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Get ready for this summer’s star-studded Bergen International Festival

This year’s Bergen International Festival takes place between 26 May and 9 June – enjoy the fantastic music, theatre and dance in person, or online with a special festival pass

Situated on Norway’s rugged west coast, the spectacular port city of Bergen rightly calls itself ‘The Gateway to the Fjords’, a place where traders, seafarers and adventurers once made their home. No wonder – it doesn’t matter where you stand, Norway’s second largest city is a feast for the eyes. Make your way to the central Festplassen and you’ll see Mount Fløyen rise up in front you, its slopes covered in colourful wooden houses. Or take a stroll down to the famous Bryggen wharf and marvel at its stunning 18th-century merchant houses. With narrow cobblestone streets and a vibrant fish market, too, Bergen is endlessly charming and full of historical interest.

Down in the city centre, you’ll find statues of composer Edward Grieg (whose house museum at Troldhaugen is just five miles away) and virtuoso violinist Ole Bull. These two 19th-century musical heroes are at the heart of Bergen’s rich musical heritage, which today includes the internationally acclaimed Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, enjoying continued success under its current principal conductor Edward Gardner.

For two weeks in May and June each year, the Bergen Philharmonic plays a major part the Bergen International Festival, two weeks of exceptional music-making, courtesy of the finest talent from Norway and beyond. It’s Norway’s largest celebration of music, theatre and dance and has been resounding through the cities many venues for over 70 years. This year, the festival is inviting music-lovers to make the journey to Bergen, but will also be filming much of its programme for you to stream for the comfort of your own home.

And what a programme! Whether you are there in person on enjoying the festival live online, there are too many highlights to mention, but here are just a few of the riches on offer.

A global first

The festival opens in stunning style on 26 and 27 May with the world premiere performance of The American Moth. A hybrid, multi-medial performance that combines dance with theatre in multiple languages and cinematic live video, The American Moth features musicians from the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra in music by Oscar-winning composer Alexandre Desplat as it explores the subject of relationships between generations.

Image: Annika Ostwald/winter guests

At home with Grieg

Don’t miss former BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist and local hero pianist Christian Ihle Hadland performing Rzewski’s virtuosic masterpiece, The People United Will Never Be Defeated! at Grieg’s villa in Troldhaugen on 27 May. And on the same day at the Grieg Hall in Bergen centre, the acclaimed Norwegian violinist Mari Samuelsen and her sextet perform works ranging from JS Bach to contemporary masters Max Richter and Arvo Pärt.

Image: Nikolaj Lund

The sounds of Norway

When Grieg wrote his incidental music for Ibsen’s play Peer Gynt in 1876, the composer said that it had his country’s folk tradition at its very core. On 29 May, the wonderful worlds of Norwegian folk and classical music gloriously come together, as violinist Ragnhild Hemsing and the Trondheim Solistene perform Grieg’s two Peer Gynt suites in special new arrangements written for string orchestra and Hardanger fiddle – a unique experience!

Image: Nikolaj Lund

Fantastic folk!

No Norwegian music festival experience would, in fact, be complete without an extended dip into the country’s wonderful folk heritage. On 30 May, we make a return visit to Grieg’s house, the stunningly located Troldhaugen, to savour the magical sounds of the Hardanger fiddle at the hands of the brilliant Arve Moen Bergset and pianist Håvard Gimse.

Images: Øyvind Olsen Amdam / Ilja Hendel

Orchestral splendours

Bergen International Festival is not just about Norway. On 2 June, the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra will be taking a look over the Atlantic in its Music that captures the American soul concert. As well as Ives’s Third Symphony and works by George Walker and John Adams, the concert will feature the world premiere of the orchestral version of Missy Mazzoli’s Dark with Excessive Bright, with the composer herself appearing as electronics soloist. And in Bergen University’s grand hall on 31 May, the Bergen Camerata will play Czech and Argentinian music in a concert of Dvorák and Piazzolla.

Image right: Bård Gundersen