience and bringing joy, excitement and inspiration through music. I love the uniqueness of each concert experience – you never know what will happen exactly.
MB: Maybe that you can play almost anything, any musical work, on this instrument. Also, there is such an amazing, inexhaustible repertoire, which nobody can even dream of ever covering in its entirety. I personally feel that I can express myself artistically in so many different ways at the piano, including improvising and performing my own arrangements and compositions.

PPM: Please, tell our readers about your Classical Coffee Concert Series.
EB: The Coffee Concerts were founded by a friend of ours who asked us to take them over, and we gladly agreed. The concerts are preceded by coffee, tea, and pastries and then followed by a 75 minute concert with no intermission. These are informal concerts where we talk about the music. We usually have a guest artist join us. We repeat the program typically 6 times as we travel to the various venues in the area.
MB: This format is becoming more and more popular as many people don’t like to drive at night or head to downtown Vancouver, and they love the fact that they can find a classical music in their own community. In addition, they enjoy the “up close and personal” aspect of the concert.

This format is becoming more and more popular as many people don’t like to drive at night or head to downtown Vancouver, and they love the fact that they can find a classical music in their own community. In addition, they enjoy the “up close and personal” aspect of the concert.

PPM: Where do you spend your holidays?
EB: It varies. Sometimes, we spend some time off in Canada and sometimes in Europe. It usually ends up being a combination of both as my parents are in Canada and Marcel’s are in Munich.  We usually try and see our extended family during our time off as well.
MB: When we plan a specific holiday/ leisure trip, the destinations vary from places like Paris (which is a city we always love to return to) to tropical destinations, such as Cuba or Mexico.  We really enjoyed the all-inclusive resorts at those southern destinations.  We’d love to go back to Greece sometimes.  France and Italy are always on top of the list, whenever possible…

PPM: Over the years, besides being performers, both of you have taken on projects that require organizational and administrative skills – as artistic directors of White Rock Concerts and Dranoff Competition and Festival, for example. How does that aspect of musical profession fulfill you?
EB: Being an Artistic Director allows one to better understand the other side of the music industry. Wearing several “hats,” so to speak, helps us in our own concerts by getting to know all aspects of producing a concert from programming to budgets to marketing to subscriptions and ticket sales. It also helps us establish balance in our own programming, discover and think about creating other ways of bringing classical music to our audiences.

PPM: Where do you currently live, what are some of the most favorite things about the city/town you live in, and what do you do on an occasional night out?
EB: We live in the Greater Vancouver area in White Rock/South Surrey. It is a beautiful place, right next to the ocean with many wonderful parks. As everything is so close in our area, we can easily stroll down to the beach by walking through a park with majestic and magnificent trees and eagles soaring above us. In general, we love to walk and spend time in nature. This area is perfect for that!
MB: On a night out, we love to go down to White Rock and have dinner outside by the promenade on Marine Drive, in one of our favorite restaurants. Or else, drive into Vancouver for a concert and go out – often with some friends- afterward.

PPM: Was there ever when you thought to yourself, “I would rather be….. than a pianist”?
EB: No, actually not. I never have wished to be anything else. However, there are times, especially on the weekend, when I wonder what it is like to have a ‘regular’ 9 to 5 job and have evenings and weekends off.
MB: I think that thought crosses most people’s minds at some point and time. At times, I felt it would be great to be a writer as you can have a more flexible life in many ways, not being confined to always needing an instrument. I also often imagined how it would be to work as a painter/sculptor/visual artist…as there is something profoundly satisfying in creating something with a more tangible shape or form… something that can be captured in a kind of solid state. Being a composer and arranger although, of course, not full-time, helps connect with that primary creative source though.

