"British musicians, singers and dance companies are always exciting to work with."
Anders Beyer, CEO and Artistic Director of the Bergen International Festival
British Council Norway talks to Anders Beyer, CEO and Artistic Director of the Bergen International Festival, about what's involved in putting on such a high-profile international event.
What drew you to the job of Artistic Director of the Bergen International Festival?
I was appointed Artistic Director in March 2012, whereupon I signed a six year contract. This was recently extended to July 2022. I saw the job as an interesting leadership challenge; the festival is large and unsurpassable when it comes to the performance of high level, artistic content drawn from around the world. Over the last few years, my team and I have made a number of changes to improve the festival. We’ve outlined a new strategy, visual identity and method of programming. I’ve recorded much of what we’ve done in this article.
Why is the Bergen International Festival so important in today’s world?
The Festival ensures that artistic productions initiate dialogue and stimulate discussions around subjects and questions that resonate with people today: how can we improve societies, design a new form of democracy, and understand the value of religion? For me, the arts should be used as a tool to reach as many people as possible, but also encourage a level of lively debate. We know that this is important in Norway because by following this objective our audience attendance has increased by more than 100% over the last six years.
You’ve programmed a number of British artists this year. Why is that?
British musicians, singers and dance companies are always exciting to work with. This is partly because many already have a global experience and profile, and are used to performing at an international level. Some have an established reputation, such as Sir Bryn Terfel, while others, such as Charlie Siem, are on the verge of international breakthrough. It is always rewarding to develop a long-term collaboration with a British artist. This year we are doing just that with the London-based creative collective, 59 Productions, with whom we hope to work over the coming years. This follows the way in which we’ve collaborated with other British artists, especially those in the classical sector: orchestras such as London Sinfonietta; composers like George Benjamin, Thomas Ades and Harrison Birtwistle; conductors including Edward Gardener and soloists such as Colin Currie.
What do you hope British artists will get from their visit to Bergen?
That they will feel at home. Whoever comes to perform or attend a performance at the Festival regardless of their nationality, should feel proud to participate in one of the Nordic region’s most prestigious events! Of course, it’d be a bonus if visitors were to leave with a stronger sense of the Norwegian art world, our nature, our people, and our mindset. In that sense, they can be ambassadors for the Festival and might recommend Bergen as a cultural destination.
What does music mean today to someone from Norway?
That is an interesting question. Music is incredibly important for Norwegian people and has been so for many years. But digital developments today mean that we are presented with an ever broadening platform from which to share music. At present we’re putting more investment into the presentation and creation of art in the digital domain. This is another direction for our strategy and we’re finding that because Norway people are early adopters of new technologies, digital engagement is proving fairly successful.
You’ve worked across the Nordic countries. What have you learned?
That it’s common for Scandinavian and Nordic countries to be regarded as quite similar, due to shared languages across the countries, and a common history with regards to religion, agricultural practices and the northern topography. Moreover, the group of countries are accepted as being equally democratic, with artists benefitting from a certain amount of state investment. In fact, when one looks more closely and more critically, obvious differences arise. Personally, I feel that it’s important for people to understand that the modus operandi cannot necessarily be transferred from one Scandinavian or Nordic country to another.
[Main image: Hans Jorgen Brun]