Elizabeth and Marcel Bergmann - Piano Duo
Romancing the Keys
An interview article with Elizabeth Bergmann
By Rosemary Phillips, 2012
After years of moving from one country to another, one city to another, piano duo Elizabeth and Marcel Bergmann have settled down and bought a house in Whiterock for themselves and their two babies – the Yamaha and Kawai grand pianos. “Marcel has a professorship in Ontario, so he commutes back and forth. That’s where he is now. And we still go to Germany where his parents live,” explained Elizabeth. Her own parents were flying in for Easter and she was preparing to pick them up from the airport when she took a few moments for this interview.
|Elizabeth and Marcel Bergmann
“They are coming from Medicine Hat, where I was born,” she continued. “When I was growing up there was a piano in our home, and even before I began lessons I was drawn to it, anxious to play. By the age of 13, I knew I wanted to be a musician. I was already practicing several hours a day.” While in high school Elizabeth also took a year of violin and guitar, played flute and had voice lessons.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, in Germany, Marcel was growing up in a household filled with thousands of books. “He knew he wanted to do something in the arts or literature, and it was when he was about 16 that he realized he wanted to study music.” Marcel taught himself guitar, took half a year of cello and studied saxophone as his second instrument during his undergraduate music studies.
Both Marcel and Elizabeth were encouraged by their parents when they chose musical careers. “My parents are of German origin,” continued Elizabeth, “so they suggested I go to Hannover to study at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater.”
Partnership in Music
You guessed it. That’s where Marcel and Elizabeth met. “We were studying with the same teacher. Once a week we would get together with the whole class to play from our repertoire. There were students from South Africa, England, Israel, Germany; I was the only Canadian.”
First it was friendship. “Marcel and I accompanied each other for concerti. I also had a trio with flute and cello and we had an opportunity to go to Greece for summer classes and to play with an orchestra. When it came time to prepare a concerto our teacher suggested Marcel and I do a double concerto. That was the first time we played together as a duo; the Bach C minor Piano Concerto with an orchestra – in Greece. When we got back to Germany we decided to learn the meat and potatoes of duo-piano playing. In fact, we were the first in Hannover to establish a new program of study for duo piano. We were like pioneers that way.”
Partnership in Life
|Elizabeth and Marcel Bergmann
Of course one thing led to another. “We had three different wedding celebrations. We first got married in Medicine Hat, then in Hannover and there was another celebration in Munich. We’ve been playing together ever since.”
During their 17 years of marriage they have moved from Germany to Montreal then back to Germany and the Solistenklasse. “That means solo class. We were studying solo as a duo.” Then it was Calgary. “That’s where we met Pierre Simard. We worked with him on several occasions.”
But why Duo Piano?
“It’s like the Pianists in the Carnival of Animals. Saint-Saëns is referring tongue in cheek to pianists as being like animals, in an isolated life, sitting in a cage practicing alone. I think that’s why we were drawn to duo piano playing. We love being together rehearsing, and sharing those very special moments on stage. I wouldn’t give it up for anything!”
And the music?
“We play with orchestras, solo as a duo, and have performed chamber music with other artists. Marcel also plays jazz, improvises and composes. We have a contemporary repertoire with Lands End, a chamber ensemble in Calgary. And we have expanded our duo repertoire, with new interpretations and twists. We also play our own repertoire. I don’t compose,” laughs Elizabeth. “Marcel is the composer – I cook and clean for the composer!”
Meanwhile, with the Vancouver Island Symphony, under the baton of Pierre Simard, they were performing one of their favourites, the Concerto for Two Pianos by Francis Poulenc. “It’s so much fun, with so much energy and rhythmic vitality – short phrases, snippets, witty. The second movement is literally a French modern day Mozart in character.” Elizabeth and Marcel returned to the stage after intermission for the imaginative and sensational Carnival of Animals composed by Camille Saint-Saëns. “We have done it many times in many different ways. The music is so beautiful, the most famous piece being the beloved Swan.”
And the future?
“We always have projects on the go. Producer George Zukerman has been after us to do like duo pianists used to in the mid 1900’s, travelling across the county with their pianos in a truck. I think we are crazy enough, so we are planning this for our 2013-2014 season!”
And for information on Elizabeth and Marcel Bergmann, formal biographies, recordings and more, visit the Bergmann Duo
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