PPM: How do you choose your repertoire as a duo?
EB: We often discuss ideas together while we are driving (which we have to do quite a bit, travelling to the various venues).   A lot of creative ideas come to us while we are doing something mundane like that.  We always have a pen and paper handy in the car.  We spend a lot of time discussing how to balance out programs, etc. for the coming season and how to be more efficient with our planning. Sometimes, we map it all out on a huge roll of paper to get a clearer overview.
MB: We frequently feature selections from my arrangements of West Side Story or from my own rendition of Porgy & Bess. Then, we add some of my other arrangements of more contemporary repertoire, such as Tangos by Piazzolla (OBM), jazz tunes by Dave Brubeck (OBM), Chick Corea (MGBH), or Pat Metheny (MGBH).  What I personally enjoy about performing those selections is having built-in opportunities for free variations and improvisational elements, while still following a well-established overall form and structure. Besides those various options, we also design certain programs around a specific theme – for instance, on the occasion of Leonard Bernstein’s (OBM) centennial, we put together a program that focuses on his legacy and musical influences.

PPM: What personal qualities do you look for in a friend?
EB: Honesty, openness, understanding, humor, and the ability to share and listen.
MB: Loyalty, commitment, honesty…enthusiasm. Similar interests, at least in some areas. Philosophical inclinations.

There is order, patterns, and structure evident in nature, similar to that in music. A beautiful moment in nature can move you in a profound manner just as a string quartet of Beethoven can.

PPM: How is nature and music connected in your world? What inspires you in nature? And how do you connect spirituality and music?
EB: The sounds of wind blowing in the trees, the eagles and other birds and rhythm of waves of the ocean create a calmness and natural pulse. Spending time in nature helps keep me grounded. Nature has inspired creativity in people forever, and it continues to help us as performers to clear our minds from the day to day clutter and allows inspiration for room to flourish. There is order, patterns, and structure evident in nature, similar to that in music. A beautiful moment in nature can move you in a profound manner just as a string quartet of Beethoven can. Words can’t really describe what is happening. Being in nature is an absolute necessity for me – kind of like a meditation. Likewise, music can also be a meditation when one is “in the zone” or “in the flow” both as a performer and as a listener. Music can be an incredible healing source as it allows us to tap into energies and ideas that are positive and life renewing. There are certain “truths” in nature and those are revealed about life and humanity I believe when music is presented in an honest way. All of this can and should have an empowering effect on us and the world. Nature and music feed our souls.
MB: Since having moved to Canada, I have become a huge “nature buff.”  I discovered the joy and excitement of hiking, especially in the Rockies.  Walking has also become a very regular and most important activity, especially in more recent years.  When I walk by myself, I often get some ideas in regard to my current compositions or arrangements.  So, while I am out in nature, the creative juices are flowing at the same time as well.  Music happens, undoubtedly, in a metaphysical realm.  There always remains something intangible about the fleeting moments, in which sounds are created and vanish.  Music has its own internal time that has little or nothing to do with measurable clock-time.  So, by its very nature, music has the power to transport all of us into a different realm and dimension.  I feel that there is a strong connection between spirituality and music, especially in the moments when things just seem to “happen,” without willing or controlling them too much.  Those are usually the best moments in performances – as something emerges from a different place. I frequently experience this spiritual aspect when I am composing or arranging – often, I forget everything around me when being in the creative flow.

Music has its own internal time that has little or nothing to do with measurable clock-time.  So, by its very nature, music has the power to transport all of us into a different realm and dimension.  I feel that there is a strong connection between spirituality and music, especially in the moments when things just seem to “happen,” without willing or controlling them too much.

PPM: What are some of your most memorable performance moments?
EB: Playing for the great Yehudi Menuhin (OBM). We performed Schubert’s Fantasy in f minor at a concert for an organization in Germany called “Live Music Now.”  Menuhin was present at this concert as he was the honorary patron. He was a remarkable human being, and his sheer presence in that front row made us play our best.
MB: As a soloist, definitely the performances with orchestra- as well as a couple of concerts during my post-graduate years in Hannover.  As for our duo concerts – there are many.   Our first performance, playing Bach’s double concerto in c minor with a festival orchestra in Greece, will always hold a special place.  Playing with our Dutch friends – Jeroen and Sandra Van Veen (MGBT) – on four pianos in the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam has also been one of those unforgettable moments.   We played there several times, and it is always a joy to perform in a hall with such a history!

