Bergen: a distinctly contemporary closing concert


This page is also available in / Cette page est également disponible en: Francais (French)

After 15 days of events of all kinds, the Bergen International Festival on June 9 offered one last major performance mixing music and imagery. It was an rare presentation, performed simultaneously online and before a live audience, of a work created jointly in the late 1970s by the Norwegian composer Arne Nordheim and American choreographer Glen Tetley.

Titled The Tempest after Shakespeare’s famous play, this work evokes the exile of the duke, Prospero, and his daughter on an island surrounded by magic and mystery. For its 2021 edition, the Festival opted not for the original version – a ballet, the Norwegian premiere of which had taken place at the festival 30 years earlier – but for the orchestral suite. Nordheim’s music was, more than ever, in the foreground.

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Sensitive souls beware. The music could hardly be more dissonant, especially the first movement, “Calm sea, storm and awakening.” This was a veritable sonic storm, performed at full volume courtesy of the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Edward Gardner. The other five movements did not reach the same level of density and discord, but were still difficult to approach (“demanding” might be a generous word for Nordheim’s work). There were alternating solos by the viola, oboe, percussion and muted trombone. Then we heard recurring motifs, such as viola arpeggios played more and more quickly in “Lacrymae” (No. 3), which held our attention, and happily not only with dissonance.

Despite this relative calm, the projections as designed by Swiss artist and videographer Sarah Derendinger were often reminiscent of murder scenes. It was unsettling to see images of a woman soiled with blood and a man exhaling underwater, apparently near his end. There was no violence as such, rather a palpable serenity, like abandoning oneself in the face of death. All the same,  this created an ambiance far removed from that of a typical closing concert.

Baritone Johannes Weisser and soprano Mari Eriksmoen were stationed as soloists next to the orchestra. Their most significant contributions were in the fifth movement, “Four legs and two voices,” and at the end of the sixth and final movement, “Caliban’s warning.” Their voices were complementary. They gave the impression not of opposition but of continuous dialogue. In the final, liberating moments of the work, when tension finally gives way to serenity and inner peace, Weisser and Eriksmoen used careful attention to detail to create a full, united sound. After all we had experienced, in pictures and music, it was satisfying and salubrious conclusion.

The concert was followed by a word from Festival President and Artistic Director Anders Beyer. He was joined on stage by Vilja Kwasny and Max Makowski, performers from the dance company Carte Blanche, who had played roles in the screen projections.

This presentation of the Bergen International Festival is available online until June 23.

This page is also available in / Cette page est également disponible en: Francais (French)


About Author

Justin Bernard est détenteur d’un doctorat en musique de l’Université de Montréal. Ses recherches portent sur la médiation musicale, notamment par le biais des nouveaux outils numériques, ainsi que sur la relation entre opéra et cinéma. Membre de l’Observatoire interdisciplinaire de création et de recherche en musique (OICRM), il a réalisé une série de capsules vidéo éducatives pour l’Orchestre symphonique de Montréal. Justin Bernard est également l’auteur de notes de programme pour le compte de la salle Bourgie du Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal et chargé de cours à l’Université de Sherbrooke. Par ailleurs, il anime une émission d’opéra et une chronique musicale à Radio VM (91,3 FM).

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