For our readers who have never been to the festival before, what makes it unique, and why should people plan a trip to attend it?
Rosendal is a wonderful place. I am biased, of course, because it’s in the south of the Hardanger Fjord in the western part of Norway. It’s quite remote and takes a couple of hours to drive from my home in Bergen. Alternatively, you can take the ferry, which is actually a bit quicker and even more beautiful. You arrive in the harbor of a little town surrounded by the fjord and huge mountains. And below the mountains is a manor house, called the Baroniet, which is 360 years old with an English rose garden and extensive park. They already had a summer season of concerts in the manor house, where I have been playing as a guest since the early 1990s, but the rooms are so tiny that there was never the possibility of an actual festival. But in 2015, the organizers converted an old stable on the adjacent farm into a concert hall. I was asked to help with the acoustics and brought in a professional team. One thing led to another, and in 2016 we started up the Rosendal Chamber Music Festival and baptized the new hall. The festival runs for only four days, but it is packed with 10 or 12 concerts, lectures, and exhibitions connected to the festival theme. It’s been so satisfying to bring together musicians and put together a program, which I think makes sense from the first to the last note — the kind of program that I would have loved to go to and hear myself.
I always like to have a clear theme for the festival. This summer, the main composer focus will be Antonín Dvořák. We will also feature music by other Slavonic composers from the national romantic period, as well as Grieg and Rachmaninoff who were seeking their own national identity by reflecting their country’s folk music and folk songs in their compositions. There will also be a contrasting theme with Astor Piazzolla, the “King of Tango,” who would have turned 100 this year. Hopefully, we will be able to have an audience. I think by August, there is the hope for that — maybe not full houses and some restrictions. We will see if we can also turn it into a digital event.
You were the founder of the festival, correct? How did you get the idea for this project? Have you always been interested in chamber music?
Yes, from the moment I moved to Bergen when I was 16 years old and started studying at the music conservatory here, I was put together with a viola player and a singer. I remember the joy it was to collaborate and not always sit alone at the piano, which one usually does as a pianist. Since then, chamber music has been very much part of my life. Although I am playing a lot of solo programs right now, there was a period when I played a lot of chamber music, and there are certain festivals that are still very important to me. I would never want to miss out on that repertoire — some of it is the greatest piano repertoire on earth.
You occasionally include chamber music in your regular tours. How does it change from being structured in blocks to having many different programs over a condensed period of time?
It can be challenging, but we tend to separate a lot between solo music and chamber music, and I think it’s very much the same the world over. Some substantial chamber music works, such as the Brahms’ Piano Quartet, have a large piano part, so it’s not dissimilar to playing a concerto or sonata. Schumann’s Piano Concerto, meanwhile, is also full of chamber music. It’s just that when you play with an orchestra, you have to project more because you have a bigger animal around you than when you just play with a quartet. But these are just proportions — it’s the same world for me. One thing feeds into the other, and it’s essential to keep in contact with chamber music.
We see that you also use this festival to give a voice to younger musicians. How is that important to you?
It’s becoming increasingly more important. I turned 50 myself and — especially in the last 10 years — I’ve felt it’s necessary to know what is going on with the younger generation, especially in my own country. I am a part of a few mentoring programs in Norway and, with the festival, I am also able to engage with young musicians. They are at such a high level now, especially amongst string players in my country. It’s fascinating to put those players together with internationally established names and see what happens. It can sometimes be a really explosive combination.
And, like you were saying, there are two special highlights: the Dvořák and Piazzolla. How do these contrasting figures come together at the festival to give it a unifying identity?
I’m not sure they do so much, but the theme about national identity runs through both of them. It was crucial for Dvořák to include his country’s folk music, and I think we have the same with Grieg in my country — when people hear his music, they feel it is very Norwegian. It’s a question of whether that music was actually very Norwegian or whether we have adopted his music as something that sounds very Norwegian to us. It’s the same with Dvořák in the Czech Republic. They feel this music so close to their heart — it’s their music. This is Bohemian; this is Czech; this is Slavonic music. That feeling of identity and national identity is powerful with Piazzolla in Argentina. The tango is their music. But, of course, it is extremely different, and it will make for interesting contrasting programs, as well.
The setting of the festival — the nature — is just beautiful. Can you tell me a little bit about what it’s like to perform such beautiful music in a beautiful place?
Yes, I think one of the great things about Rosendal is that most people buy a package of tickets so they can go to everything. You come there, and you stay for five days, and that is what you do. You go to concerts and lectures and walk around the park, and you have your meals, and you think about what you have experienced. That’s a completely different pulse to normal life when you have to rush to the concert in the evening after work and maybe you are in the middle of a city, and it’s noisy. You have to adapt from the street noises to just hearing a piano quite far away on the stage. When the peace and quiet of Rosendal surround you, it is easier to open your soul for musical experiences, and I think that’s a beautiful thing. The first year we were performing music from Schubert’s last year — the music that he wrote at the end of his very short life — and in that countryside atmosphere with such stillness and beauty, it just came together so amazingly. And I thought, this is not music for very busy city life; it’s much more difficult to pull it off.
Rosendal Festival 2021 (dir. Leif Ove Andsnes)
August, Thursday 5 – Sunday 8 (tickets on sale from May 10)
This year’s festival focus is on the music of Antonin Dvořák. Over four days, Leif Ove Andsnes and guest artists will explore the great Czech composer’s works and look at how the national romantic movement of the period influenced both Dvořák and his contemporaries. A special tribute will also be paid to “King of Tango,” Astor Piazzolla, in the 100th anniversary year.
Guest artists include Zlata Chochieva and Emilie Aridon-Kociołek (piano), Josef Špaček, Johan Dalene and Daniela Braun (violin), Sheku Kanneh-Mason (cello), Arnulf Ballhorn (double bass), the Dover String Quartet and Per Arne Glorvigen (bandoneon). Joining them on stage are Norwegian composer/cellist Lene Grenager and 18 musicians from the “Konstknekt Project” — an inspirational initiative that allows young Norwegian musicians to collaborate with members of the Berlin Philharmonic.