PPM: What’s coming up for you, guys, in 2018?
MB: Lots of concerts & touring – including three weeks in China in May and early June. Festival appearances in Ottawa and Parry Sound in the summer. The upcoming fall season will be very busy as well – besides many local concerts, we will also play in Detroit for the first time and will be returning to Ontario for a few more performances. Also, Vancouver Opera is featuring one of my pieces –Requiem For a Lost Girl– as part of their festival this year, which I am very excited about. I am also working on a commission for the VSO School of Music that will feature their “piano orchestra” – about 40 students on 20 pianos! Plus, there are always many more composition and arrangement- projects that I am hoping to complete this year still.

PPM: What’s the most exotic place/venue that you have performed at?
EB: Several years ago, we played a 4 piano concert on a beach on the northern coast of Holland with our Dutch piano duo friends. The piece was Canto Ostinato by Simeon Ten Holt (OBM).  It was magical to watch the sun go down as we neared the end of the 2 hour long piece, and I played barefoot. It was a fabulous experience!
MB: Once we performed Visions de l’Amen by Olivier Messiaen (OBM) at an old church-ruin in Erfurt. There were these gigantic, medieval structures of an old cathedral. The whole ceiling was gone, so the view was completely open toward the night sky. The concert was in October, and the evenings were already quite chilly. We had to dress as warmly as we could, given that we still had to wear clothes that were suitable for a performance. It was a magical atmosphere indeed.

We sat down, adjusted our chairs, and realized something was very wrong.  The stage was on an angle and no adjusting of the chairs could make us feel comfortable.

PPM: Do you have any interesting stories of something that happened during one of your performances?
EB: A truly strange moment was when we played at the winners concert of a competition in Caltanissetta, Sicily. They were still building the stage in this old theatre as the concert was supposed to begin.   It was televised live, and we had no time to try out the pianos.  We sat down, adjusted our chairs, and realized something was very wrong.  The stage was on an angle and no adjusting of the chairs could make us feel comfortable. It felt like we were going to fall off the stage. We never did, but it certainly felt odd.
MB: Another time, we were playing in Sicily again, and 3 major things happened that could have thrown us off. The first, was that we broke a string- which made a massive sound. The second was the huge bouquet of flowers fell off the stage and the third thing, was strange clicking noises coming from the piano. I thought it was my cuff links, but we realized later it was the action of the keyboard. These things can be very distracting at the moment, but you must play on and pretend nothing has happened.

PPM: Name one thing that your parents taught you in childhood that you still come back to and say, “Wow! I am so blessed to know this!”
EB: Perseverance, discipline and determination – stick with it, don’t give up… eventually you will figure it out and don’t forget to breathe!
MB: “Always be curious and open- minded.” I feel my parents opened my eyes and perception for a whole universe of possibilities for exploration, growth, and development. I am deeply grateful for their guidance and encouragement during my childhood and adolescence, that they let me pursue my own path while always being there with their help and advice.

“Always be curious and open- minded.” I feel my parents opened my eyes and perception for a whole universe of possibilities for exploration, growth, and development.

THE PIANO DUO: INTERVIEW WITH ANDERSON/ROE

Interview by Tanya Levy (MGBH)

There are many ways to deliver an piano performance. Playing as a duo is one of them.  The fans of the piano world have seen and heard a number of interesting and intriguing duos that bring a different dynamic to perception of performing a piano piece.  With this interview of delightful Greg Anderson (MGBH) and Liz Roe (MGBH), our magazine is introducing a new section titled “The Piano Duo.”  We look forward to your comments and are open to suggestions for future interviews.

 

PPM: What gave you an idea to create a duo vs. perform as soloists?
LIZ: We initially met at Freshman Orientation at Juilliard—we were actually living on the same floor in the dorm! A close friendship and mutual respect quickly developed, and when musicians are friends, the natural tendency is to play together.  The very first time we sight-read together there was an instant musical alchemy.  We gave our duo recital debut at Juilliard during our junior year; we had such an exhilarating time onstage and it was a resounding success with the audience, our friends, and our teachers. From that point onward, we felt inspired to continue our duo pursuits.  It also became clear that we shared the desire to energize and re-imagine the presentation of classical music.
GREG: Yes, it was absolutely electric the first time we ever read duo music together. The music we were sight-reading was notoriously difficult to synchronize exactly, and we were perfectly together.  We weren’t even focusing on synchronization! That same innate sense of musical timing (or is it “mind reading”?) has followed us throughout our career; we rarely spend rehearsal time on the basics of ensemble.
I think the success of our duo is due to three factors: our friendship, this innate musical chemistry between the two of us, and our shared mission for music’s role in society.  We’ve now been playing professionally for 15 years. As great friends, we feel so fortunate to be making music together for a living. That said, we still perform as soloists, and we’ve both released solo albums in the past couple years.

