What: “Bergman & Borge Comedy Cabaret”
Who: Pianist Lisa Bergman stars in a Victor Borge parody
When: 7:30 p.m., March 17
Where: Canyon Wren Recital Hall, Leavenworth
Cost: $45, includes dinner
Information: icicle.org, 548-6347
WENATCHEE — Introducing Lisa Bergman’s next musical guest: duct tape.
Rrriiip! Right down the middle of the piano bench.
Bergman takes a seat on one side; Seattle pianist Deborah Dewey sits opposite and the two world-class musicians go at it in a dueling duet across the ivories.
And that’s how Bergman lures her audience into loving classical music — with comedy and quirkiness they don’t expect.
“More than ever, it’s not just an attempt to make classical music more accessible,” Bergman says. “It’s about laughing with classical music and finding comedy in it. It’s there. It’s definitely there.”
Bergman, a Julliard-trained pianist, will return to the Icicle Creek Center for the Arts March 17 for a one-night performance of “Bergman & Borge Comedy Cabaret.” The show is a parody of Victor Borge, “The Clown Prince of Denmark,” who gained international fame in the ’40s with his piano comedy act.
“Victoria Borge” is just one of the personas she uses to dust off classical music’s stuffy image. As a radio personality, the 57-year-old built a loyal following with funny stories and quirky factoids on KOHO and KING FM. She led Icicle Creek Center for the Arts (then known as Icicle Creek Music Center) as executive director for five years. She was also director for the Methow Valley Chamber Music Festival, Northwest Opera in Schools, Etcetera (NOISE) and the Mostly Nordic chamber series in Seattle.
Like many of Bergman’s ventures, the comedy act grew out of her role as a performer. It began as a short fill-in set during a New Year’s Eve concert in 2000.
“I was asked by my fellow musicians. They said, ‘You make us laugh so hard at rehearsal, can you spread that out a bit?’ ” Bergman said. “So I studied his (Borge’s) style, made it my own and turned it into a 15-minute show,” she said. “Each time it gets bigger and better. I’ve probably performed it five or 10 times since then.”
Harriet Bullitt, founder of KOHO radio, was in the audience that first night and “laughed her head off,” Bergman said. Bullitt later invited Bergman to host a classical radio show. At the time, Bergman had no experience on the air, but learned on the job.
“I just let it rip and developed quite a listenership because people were never sure what I was going to say,” Bergman said. Her voice dropped an octave as she slipped into a deep Eastern European accent: “One night, I played the Budapest String Quartet and announced the whole thing in a Hungarian accent … ”
“I used to do silly stuff all the time. I still try to slip it in when I can,” she explained.
The show stayed on the air 10 years. In January, a nonprofit classical station in Seattle — KING FM — hired Bergman to write a daily series of one-minute segments called “Exploring Music.” The goal is similar to the comedy routine — to show a different side of classical music to people, families in particular.
Bergman’s stories have a serious side, too. One of her segments this week revealed composer Sergei Rachmaninoff’s use of hypnosis therapy to overcome composer’s block and write his second piano concerto after the utter failure of his first.
When she’s not on stage or the radio, Bergman continues to be a driving force for several nonprofits in Seattle and North Central Washington. She said she stepped into management out of necessity, in part because it came so naturally to her.
“I saw a need, a gaping hole and I had the gumption to jump in,” Bergman said. “I branched out from chamber music and accompaniment because I’m a people person. I recognized that I have a certain amount of organizational skill and entrepreneurial spirit.”
Bergman stepped down from the director’s chair at Icicle Creek in 2010, in part because of the long commute from Seattle to Leavenworth several days a week. She remains on staff as the classical music program advisor. Her husband is a professor at the University of Washington, which is why she never moved closer.
“I love North Central Washington,” she said. “I’ve done a number of things there trying to keep classical music alive and hopefully I left it better off than when I got there.”
Rachel Hansen: 664-7139