The last note dies away and the man beside me exclaims, "It will be a national tragedy if that boy is not castrated!"
The year is 1986. Arve Moen Bergset, aged fourteen, is in Elverum as a violinist with the Norwegian Youth Symphony Orchestra but is tonight performing as a kvedar, singing unaccompanied folk songs in a voice as clear as a bell. A pupil at Vinje School in Telemark county, renowned for its dedication to folk singing, he is already steeped in the old traditions.
At the age of eight, he started taking lessons from folk singer Sondre Bratland, who taught him a great deal, particularly in the field of religious folk music. In 1986 Arve made his first cassette, Litle fuglen (Little Bird), followed by the CD Arvesølv (Family Silver), which brought him a Norwegian Grammy award in 1987. Then his voice broke and the entire nation held its breath....
In the meantime, Arve had become an excellent violinist on the violin he had inherited from his great-great-grandfather. From Vinje Music School, he moved on to the junior group at the Oslo Music Conservatory led by Leif Jørgensen, the man behind a whole generation of Norwegian string players. Arve was a member of the last group to experience this unique musician and teacher.
At sixteen he moved to the capital, where he combined music studies with an adult education programme. At the Norwegian State Academy of Music, he studied under viola player Lars Anders Tomter for seven years. Thankfully, he had retained his wonderful singing voice and was able to earn his living as a folk singer. He also made a name for himself as a violinist at an early age. In 1990 he won the Youth String Championship and the following year second prize at the Youth Symphonic Orchestra Soloist Competition for his performance of Mozart.
In 1991 and 1992, he won his class in kveding at the National Contest for Traditional Music, an annual event at which more than a thousand Norwegian folk dancers and musicians perform, compete and have wild parties. In 2000, the contest will be held at Voss in western Norway. The first National Contest for Traditional Music took place in 1888 in Telemark – Arve’s home county and a centre of Norwegian folk music. The county is like a miniature Norway, with a varied, rugged landscape and difficult communications. This is where legendary folk fiddlers like Myllarguten (The Miller’s Boy, LtN 3/94) and Lars Fykerud grew up. The musical dialects are well preserved and have developed alongside strong folk dance traditions. The music contains unique rhythmical patterns that cannot be subdivided mathematically but are part of a basic, almost hypnotic pulse.
Arve emphasises that he is not a genuine dance fiddler because although he has been playing the Hardanger fiddle since the age of fifteen, it has mainly been in a classical context. He has recently recorded Geirr Tveitt’s Two concertos for the Hardanger fiddle with the Stavanger Symphony Orchestra conducted by Ole Kristian Ruud. On an earlier CD, he played Johan Kvandal’s Fantasia for hardingfele og strykere (Fantasia for Hardanger fiddle and strings) with the Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra.
One recording he found particularly challenging was of Stephen Frost’s The Lesson, based on poems by W. H. Auden. Having been persuaded by conductor and producer Tony Harrison to sing solo with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Arve was relieved to find he enjoyed his role as a classical singer. In 1989, Arve Moen Bergset joined the innovative folk music trio (now a quartet) Bukkene Bruse (Billy Goats Gruff), which has made three CDs and toured the world.
Arve enjoys his varied career. As one of the directors of the new Winter Festival at Røros, he has a chance to utilise all his creativity. He is making a name for himself as a thoroughly Norwegian musician of international format.
Both as an artist and as the father of two young children, he is also relieved that my companion’s remark in 1986 has been emphatically put to shame!