Bergen International Festival - EFFE Laureate

Simon Mundy - 08 Jul 2019

Get more insight on Bergen International Festival. Read Simon Mundy's interview with Director Anders Beyer.

The festival held in late Spring in Bergen has the comfort of not just being one of Europe's most venerable among the group that started in the aftermath of World War II, it can trace its origins back a lot further – back to the determination of its greatest musician, Edvard Grieg, to bring the best of the world's performers to his native city. He invited Amsterdam's Concertgebouw Orchestra, then only 10 years old, in 1898.

Bergen International Festival

'His sketch for how the festival should be became the foundation of ours – in fact some of his ideas are part of our statutes,' says the Director for the last 7 years, Anders Beyer, 'but after World War II people looked at what Salzburg and Edinburgh were doing and realised that cities that were not the biggest in a country could do something to reimagine the world – to demonstrate a new belief in life.'

That sense of purpose has stood the Bergen Festival in good stead ever since, Anders says. 'When an event is just a piece of paper on a Minister's desk, it will be a failure. If it is rooted in the people with real enthusiasm it will succeed.' Bergen, though only a city of quarter of a million, is not shy of saying what it thinks. 'Just as when the festival started, we now want to mirror the challenges the world faces. So I have a mandate which allows us to do many things; to be inclusive, world class, family friendly etc. And this, from my perspective, means I will be heavily criticised, which is in itself stimulating. I have to argue my case on prime time TV in Norway. Art matters to people here and they really care.'

The fact that he is from Denmark, with which Norway historically had much the same relationship that Scotland has with England these days, adds spice to the debates. Anders is philosophical. 'We must embrace our own time if we are to renew and rebrand the heritage. The world is so heavily interconnected that we have invested heavily in creating new productions in digital format. And we want to work with other festivals to share our audiences.'

'Even in our own community it is important to share what we have beyond the concert hall. These days spending public money is questioned, and that is not a bad thing. We can respond. Now we, for example, livestream visiting artists like Philharmonix, an ensemble drawn from both the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonic Orchestras, to care homes for elderly, schools and to various immigrant organisation groups – to those who are unable or cannot afford to come to the concert hall.' He sees this third century of a festival in Bergen as potentially the most exciting.

Note from the EFFE International Jury

The Bergen Festival has for many years been the most important in Norway, celebrating Grieg's home town as well as its history and fjord landscape. With one of Europe's best orchestras resident and a collection of superb museums, Bergen has become an artistic destination that uses its isolated location to best advantage.

Bergen International Festival
22 May 2019 - 05 Jun 2019