WHITE ROCK â€” Light streams through rippled glass windows of White Rockâ€™s First United Church on a Sunday afternoon. Translucent tiles in the shape of a cross light up the back of the church. The chilly air seems to warm up and we know weâ€™re in for something good.
The people â€” families, elderly couples, and lone listeners like myself â€” seated in the pews arenâ€™t here for weekly mass. No, weâ€™re here for a spiritual experience of another kind.
â€œI think presenting classical music is courageous. It takes a lot of courage and at the same time, it breaks down the barriers and helps people realize that (classical music) is really, really good for the soul,â€ says Elizabeth Bergmann, one-half of the Bergmann Piano Duo, who performed at the church that Sunday as part of Encore Peninsula Concerts â€“ a classical music series in White Rock under the artistic direction of pianist Eugene Skovorodnikov.
Her other half is Marcel Bergman. Together they are the internationally-renowned and now a locally-based piano duo whose narrative is equally a story about music as it is about love.
The charming banter between the couple during their Sunday afternoon concert shows theyâ€™ve got the right stuff for entertainment, and their musical rapport demonstrates years of practice.
â€œObviously, we are a team in many ways,â€ Marcel says, noting that the couple met while studying music in Germany â€” his home country â€” and got together as a duo and a couple a little later.
â€œOur teacher suggested because we were both going to a festival in Greece, and he said â€˜Why donâ€™t you prepare something together rather than playing against each other?â€™
â€œAnd so we played a double concerto by Bach, with the orchestra, and that was the beginning of our calibration of a duo. We had so much fun with that, that we decided to continue.â€
For Elizabeth, partnering with Marcel in life and music came naturally.
â€œThe thing is we connected personally, and so we had a connection there, but we were friends for a long while before we actually became a couple. Then we started playing together â€” thatâ€™s a true test,â€ she says emphatically.
â€œI think that the essential thing was that we didnâ€™t want to compete against each other, so rather than doing that we wanted to collaborate. We had that collaboration in both of our personalities for a long time.â€
Performing isnâ€™t the only thing the pair collaborates on.
They were recently appointed co-artistic directors of White Rock Concerts, another classical music series on the peninsula, which has been running for 60 years.
Founder and current artistic director George Zukerman is passing the torch to the duo as he prepares for his final season heading up the subscription-based series.
â€œI think that every concert series has its own uniqueness and all we can do is help support that, support each other and I think that what we would like to see is, in general, younger people going to concerts,â€ Elizabeth says of the Bergmannsâ€™ upcoming plans for the White Rock Concerts takeover.
â€œI think we will somehow always continue in the spirit of what George has accomplished,â€ Marcel adds.
â€œThatâ€™s different than starting this from scratch; itâ€™s something thatâ€™s been running for 60 yearsâ€¦ itâ€™s a wonderful situation.â€
One part of Zukermanâ€™s legacy the pair hopes to continue? Bringing international artists to the stage while having locally-based orchestras supporting them.
In case you havenâ€™t figured it out by now, the Bergmanns are all about backing their fellow musicians.
â€œIdeally what weâ€™d like to do is work together and feed off of other presentersâ€™ ideas too,â€ Elizabeth says.
â€œObviously we like to work together as opposed to being in competition with each other and we want to support local musicians.â€
Speaking of support, the crowd at First United Church showed it had plenty during the Bergmannsâ€™ performance that Sunday, as classical musicâ€™s sweethearts got a standing ovation at the end of it all.
Itâ€™s hard to imagine the audience wouldnâ€™t be happy, however.
As Elizabeth attests, hearing live, classical music on a Sunday afternoon is just â€œreally, really good for the soul.â€