I think the success of our duo is due to three factors: our friendship, this innate musical chemistry between the two of us, and our shared mission for music’s role in society.

LIZ: Yes, our solo pursuits certainly continue to inform our duo approach: in honoring our individual artistic and personal identities, we find that our collaboration feels all the more dynamic.

 

PPM: How do you pick your repertoire?
GREG: Liz and I strive for variety in our programs — specifically, a musical diversity that reflects the variety of life.  Joyful and sad, profound and silly, aggressive and dreamy: we aim to capture it all. Although we perform a lot of our own arrangements, our programs almost always include some music written originally for two pianos.  We like the variety of style and perspective that these compositions offer our programs.
LIZ:  Because we value variety in our programming, we’ve pushed the boundaries of what can be performed in a classical concert: now it is totally natural for us to pair a masterwork from the standard classical repertoire with a contemporary pop hit cover.  These juxtapositions stem from our belief that great music is great music, regardless of genre, style, etc.  In that sense, we are not attached to labels; what matters about music is not what “category” it belongs to, but rather its impact—if it moves, excites, soothes, enlightens, or uplifts you.
GREG: In the end, our aim is to captivate the audience with music of divine transcendence and wild, acrobatic pianism. We serve our music piping hot with an unhealthy dose of adrenaline, 2-4 servings of sexual tension, and a dash of the unexpected…

 

PPM: Where were you born and where did you grow up?
LIZ: I was born and raised in Chicago.
GREG: I’m from rural Minnesota.

 

PPM: What/Who affected your choice of becoming a musician?
LIZ:From a very early age, I was surrounded by classical music, on the radio, through recordings, and in live concerts.  My family is full of music lovers and amateur musicians, so music always felt like such an essential part of life to me.  From my first lesson at age six, the piano felt so natural to play, and I was entranced by the instrument’s vast palette of sounds.
GREG:  I first started taking piano lessons when I was eight years old — my parents wanted my brothers and me to be well-rounded individuals, and we were all required to take at least three years of musical instruction.  I fell in love with the piano and classical music instantly, and from then on, I don’t ever recall feeling like there was a choice; I always knew I’d be a musician.  It felt so innate to me.

 

PPM: Tell us about your path to and at Julliard: what led you to this school and what was it like being a student there?
LIZ: A pivotal event occurred when I was 13 years old; I won the IBLA International Piano Competition in Italy, resulting in concerts at notable venues like Steinway Hall in New York and Salle Cortot in Paris, which exposed me to the life of a performer.  In addition to my piano studies and performances, I was an avid academic student as well and seriously considered non-conservatory schools.  However, choosing Juilliard felt like the natural next step on the pathway to a career in music, and as soon as I arrived I realized how inspiring it was to be surrounded by such incredible artists and the galvanizing energy of New York.  I had an extraordinary experience due to my brilliant peers and teachers.
GREG: Before even auditioning at the school, I was inspired by the energy and enthusiasm of Juilliard students, and I knew that it was a world in which I wanted to be immersed.  My childhood teacher of 11 years, Kim Craig (MGBH), prepared me well for college.  She would work with me intensively for hours every week—sometimes as many as eight hours per week—and she would attend all of my out-of-state rehearsals, performances, and competitions.  This devotion made all the difference.  Not only did this afford us time to work in great detail, but also it provided incredible training for Juilliard, the concert stage, and life. Life as a Juilliard student was a bit magical, almost like being a student at Hogwarts.  We were living in a rarified world, devoting our lives to beauty, honing our crafts, and living and breathing music.  We were lucky.
GREG & LIZ: Here are a few of our favorite things about our time spent at The Juilliard School:

