Presently Bergen is hosting both the prestigious Bergen International festival and the jazz festival Nattjazz. As Edvard Grieg’s hometown the focus on him is a naturally prominent feature of the International festival, and this year Nattjazz has also taken up the lead with the premiere of a commissioned work entitled “The Grieg Code.”
Wednesday’s Grieg Gala was one of the main events of the Bergen International Festival this year. It featured some of the very finest Norwegian classical musicians with the addition of some luminous names from abroad. But according to critics it was Norway’s elite pianist Leif Ove Andsnes’ performance of Grieg’s extremely challenging Ballade that constituted the very highlight. The piece is a tempest of emotions, and Andsnes has previously expressed a reluctance to play it. When he now did, it was to critical assessments of him “never having played better.” For a home audience already a priori thrilled by the combination of Bergen, Grieg and Andsnes, it proved an unforgettable musical moment. But the program also included other performances deserving similar description. Julian Rachlin played the fiery violin sonata #3 accompanied by Andsnes on the piano. The piece emphasises the presence of the piano, and thus invites to a form of musical competition that the two performers set forth with mastery; subtly balancing the instruments, yet with utmost passion, reaching “heights of emotion and dynamism” according to one critic. The other Norwegian classical star to play at the Gala was cellist Truls Mørk who performed Grieg’s cello sonata in a-minor, opus 36. Together with Håvard Gimse he “lifted the piece to the kind of epitomic mutual intensity that marks the essence of chamber music.”
All in all, the gala incorporated all that the Bergen home audience could want; a magnificent presentation of Grieg by world class performers in the setting of his home town. And no doubt this splendid coming-together of context and content also made an impression on those arrived from elsewhere.
But Grieg has also been highlighted in more unorthodox ways in Bergen this week. In cooperation with the International festival and Grieg 2007 (the centennial commemorations of his death) the Nattjazz festival premiered a piece called “The Grieg Code” last night (May 31st.) As the title suggests, what was presented was something quite opposite of the grandiose affirmation of the Gala. In an interview with Ballade, the man behind the code, Geir Lysne, shared some thoughts on the project prior to the premiere. (The following translation of Carl Kristian Johansen’s interview has been slightly edited).
The Grieg Code: Anagrams of Grieg
This year Bergen’s Nattjazz festival includes the presentation of a musical conundrum. Geir Lysne is the man behind it and its theme is Edvard Grieg. By inverting and reversing fragments of Grieg compositions Lysne has composed a work of his own which has been given the fitting title “The Grieg Code”.
-Everything that we do is taken from Grieg, says Lysne. If one e.g. makes use of Grieg’s concert in a-minor by turning it upside down, it may become a cool bass line. In this way one can construct a new piece, and a whole new melody may appear, or a new theme. The background for “The Grieg Code” was a little experiment Lysne performed on his latest album “Boahjenasti” whish included an anagram based on one of Grieg’s Peer Gynt suites.
-The musicians realised that it was Grieg, relates Lysne, but they couldn’t make out which piece they were meddling with.
-The Grieg Code is based on eight or nine pieces, which in sum comprise about an hour and a half of music. And all the titles are also anagrams, says Lysne. -A fine bottle awaits the one who deciphers all of them.
Discussing the process of composition he explains that:
-The crux of composition is finding the primary perspective, the starting point that subsequently defines the whole piece. In this case the whole project came out of my basic blueprints for experimentation, which I felt held a lot of promise. Yet I found that often further inversions and retrograde motions weren’t yielding interesting results. So when it did work I was surprised. And I have to say that it the process as such was very gratifying.
-And I’m hoping people will find the work exiting in purely auditory terms, and not simply retort to analysis based on the Grieg background, says Lysne.
- I want people to have an experience of good music in its own right, performed by good musicians; that is my vantage point. But I also hope to conjure up associations to Grieg of course, and provide a perspective on how Grieg perhaps would have gone about music and composition in our contemporary context. This hypothesis has been a kind of framework for me; to envision how he might have composed today in a global rather than national romantic context, and with interest for rhythmical music perhaps.
-In Bergen Grieg is emphasised as a local entity and in Norway he is a national figurehead. But obviously he is also the object of keen interest internationally, says Lysne. -I’ve made a point out of juxtaposing this and included musicians from Bergen, Denmark, Germany and Russia.
“The Grieg Code” premiered at Nattjazz last night (May 31st), performed by an international ensemble consisting of 13 people. It will also be performed by Geir Lysne Ensemble at the Sandvika Big Band Festival on June 16th and at the Oslo Jazz Festival on August 16th.