Believe all the hype: Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Joy Roe—more famously called Anderson and Roe—are electric. At Galapagos Art Space in Brooklyn, this piano duo did more than celebrate the launch of their new album; they fashioned an entirely new concert experience.

Anderson and Roe © Brent Cline
Anderson and Roe
© Brent Cline

Dressed all in black—Roe in a sequined dress and Anderson in a very dapper suit (never mind his foot brace, poor lad!)—the two Steinway pianos looked almost metallic against the soft purple hue shining on the stage’s brick wall. But soon, all attention focused on the performers. Anderson’s rolling chords opened up into a vaguely familiar song, but it was Roe’s snapping fingers that gave it away: it was their remix of Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean. Right away, I knew we were all in for a treat.

Amidst all of the notes and wild playing, Anderson and Roe’s brilliant energy never ceased. Roe’s arms swung about violently, while Anderson kept it cool, maintaining a jazzy, syncopated pace; they even played the inside strings, mimicking MJ’s catchy electric guitar tunes. Much like Michael Jackson in the ’90s, Anderson and Roe danced across our hearts.

Equally if not more compelling than Billie Jean was Part I of Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, arranged for four hands on one piano. The only piece on the program not arranged by the duo themselves, this Rite of Spring looked—and felt—like an exhausting race to the finish line.

Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring is savage and raw. Built upon the rituals performed by a pagan tribe to win the favour of their gods, it culminates in the offering of a young virgin who dances herself to death. Anderson and Roe vividly delivered this erotic and violent piece with irrefutable skill; it is a miracle their fingers never collided, racing up and down, over and under each other’s hands, creating a cacophony of sound. And Roe's fierce personal style was perfectly suited to Stravinsky’s savagery. Between brittle glissandos and jarring block chords, her whole body leapt off the stool with each violent outburst in the score. While, most of the time, piano music is mainly an acoustical experience, Anderson and Roe used The Rite of Spring to offer up a physical expression of the score.

This rare physicality also shone through in Astor Piazzolla’s Libertango. In this sexy and romantic piece, Roe’s body leaned into the keyboard, her arms stretched across Anderson as he played. And as she reached into the piano to play the strings, mimicking pizzicato technique, the sheer closeness of the pair was enough to make any onlooker sweat.

Sharing one piano proved to be an extremely intimate act. But as Anderson and Roe switched gears, performing on two pianos in the second half, they nevertheless maintained their exclusive hold on the music, each other and the audience.

Looking to express the mystical qualities associated with the night, Anderson and Roe presented four vocal works in seamless succession: Robert Schumann’s Mondnacht, the aria “Lo, at Midnight” from Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Bachianas Brasileiras no. 5 by Heitor Villa-Lobos, Radiohead’s Paranoid Android and Thomas Arns’ The Glittering Sun. The result was enchanting. Beginning with Schumann, Mondnacht was peaceful and romantic; it was refreshing to see the duo perform with such delicacy. But that respite soon ended, as the music built up to a climax in Radiohead’s Paranoid Android. A nightmarish piece, Anderson and Roe never faltered on the complicated rhythms and harmonies. In fact, you could tell they were both just having fun! But then, a sense of calm settled over the stage as bright and simple melodies from Thomas Arnes’ The Glittering Sun welcomed the coming dawn.

Closing the concert with Carmen Fantasy, a thirteen-minute compilation of the greatest hits from Georges Bizet’s opera, Anderson and Roe asked the audience to consider the art of seduction: are you a seducer or the seduced? No matter the answer, the intoxication of it all—the music, the energy, plus a little buzz from my wine—definitely seduced me. Anderson and Roe are an exciting pair of musicians, and their concert was thrilling both to watch and to hear.