Well, between outstanding weather, a concert schedule that goes from 10:30 a.m. (or earlier) to 12 midnight (and beyond) most days, meals from some of Norway's top chefs and bakers, and a temporary computer that swallowed my first draft (hence not only the lateness of this dispatch but why there will be no photos until I insert some when I get back to Chicago), our hopes of breaking this year's five and a half day, 22-program (!) festival down into timely chunks were dashed.
But the news stays news and the highlights still have us buzzing. Herewith some of the latter, in chronological order:
Tuesday night's opening concert, complete with a thoughful and hilarious speech from the President of the Norwegian Parliament Thorbjørn Jagland (left, and Labour, too) -- let's see how Nancy Pelosi or Dennis Hastert would do with Darwin, Einstein, and Co. and their relation to composing, playing, and listening to music! -- got off to its musical start with the beephorn (thank Harpo Marx) prelude to György Ligeti's 1974-77 opera Le grand macabre and continued with the composer's 1987 extract/adaptation for soprano and chamber players Mysteries of the Macabre with the marvelously over-the-top yet ever in control young Norwegian soprano, Eir Inderhaug, our Discovery No. 1 here.
Discovery No. 2 followed quickly with the Swedish-Finn Jan-Erik Gustafsson (left) as soloist in Haydn's C Major 'Cello Concerto with the increasingly mature (in age, they have always been phenomenal in execution) Risør Festival Strings, the one that was lost for 200 hundred years but aged delighfully during its disappearance. What a pleasure it was to hear this burly built performer and his deep, rich, and dark singing tone. Two helpings of Ives from 1906 -- the Largo Risoluto No. 1, "as to the Law of Dimishing Returns" and "Halloween" from Three Outdoor Scenes led into a reminder (they can never be too frequent) of the perennial wonder of Bartók with his 1939 Divertimento for Strings.
Wednesday noontime started with Discovery No. 3, the Danish composer Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen, b. 1932, author of another beephorn work, this a duo with 'cello from 1970, Plateaux pour Deux, with Gustafsson as Bjørn Rabben's excellent straight man. Christian Tetzlaff's violin and Nikolai Lugansky's piano formed the bases of the triangle with the clarinet of another Swedish-Finn Bjørn Nyman at the apex in Bartók's 1938 Contrasts. (Again, these are highlights only!)
Early evening brought a concert-length suite of miniatures and excerpts all in 3/4 time from a late 17th century ciaconna of Georg Muffat with Danish harpsichordist Allan Rasmussen to dance movements from Bach and Ligeti for co-director Lars Anders Tomter's powerful solo viola to two-piano Rachmaninoff and Ravel from Russian pianists Vadim Rudenko (left, Discovery No. 4) and Lugansky. Rudenko looks like a truck driver but pours out a lyrical stream of sound that he makes seem effortless. Late night had more Rudenko-Lugansky Rachmaninoff, the 1900-01 Second Suite for Two Pianos, Op. 17, and Leif Ove Andsnes and Canadian Marc-André Hamelin in a two-piano version of Stravinsky's four-hand transcription of his own Vårofferet, er, Rite of Spring. Phew!
Thursday morning's tradition of a free concert for Risør's fine townspeople in a simple downtown prayer hall started with something different, a piece developed by a group of students at a nearby high school, the Dahlske videregående skole, with Risør's Frode Larsen and conductor-composer Christian Eggen, and played by the students along with a quartet from the Strings, some recorded sounds, and a music box or two. Called "Det lekende menneske" after this year's Festival theme (Norwegian for homo ludens, or man the player), the work was both whimsical and captivating in the manner of some genre-stretching pieces by Björk or Feist. Tetzlaff (above left) and Gustafsson then appropriately ripped and roared through Kodály's 1914 Violin and 'Cello duo, op. 7. Noontime found the Festival navigating around a few bends in the coast to the local Hødnebø furniture company's waterfront offfices and showroom with a backdrop of nature through the building's glass walls.
Thursday evening? Works dealing with time from Swedish-American Leroy Anderson's 1950 ka-chinger The Typewriter -- with the added twist that the World's Finest and Most Revered Page Turner Endre Rahke Warholm was the soloist on a Royal manual while Leif Ove Andsnes attempted to do the page turning honors -- to Haydn's "Clock" Symphony, No. 101 in D, to Andsnes with George Antheil's 1923 Sonatine -- Death of the Machines (sufficiently fast and brief: no page turner required) and Ligeti's still rather astonishing Poème symphonique for 100 Metronomes, 46 years old this year and still ticking.
And that's just the first two and a half days . . . .