And the Two Shall Become One

There is a form of two-piano entertainment, often including singing, which is promoted as “dueling pianos”. It embodies a sense of rivalry and competition. One-upmanship becomes a game between the participants.

We had two pianos at the Matsqui Centennial Auditorium on Friday, but there was not a hint of dueling between Marcel and Elizabeth Bergmann. There was enough fire and passion, enough energy and intensity, that one might have expected competitive fireworks to erupt. Instead we were treated to a marvel of synchronicity.

Two performers on two instruments were so wonderfully attuned to each other that they began to merge into a single entity in our perception. The sudden attack after a pause, which has the potential to expose any discrepancy of timing, was instantaneous time after time. This unity is impossible to fake on a percussive instrument like the piano. A violin or clarinet can ease into a note. But when the piano’s hammer strikes the string, it sounds. Now. Not a moment sooner or later.

Even when the music was not simultaneous but melodies and rhythms were being handed back and forth, there was no dueling. Instead we heard the easy exchange of conversation between two people who knew each other intimately. The emotional ebb and flow was seamless. And, of course, the husband-and-wife team do share the familiarity of hours, days and years of work and play. We heard it in their banter on stage. We heard it in the way they spoke for each other in the Liz Carter Talk.

This precision of timing, this delicate modulation of dynamic, this unity of feeling is the goal of every ensemble that collaborates to search out the beauty in harmonies and rhythms that the composer layers into one piece of art, a work with one title.

As remarkable as their achievement was, we may be tempted to expect such coherence from a husband and wife. But Friday evening was not the first time we have beheld such oneness of breathing and motion. It permeated the music of Bryan and Silvie Cheng, brother and sister. The four voices of the Diderot String Quartet spoke the language of Mozart with a single dialect. String quartets practice long hours to achieve that result.

It becomes more challenging as ensembles become larger. The Pacific Baroque Orchestra leaned on leadership from Enrico Onofri to find their centre.

But it is this common striving to communicate one message, to find in each other the same purpose and the same voice, that makes music such an important part of our culture. It brings people together. It does not position them as antagonists. Musical harmony evokes social harmony.

It is this that we saw so brilliantly portrayed by Marcel and Elizabeth Bergmann. Whether the music danced or flowed, whether the rhythms became metronomic or erratic, whether the melodies laughed or wept, they were a single force in the service of their art.

The two became one.


John Wiebe

Valley Concert Society