  • The palpable excitement and energy in the air
  • The colorful personalities of our classmates
  • The colorful personalities of the faculty
  • The massive, well-stocked, and browser-friendly library
  • The incredible performing opportunities offered to the student body
  • Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens 😉
  • The location: Lincoln Center!
  • The tight-knit, supportive community
  • The convenience of the dorms to the classrooms (you can wake up five minutes before class and still be on time)
  • The opportunity to meet awesome musical partners-in-crime
  • The location: Central Park, Carnegie Hall, Whole Foods, and great nightlife are just blocks away.
PPM: What was your first music video and what inspired you to make it?
LIZ: We had no promotional objective in making our first videos; we made them simply because we wanted to. (In fact, everything we do—our performances, arrangements, videos, recordings, social media, websites, writings, etc.—comes from our shared passion for creativity and adventure, and beyond that, to make classical music a relevant and powerful force in society.)   Both of us are highly visual people who like to delve into uncharted territory, so we were interested in exploring the artistic potential of classical music videos.  I grew up watching a lot of pop/rock music videos on MTV so I was particularly influenced by this aesthetic, but Greg (MGBH) and I have drawn inspiration from many additional sources: film, all forms of art, the music itself, and our own vivid imaginations!
GREG: We filmed our first music video (Piazzolla’s Libertango) in a classroom at Yale, where I was a student at the time. It was the only venue we could get into, and though a classroom doesn’t necessarily scream “tango!,” the misalignment forced us to think creatively.  We concocted a narrative in which I fall asleep during science class and daydream about a lustful interaction with my classmate…PPM: Did you ever consider a profession other than a pianist prior to going to Julliard?
LIZ: I’ve always had broad interests (mainly in the humanities) so I did consider other professions, but in my heart I knew music—in any shape or form—was my calling.
GREG: I considered a career as a material scientist and was on the math and science teams in high school, but I always knew music was my world.PPM: What were your favorite composers in your early teen years and how did your preferences change as you matured?
LIZ: I’ve always seemed to possess an innate affinity for lyrical and expressive music, so I would say I was drawn to the Romantics in my early teen years. I was also obsessed with Glenn Gould (OBM) at that time and thus loved Bach (OBM) from early on.  Beethoven (OBM) has been another consistent favorite, as well as the Beatles!  Over time I’ve developed a passion for chamber music, music of the 20th and 21st centuries, and music that is off the beaten path, like Britten’s Piano Concerto and Field’s Nocturnes (both of which I’ve recorded in recent years). From Messiaen (OBM) to Miles Davis (OBM), I’ve always had a diverse musical palette!
GREG: I’ve always loved exploring music of different genres and styles. In my early teens, I started going to libraries to check out music by composers of whom I’d never heard, and I’d sight read the scores at home. I remember my local library wouldn’t allow me to check out more than 45 books at once, and so I’d always have 45 library scores sitting beside the piano.  I carry that same sense of curiosity to this day! That said, I’ve never fallen out of love with Mozart.PPM: How often do you practice together and how much time do you practice separately?
LIZ: Honestly, we don’t have a discernible practice routine these days — our schedule has become quite varied and unpredictable.  While we’re on tour, traveling takes up much of our time; we also spend countless hours working on creative projects like our music videos and arrangements.  That said, we aim to practice as regularly as possible (ideally on a daily basis!).  As for duo rehearsals, we make sure to schedule a substantial period of time together immediately preceding our tours, and we try to take advantage of any rehearsal time on the road.PPM: What is the process of a program preparation for you?
GREG: We devote ourselves obsessively to the planning of recital programs.  We believe that the selection of repertoire significantly affects the listening experience, and we work hard to take advantage of this. Obviously with our programs, we consider factors such as variety, cohesion, mood, our audience, etc., but we value the sequence of music and its effect on the listening experience: creative repertoire juxtapositions can especially help novice listeners hear music in a new light!  For example, when we pair popular songs by Schubert (OBM) and the Beatles (or even Taylor Swift (MGBH)!), we place Schubert’s songs in a new context, and audiences may come to realize how similar these 200-year-old songs are to the popular music of today.  Likewise, the dance music of Michael Jackson (OBM) isn’t so different from the popular dances by Liszt (OBM). Recital programming is just another avenue for us to realize our mission to make classical music a relevant and powerful force in society. 

