Light switch – Bergen International Festival

Many of the major culture-bearing institutions in Europe have closed their doors and switched off the lights. Meanwhile Bergen International Festival is opening a new window, says artistic director Anders Beyer. 

Festivals across the continent are throwing in the towel and saying, “We hope to see you next year!” Cancellations, postponements, possible bankruptcies and desperate cries for help have made their mark on the arts and culture since the pandemic took over our part of the world in earnest. As a result, the public are increasingly looking for cultural experiences that do not involve exploring yet another Netflix backwater.

No one knows with certainty when we can be together again in a way that resembles the cultural community that we had before. Even when the official all-clear sounds, it is likely that our collective behavioural patterns will be transformed for a whole generation.

But in this historic situation new spaces are being created for the creative forces that see the crisis as the beginning of something different – maybe even something better than what came before. We have the potential for reflection, spending time with our families, redefining ‘the campfire’ and thinking about what it is that bears us forward.

We begin on 20 May with our grand opening concert, broadcast from Bergen’s famous Grieghallen. The artists include the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, Wardruna’s Einar Selvik, Edvard Grieg Choir, pianist Leif Ove Andsnes and violinists Ludvig Gudim and Eldbjørg Hemsing.

Another headline concert comes from Einar Selvik, a Norwegian composer and musician, who takes to the virtual stage on 21 May. A founding figure behind the music constellation Wardruna, this concert will see him focus on musical interpretations of Old Norse and Nordic traditions.

The festival, though, is about more than just performances. To that end, we have a masterclass with conductor Edward Gardner (22 May); a session on decolonising the arts, with Martine Dennewald (artistic director, Festival Theaterformen), author and activist Guro Sibeko and Thomas Prestø (artistic director, Tabanka) on 25 May; and I myself will be interviewing festival composer Jörg Widmann (22 May).

Art and culture define who we are and very much bind us together. Now we must find new ways to come together and, we hope, gain new insights along the way. Schoenberg followed his 12-tone serialism, but composed as before. Everything has changed, and everything is the same. The aim is still to avoid being reduced as human beings to columns and numbers in the spreadsheet, which will never be able to account for what actually makes life worth living: beauty, community. love.

This story an extract from an article that will be published in IAM Vol 16 Iss 7 on 21 May. 

You can read the full Bergen International Festival programme online.