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Symphony President Makes a Case for Her Music

December 04, 1988|BARBARA KOH | Times Staff Writer

To Leah Bergman, performing Beethoven and Mozart in the evening is a way to relax and reflect on an 8:30-to-6:30 workday spent dealing with felony suspects, plea bargains, discovery motions and detectives' requests.

Bergman, supervising deputy district attorney in the West Los Angeles district attorney's office, has played clarinet for 28 years, 11 of them with the Brentwood-Westwood Symphony Orchestra. After a decade on the board of the orchestra association, she has been elected its president--the first woman president in its 36 years.

The orchestra gives four free concerts a year and plays at street fairs and Brentwood's Memorial Day celebration. It is made up of amateur musicians, many of whom are retirees and others who by day are homemakers and professionals. On Monday nights, they pick up instruments and harmonize for three hours in the music room at Paul Revere Jr. High School in Brentwood.

Time for Reflection

"When I'm playing music, I find myself thinking about what happened here (at work) today--in a less pressure-filled atmosphere," said Bergman, 40, at her office in the Municipal Courthouse in West Los Angeles.

"This is an adversarial job, you're at each other, you're an advocate," she said. Rehearsing with the orchestra is "a way of unwinding . . . from that kind of head-butting. . . . It's not drudgery. (Music director) Alvin Mills encourages people to enjoy themselves."

Bergman, whom Mills calls a "very fine, very dedicated, very cooperative musician," grew up in Los Angeles and got hooked on classical music in the 7th grade, when she heard her school orchestra play at an assembly. Fascinated by the whole production, she told her parents she wanted to be a part of it. Her father, who had played the timpani, and her mother, who sang in choirs, decided that the clarinet would be just the thing because then she could play in both the orchestra and the band.

"I still play today," Bergman said, because "I wanted to play, as opposed to it being forced on me by my parents." She played in school ensembles and taught clarinet part-time while earning a BA, an MA in guidance counseling, a teaching certificate and a law degree. Next to the collection of degrees hanging in her office is a beloved black-and-white photo from college days of Bergman and the rest of the clarinets in the UCLA symphonic wind ensemble concentrating during a Royce Hall concert.

Lawyers' Group

As a new lawyer, Bergman belonged to the now-defunct Lawyers Philharmonic Orchestra of Los Angeles, reportedly the first orchestra in the country made up of lawyers and judges. The orchestra, led by Carlo Spiga, a violinist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, performed at Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena. "It was a new auditorium and was expensive to rent," Bergman said. "So we had to charge a lot--people had to pay the kind of price they'd pay to see the L.A. Philharmonic. It was a group of lawyers who were good, but not the L.A. Philharmonic."

When the Lawyers Philharmonic disbanded after a couple of years, Bergman, a Westwood resident, joined the Brentwood-Westwood orchestra.

About 25 amateur musicians, some from Brentwood and Westwood and many from outside the area, come to rehearsals. For concerts, performed in the Paul Revere school auditorium, they are supplemented with hired professional musicians, "so we have a professional sound," Bergman said. A concert at 3 p.m. today will feature Mozart and Mendelssohn.

As president, Bergman will bring "a fresh, sensitive approach" and "organizational ability, having worked as a D.A.," to the task of drumming up donations, membership and volunteers, said outgoing President John R. Lamb. "She has chutzpah. . . . If it's necessary she'd call the President, Nancy Reagan or Barbara Bush and say, 'Here's what we need.' "

The orchestra's $30,000 annual budget comes from individual and corporate donations and grants from the city of Los Angeles. "Every penny counts," Bergman said. "We're doing everything on a shoestring."

To draw people to performances, Bergman is looking for "someone with a big name" to solo with the orchestra, somebody such as comedienne Phyllis Diller, who sang and played the piano with the group, or Burt Lancaster, who narrated "Peter and the Wolf."

Bergman finds herself rebutting presumptions: "When you say, 'This is a concert at a junior high school auditorium and it's free,' people who've never been to our concerts say, 'Oh, it's a junior high school orchestra, and if it's free, it must not be worth very much.' "

Detectives and her "undercover narcotics friends" hang around her office during breaks in trials, but Bergman said she has to cajole them into coming to the concerts.

LAPD Detective Mike Farrant praised her as "the most prepared district attorney I've ever been in front of. . . . She knows everything about every case. The courtroom has never run as smoothly as when Leah's been in charge." But he admitted he hasn't been to her concerts.

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