PPM: Back at the beginning of June you were hosting the webcast of Cliburn Piano Competition. What was this experience like for you?
GREG: Hosting the Cliburn Competition was an incredible, though taxing, experience.  We were so impressed with the pianism, and even more so, by the extent to which the 30 pianists shared their souls with their listeners (we went through more than one box of kleenex!). And from our point of view, we really appreciated the platform to further our mission; we were able to discuss, very specifically, just how relevant this repertoire can be in the 21st century to millions of viewers.
LIZ: It was also an exhilarating challenge to dive into the world of live broadcasting: it was high-wire act of timing, research, speaking, improvisation, diplomacy, and cooperation. (And fashion, naturally.) Instead of being in our normal element onstage, it was fascinating to be involved behind the scenes and to have the privilege of interviewing some of the most prominent figures in the classical music world.  The Cliburn and Medici TV teams were an absolute joy to work with (we felt like a family by the end!), and it was of course thrilling to actively engage with piano-lovers worldwide on a daily basis through our on-camera commentary and our social media feeds.

 

PPM: Do you have favorite performance venues?
LIZ: Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center will always have a special place in our hearts, thanks to our Juilliard days. The legacy and energy of these venues are incomparable.
GREG: In addition to beautiful concert halls throughout the States, Asia, and Europe, we’ve also had a blast playing in more intimate venues: for example, we’ve put on shows in club-like spaces, and we also periodically present “musical mixology” concerts that feature craft cocktail pairings (created by yours truly!) with pieces of music.

 

PPM: I would like to address an issue of worshipping musicians and composers that Greg mentioned during the Chicago talk.  This indeed has been one of the problems in classical music for centuries – blind reverence of the performer and the composer vs. enjoyment of classical music and using it as a tool for elevation of consciousness.   A musician, after all, is just a spiritual channel to the sound vibrations.   And depending on their level of spirituality, he or she is able to attract and produce high or low level vibrations reflected in the quality of music compositions.  What, in your opinion, is one of the ways to remove or, at least reduce, this “idolatry” element from the classical music tradition?
GREG: We want our audiences to be active participants in the concert experience. An invested listener won’t be nearly as affected by blind reverence, since they’re actively making the music their own!   We created a “Listening Manifesto,” in part to encourage listeners to invest themselves more fully in the concert experience and to deepen their enjoyment of the music.
LIZ: While we can and should acknowledge the superhuman achievements of great composers and performers, we must remember the underlying humanity of these individuals, and that their creative output is a powerful expression of our shared humanity.

 

PPM: With your performances, you are making the art of piano performance highly interactive vs. entertaining the passive listener.  From filming on college campus in Midland, TX to performing on the street.  How does the aspect of interactivity, in your opinion, affect the audience’s perception of music?
GREG: We want our audiences to feel the music more deeply and more personally than ever before. We’re always asking ourselves, “How can we make the music come alive?” and “How we make the music relevant to our listeners?”
Bringing music to life involves far more than just “playing the piano.”  Many external forces affect our perception of music, from our listeners’ emotional state to the venue, in which we are performing.  With this in mind, we do our best to align these external forces in our favor.  Sometimes this means we choose to burn pianos in our music videos, wear provocative clothing onstage, compose fiery arrangements of pop music, or, otherwise, spice up the music listening experience.  But in the end, everything we do as artists is in service of the music we perform and our audience’s reaction to it.
LIZ: In this postmodern age, the audience is an essential part of the artistic experience.  We don’t create or perform in a vacuum; in a performance we’re shaping and responding to our environment and context, of which the audience’s active engagement plays a pivotal role.  And if you didn’t catch it before, be sure to check out our “Listening Manifesto” (http://www.andersonroe.com/listening-manifesto/)!

 

PPM: What are you looking forward to accomplishing this upcoming year with your piano performances?
GREG: We’re premiering several new works, including our very own Carmen Fantasy for Two Pianos and Orchestra and Danse Macabre: Bacchanal for Two Pianos, Percussion, and Violin.

