When Magnus Martensson was a 14-year-old growing up in Malmö, Sweden, he snuck into a concert by Danish pianist-comedian Victor Borge.
The classically trained Borge was a genius at spoofing the high-brow conventions of the concert hall with his quips and keyboard antics.
"I was a big fan of his," recalls Martensson, now a 42-year-old freelance conductor and composer who leads the Scandinavian Chamber Orchestra of New York.
Martensson managed to see Borge perform a few more times before the master passed away in 2000. Their roots are similar, the Swede says by phone from New York, because Borge's home of Copenhagen and Malmö are separated only by a strait.
"We come from almost the same place —— about 20 miles apart."
Martensson had written shows that mixed comedy and music as a boy, but went on to pursue a mostly serious musical career in the United States.
Then in 2003, he was asked to perform a short tribute to Borge as part of a concert at the Victor Borge Hall at New York City's Scandinavia House. The occasion was the 150th anniversary of Steinway pianos.
Martensson performed a piano bit that Borge used to do, mixing Moonlight Sonata with Happy Birthday. He also improvised some shenanigans. Borge's daughter, who was in the audience, was impressed enough to offer him strong encouragement afterwards.
"She said some very nice things to me — enough to make me start writing funny stuff again," Martensson recalls.
Ever since, the tall Swede with the mop of curly blond hair has been honing his comedy act, often performing for Scandinavian organizations. Winnipeg's Scandinavian Cultural Centre is presenting him on Friday night. A handful of tickets are still available.
The show, he says, will be about 90 minutes long and will include some serious music by Scandinavian composers, as well as old-fashioned silliness of the kind you can see Martensson perform on YouTube.
In one keyboard bit, he performs Rhapsody in Blue while munching Cracker Jack and gradually donning a baseball uniform. He even manages to bat a few pitches tossed at him in mid-piece.
He has been known to play the piano and the violin at the same time, peck at the keys with a pointy false nose, or tickle the ivories with one hand while wearing a boxing glove on the other and sparring with an audience member.
Martensson's comedy persona, the Maestro, is a conductor of dubious talent and prodigious ego who was raised in a small village outside Fargo, N.D. "He's very aware of his own greatness," Martensson notes.
One of the Maestro's distinguished credits as a composer is The Elevator Tune, consisting of the one-note ding made by elevators.
Martensson, who rarely watches TV and says he doesn't follow current comedians, is seeking investors with the hope of making a mockumentary film about the Maestro's illustrious career.
He's never been to Winnipeg, but has heard one tidbit about our culture that intrigues him.
"Is it the Slurpee capital of the world?" he inquires. "Somebody told me that. That puts Winnipeg right up there, immediately. I know it's a very interesting place."
Maestro Magnus Martensson
Friday at 8 p.m.
Scandinavian Cultural Centre, 764 Erin St.
Tickets $20 at 774-8047