Grieg Now!

Conference in Bergen draws scholars and musicians from far and wide

Grieg Academy

Photo: Alexander Lund / University of Bergen
The prestigious Grieg Academy in Bergen was the setting for many of the presentations and sessions held at the Grieg Now! conference in October.

Gregory Martin
Edvard Grieg Society of America

In 1876, Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg was asked by his hometown newspaper Bergenposten to send back an account of the festival at Bayreuth, Germany, where he had gone to attend the first performance of Richard Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung cycle. In relaying this account of the recent conference Grieg Now! held in Bergen Oct. 24 to 27 under the auspices of the International Grieg Society (IGS), the Grieg Academy and Centre for Grieg Research at the University of Bergen, and the Edvard Grieg Museum Troldhaugen, I can’t help but think that I’m in some small way walking in his footsteps (if not fully returning the favor).

The gathering in Bergen was part academic congress, part conservatory term, and part concert series, all focused not only on the genius of Grieg’s music, but also on his continued influence and relevance, a truth evidenced by the fact that music lovers from no less than 15 countries traveled to this somewhat remote former Hanseatic seat on the western coast of Norway to celebrate the iconic composer.

The lecture portion of the conference included papers exploring Grieg’s influence on the music of Rachmaninoff and Bartók, his approach to sonata form, and discussions of a number of the much-loved Lyric Pieces, investigations that ranged from the purely abstract and theoretical to more interpretive readings.

One session was devoted entirely to new publications in the Grieg literature, of which special mention should be made of Wojtek Stepien’s new study of modernism in Grieg’s late piano works; it was bemoaned on several occasions that this important new monograph is only available in Polish, and pressure was immediately applied on the author to have it translated into English (fingers crossed…).

Also noteworthy were a presentation of student composition projects inspired by Grieg’s music, including jazz-infused works (the “cow call” that opens the Op. 66 collection of folksong settings was a particular favorite), and Christoph Siems’ report on the Grieg Memorial Centre in Leipzig, Ger­many, once the home of the C. F. Peters Music Publishing and now a sort of museum and German hub of Norwegian musical heritage.

While the scholarly papers were being read in a lecture classroom at the Grieg Academy, one-on-one coaching sessions were being given in teaching studios throughout the building, which afforded both university students and professional performers the opportunity to work intensively with experts in Norwegian music. These tutorials allowed participants to concentrate on either solo piano music, vocal repertoire, or chamber music; each 30-minute lesson was open to any and all interested conference participants, with topics ranging from didactic details to large-scale interpretive concerns.

The conference also showcased five concerts, including a standout program by the Oslo String Quartet at the 12th-century Marienkirche, which balanced a first half of music by Norwegian composers (the first two movements of Grieg’s unfinished F major quartet as well as offerings by Fartein Valen and Harald Sæverud) with the Debussy G minor quartet in the second half (a work modeled on Grieg’s first essay in the idiom, notwithstanding a now lost student effort in D minor). The final two concerts were held on the grounds of Grieg’s home Troldhaugen. The first was in the concert hall Troldsalen, with its glass wall at the back of the stage, allowing a stunning view of the composition hut and the fjord just beyond, and the second was a soiree-style performance in the living room of the composer’s villa. Both of these concerts included works by native composers such as Valen, Sæverud, and Geirr Tveitt, though the obvious focus was Grieg; repertoire from his catalog included Lyric Pieces, songs from across his career, and movements from the G minor string quartet, the cello sonata, and all three of the violin sonatas.

Finally, mention should be made of the IGS council meeting. The retiring leadership–President Beryl Foster (United Kingdom) and Vice President Sylvia Eckes (United States)–were honored and thanked for their numerous contributions, and the new president Siebert Nix (Netherlands) and Vice President Wojtek Stepien (Poland) were elected. From the Edvard Grieg Society of America, Marla Fogderud was named to the election council, and I was made a deputy to the executive board.

This was a wonderful event, and due praise must be given to Einar Røttingen, piano professor at the Grieg Academy, Arnulf Mattes, head of the Centre for Grieg Research at the University of Bergen, and Monica Jangaard of the Edvard Grieg Museum Troldhaugen for their efforts in organizing and managing its many moving parts. I have attended several International Grieg Society conferences over the last 10 or so years and have never seen so many young people participating as there were this year (50 or so, by my reckoning), nor have I witnessed such an array of nationalities (this event brought in an unusually large contingent from Ukraine).

Interest in Grieg and his music certainly seems to be growing, and I feel confident that Grieg the humanist would be flattered to know that more than 100 years after his death, so many people from such varied backgrounds and age groups would travel such distances to bond through the poetry, majesty, and beauty of his music.

This article originally appeared in the November 29, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American.

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The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.