• Sarah Kwok

Scenes From Childhood: TPE and Bergmann Piano Duo - November 24

Turning Point Ensemble presents Scenes From Childhood: TPE and Bergmann Piano Duo on November 24, a concert which connects early twentieth century French masterworks to contemporary works inspired by jazz. Read on as Elizabeth and Marcel Bergmann, who together form the Bergmann Duo, discuss the show and Marcel's featured works

So, tell me about the show

We are so pleased to be collaborating with the Turning Point Ensemble ! This project has come to fruition due to a number of different coinciding events. In the last while, Marcel and I were thinking it would be interesting to do a 'slimmer' version of Marcel's 2 piano concerto, making it feasible for chamber ensembles to present this work. As Artistic Directors of White Rock Concerts, Marcel and I thought it would ideal to collaborate with TPE on this idea.  At the same time, the Langley Community Music School (where I am Artistic Director of Concerts) is celebrating it's 50th anniversary and on that occasion wanted to do a showcase concert of Canadian works. LCMS has been a huge supporter of Canadian music and has commissioned numerous works over the years. As resident composer of LCMS, it made sense to present one of Marcel's works. One the other composers on this programme is Brad Turner, an alumnus of LCMS. The TPE has premiered his Scenes from Childhood (an LCMS commission) and so that too was included in the programme. From that point, we built a programme based on those two pieces and realized the theme of 'Scenes of Childhood' would work really well. So we also decided to include Ravel's Mother Goose Suite (which Marcel and I had done in the past with percussion) and Jeux by Debussy. Due to the various inter-connectiveness (of the organizations), the concert will be presented 3 times: at the Orpheum Annex in Vancouver as part of the TPE series, in White Rock as part of White Rock Concerts and at the Langley Community Music School.

Can you talk more about the concerto and any inspirations/influences behind its creation? How does it feel playing it in a chamber music setting when you have previously performed it with an orchestra?

It's a really neat experience to have such a condensed group playing all of the material & textures of the full orchestral version - without sacrificing any of its layers and overall content.  In this more intimate setting, there is a closer connection within the whole group/ensemble- really the feeling of a large chamber ensemble.

The repertoire for two pianos is, in general, already a fairly specific area and a bit of a “niche market” - and this holds even more true for concertos written for 2 pianos and orchestra. While the number of these works appearing regularly as part of orchestras’ season’s repertoire is rather compact, some of the greatest composers (including Bach and Mozart) fortunately left us duo-pianists a few gems, which have become part of the classical mainstream.

The idea of adding a new piece to this genre had been on my mind for quite a while. After having written a fair amount of two-piano works over the past decade, this seemed to be a natural step and an exciting endeavour. The history of this concerto is somewhat unusual as it is largely based on one of my two-piano pieces - Urban Pulse - that was commissioned for the 10th Dranoff International Two Piano Competition in December 2005.

A few years ago, I realized that Urban Pulse - already consisting of three separate movements - would lend itself very well to being re-worked into a two piano concerto. Naturally, this meant that the work had to be altered and extended in terms of length as well as overall musical material and textures. As a result, various new sections emerged, including transitions and orchestral interludes. Often, when material from one or both of the piano parts got transferred to the orchestra, I needed to create new textures in order to fill the resulting “gaps”.

After the premiere of my Concerto for Two Pianos with the Red Deer Symphony Orchestra and further performances with the Okanagan Symphony, the idea of creating a chamber version of the piece gradually emerged. When I proposed this project to Turning Point Ensemble, they committed to include it in their 2019/20 season. This has been a great opportunity to re-work the original orchestral version for this very compact ensemble of wonderful players - so I am very excited about this collaboration!

Overall, all three movements show a strong jazz influence in the rhythmic and harmonic treatment. The opening movement starts with a constant pulse- steady and persistent, like a metronome. Different textures and chords gradually emerge from the initial patterns of repeated notes and start to move through various harmonic sequences. A transition leads to a more flowing, lyrical section with longer melodic lines in the orchestra invoking a different mood and atmosphere (including a slightly Balinese flavour) but the initial groove resurfaces in-between the different musical episodes.

In contrast to the motorical nature of the outer movements, the middle movement starts with a slow, lyrical opening in the orchestra before both pianos trade off individual phrases in a free, quasi-improvised style. Slowly, a blues starts to emerge – first, rather nostalgic, then more and more animated, leading to a kind of climax before retreating to the calm, remote atmosphere of the beginning.

The third movement is driven by 16th note patterns and incorporates frequent time and meter changes. The main theme presented at the beginning undergoes various metamorphoses throughout the movement. The journey through different harmonic and textural regions includes a section in a funky style, as well as more gentle and serene moments until things build up to a high-energy ending.

Because many instruments are known for their timbres and characteristic ways of being played, I'm always interested in arrangements and how the music is transformed in the process. The Ravel known as an orchestral work but is now for two pianos and percussion - how does this change the experience of the music, both for the musicians and for the listeners?

Actually, the initial version was written for piano duet, but Ravel orchestrated his 5-piece suite a year later and then also expanded it into a ballet by adding several other pieces. As Elizabeth had already written, we have played it in a similar setting - 2 pianos and percussion - before. For the upcoming concerts, I created a percussion part that integrates various spots from Ravel's own orchestration, but also doubled some of the piano melodies and textures at certain places, especially in the first couple of pieces where there's no designated percussion in Ravel's score. So this version is a kind of hybrid, a blend of the piano version with some orchestral timbres and colours....

Come hear this blend and much more when Turning Point Ensemble presents Scenes From Childhood: TPE and Bergmann Piano Duo on November 24, 7:30pm at the Orpheum Annex.

More information: https://www.turningpointensemble.ca/#2019

Bergmann Duo: https://bergmannduo.com/

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