 

 

PPM: Please, tell us about your CD recordings. Do you have any releases coming out?
LIZ: We do have a new release on the horizon!  We’re thrilled to be in the editing stages of our latest album – Mother Muse.  Mothers represent a whole spectrum of attributes, both mythic and uniquely personal: they can be forces of nature and nurturing, guidance and inspiration, patience and strength, and, of course, love: profound, fierce, unconditional.  Mother Muse features musical compositions that pay tribute to the diverse aspects of motherhood, from the sacred (“Ave Maria”) to the saucy (“Mrs. Robinson”), and everything in between.
GREG: In addition to the album coming out next spring, we have all-Mozart (OBM) and all-Bach albums, as well as an album of night songs arranged for piano duo (When Words Fade) and a DVD release of our music film, The Rite of Spring: A Musical Odyssey.

 

PPM: Do you have a favorite piano piece that you like playing together over and over?
GREG: Brahms’ (OBM) Variations on a Theme by Haydn (OBM), which Brahms originally composed for two pianos, is noble and grand; it’s one of our favorite pieces ever composed, and notably, it was the first piece we ever performed together as a duo.  We’ve performed it hundreds of times since, and it’s never gotten old.
LIZ: I’d add the gorgeously evocative Rachmaninoff (OBM) Suite No. 1 and our cover of Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android” (in which we rock out!).

 

PPM: What are your hobbies outside piano?
LIZ: Music (listening, creating, singing) and silence, reading and writing, food and film, drawing and museums, traveling and exploration, nature and inspiration, the silly and sublime.
GREG: Playing piano, piano recital programming, hanging out, piano, film, reading, piano, astronomy, composing, design, art, piano, politics, music, hiking, mixology, cooking, wine tasting, traveling, playing the piano. Also: playing the piano.

 

PPM: Do you have siblings? Please, tell us a little about your family.
LIZ: I have two sisters.  I was fortunate to grow up in a family of music-lovers so they are all very supportive of my career. My mother’s side is particularly musical: my mother played the violin and conducted during her school days, and I have an aunt who is a cello teacher in Seoul and another aunt who teaches piano in the DC area.  Both of my sisters are also musically talented and became accomplished at their instruments: my older sister on violin and my younger sister on cello.
GREG: I have two brothers: an older and a younger brother.  We had a wholesome upbringing in rural Minnesota, where we lived across from a farm.  My parents both grew up on farms.

 

PPM: What are your favorite places to visit?
GREG: It’s all about the food!
LIZ: Yes! We love to visit (and perform in) places with access to delicious food, but also extraordinary history and culture: London, Tokyo, Rome, Montreal, to name a few. My personal travel favorites include Paris, the English countryside, Iceland, Hawaii, and Switzerland.
GREG: I’d add China and Spain… Plus, New Zealand is absolutely magical; in fact, we have a 10-city concert tour there next spring, and we can’t wait!

 

PPM: What cuisine/food/restaurant do you like the most?
LIZ: Virtually all cuisines.  Pasta, pizza, fruits and veggies, fresh fish, all kinds of tea, dessert.  A really delicious brunch also hits the spot.
GREG: Unhealthy: pasta and cheese. Healthy: salads (with dark greens, please!), artichoke hearts, avocados, tofu. Mmmm.

 

PPM: What are your thoughts on classical music in the XXIst century?
LIZ: Classical music has been undergoing a significant shift in identity and presentation.  Since we started our careers over a decade ago, we’ve witnessed numerous changes, challenges, and developments within the industry.  Audiences desire a more personalized and less formal approach to the music.
We didn’t start with the goal to “change” classical music per se; from the beginning, we’ve aimed to be true to ourselves and to the music we love, which in turn allows us to create with freedom and communicate with sincerity.  In re-imagining music from the pop world, we’re not only striving to keep the genre relevant, but we’re also paying homage to composers like Beethoven and Liszt, who did something similar centuries ago with folk and operatic music.  We—and many of our contemporaries—find value in blurring the lines between genre as a reflection of our multicultural, heterogenous world, but also because great music transcends categorization.  To that end, we reap inspiration from the creativity and showmanship of pop and rock musicians, as well as the artistry of dancers, actors, visual artists, and more.
In doing all this, our ultimate intention is to channel the immensity of the human experience through music and to elicit a heightened sense of joy, curiosity, and wonder in others.  Classical music has the power to do that, and I believe that’s why it persists as a cornerstone of our civilization, no matter how much times change.

