To be greater than oneself

Lars Petter Hagen
April 22, 2024

How can one be oneself? Of all the questions artists have asked themselves throughout history, this may be the most eternal and the most impossible. It is curious that something so fundamental is so difficult, but at the same time, perhaps it says something important about the role of art and culture in our lives.

This is also the question Henrik Ibsen poses in Peer Gynt. The work has often been seen as being a celebration of Norwegian-ness, but Peer Gynt is no celebration of ourselves. Peer’s character is self-centred and cowardly, and the play looks with a critical eye at the concept of who we really are and what we have in common.

Many of the projects in this year's Festival programme revolve around the question: Who are we? What is the relationship between you and your surroundings, both your immediate surroundings and the greater global community? How does the past connect with the present, or tradition with renewal? In a time of war and instability, of battles for the truth, of artificial intelligence, and of a massive focus on the individual, it feels natural for many to search for their place in the world and in history.

This year's Festival begins and ends with choral singing, from the people’s choir on Torgallmenningen to Mahler's Eighth Symphony – the Symphony of a Thousand – in Grieghallen. We want to celebrate diversity and community through each individual voice. Singing together gives us a feeling of being part of something greater than ourselves. For me, this is the very essence of culture. It is what binds us together, what makes us matter – to one another.

I hope this year's Festival programme can evoke a sense of Peer's quest and Mahler's universe. Perhaps you will discover some unexpected connections between Hardanger and Venice, between Fatoumata Diawara and Edvard Grieg. Or Øyvind Torvund, Mahler and The Master and Margarita, Ole Bull, King Magnus the Lawmaker and Ragnhild Hemsing, Berghain and Bergen, Havana and Håkonshallen. And perhaps we will finally find out who Leif Ove Andsnes really is.

Whoever you are, welcome to the Bergen International Festival!

Lars Petter Hagen
Festival director