I think social media will continue to transform classical music in the 21st century.   The Internet makes classical music so much more accessible, whether it be through music videos, behind-the-scenes looks into musicians’ lives, or interactions with likeminded individuals.

 

GREG: I think social media will continue to transform classical music in the 21st century.   The Internet makes classical music so much more accessible, whether it be through music videos, behind-the-scenes looks into musicians’ lives, or interactions with likeminded individuals.
As we’ve said repeatedly, it is our mission to make classical music a relevant and powerful force in society, and our social media projects are naturally an important part of this mission.  Social media allows us to showcase the joyous, surprising, and life-changing potential of classical music to audiences far, far beyond the standard concert halls.  The content we create for social media—whether it be our music videos, listening tips, or cocktail recipes—ultimately serves our mission and amplifies the listening experience for our fans, but we’ve found that it enhances our performances as well, causing us to interact with our music from fresh and unique points of view.  We savor all opportunities to exist in the same creative space as the music we love so much!
Classical music is a creative, living art form, and we look forward to watching our successors adapt and transform the field to suit the needs of the 21st century.

PPM: If you were to conduct a reform in music education, what would be the one thing you would change?
LIZ: I’d start with accessibility.  Music education should definitely be more readily available to everyone regardless of socioeconomic factors.  We both grew up with music education classes in our public schools, and I think music and the arts should be considered just as important as athletic programs here in the States.
GREG: Music (and all the arts, for that matter) is an amazing tool to help young people develop creativity and imagination—skills that are increasingly necessary in our changing world.  I want to see MORE music programs in schools!

 

PPM: Who is your role model and why?
GREG: I’m limiting my answer to purely pianists here, for the sake of brevity:
I greatly admire the spontaneity of the Romantic era pianists: Franz Liszt, Frédéric Chopin (OBM), Clara Schumann (OBM), etc.  From what I’ve read, their concerts were wild affairs, filled with surprises, destroyed pianos, new music, improvisations, and humor. The list goes on… Shura Cherkassky (OBM) (I’d want to learn the secrets to his beautiful tone) and Ignaz Friedman (OBM) (because he’s awesome). Among my favorite living pianists is Alexandre Toradze (MGBH).  He becomes a dragon at the piano; he breathes inspiration and personality and fire!
LIZ: There are too many pianists whom I admire, but I’m especially inspired by Alfred Cortot’s (OBM) imaginative and poetic approach to playing; Glenn Gould (OBM)’s riveting iconoclasm and hunger for artistic expression beyond the concert stage; Martha Argerich’s (MGBH) organic, instinctive, and mesmerizing connection to the instrument; and Grigory Sokolov (MGBH)’s fascinating artistry and fierce devotion to this craft.

PPM: Would you share some funny stories that happened to you during your tours/performances/music video recordings?
LIZ: As you can tell from our videos, Greg and I can get very physical at the piano, especially while we’re playing four-hand music. Once Greg was a bit too physical; during a performance of our “Libertango” arrangement, he actually elbowed me in the face! I was dazed by the accidental blow, but I kept going; meanwhile Greg kept looking at me with this terribly guilty expression. Thankfully, intermission immediately followed, so I could ice my face before the second half!

Once Greg was a bit too physical; during a performance of our “Libertango” arrangement, he actually elbowed me in the face! I was dazed by the accidental blow, but I kept going; meanwhile Greg kept looking at me with this terribly guilty expression. Thankfully, intermission immediately followed, so I could ice my face before the second half!

 

GREG: Often our concerts sell out, and in such instances, the venues often add stage seating. In one very special performance, there were an additional 60 audience members seated on stage with us. While we were performing Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos, a young girl in the front vomited everywhere, including on the legs of the pianos! The audience gasped, and we had to take a break to clean up the mess.

 

PPM: We’d like to thank you for an interview and give you many blessings in delighting audiences with your electrifying performances!

 

 

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