“You´ll have time to have coffee at the station” someone said. I´d just come off an early flight from Bergen. Torp station, bathed in sunlight, boasts three teenage girls sniggering into i-phones, a bench and two rusting bicycles. Ripening crops glow in surrounding fields, and a cat is washing in a leisurely way, draped across a red-tiled roof. Who needs coffee. You can drink the fresh air.
Larvik Barokk begins this evening – it’s the festival´s and Bjarte Eike´s Barokksolistene´s 10th anniversary. At Bergen National Opera we are thrilled to have begun a long-term collaboration with the ensemble (which began its highly inventive days in Larvik) and I have the privilege of introducing the opening concert in the picture gallery of the Treschow family mansion. It´s a first in Mille-Marie´s grand interior. At rehearsal we twitch nervously at lines of chairs to ensure neat rows and gaze in awe at the formidable painting. Her dog, a round and toothy bull terrier looks benignly interested in the assembled instruments, as though accustomed to behaving as a gracious host.
In the evening the room fills. For an evening of high art, the audience is democratised by the wearing of blue plastic shoe covers (’a little like condoms for the feet’, some wag comments). The carpets ripple with reds and soft pattern. The music, The Image of Melancholy, celebrates Barokksolistene´s eponymous recording, already much awarded and acclaimed. The magical sounds soar, dance, weep, flirt, seduce. From the walls, great landscapes seem to glow, and solemn ancestors soften their dark gaze. At the back, the house´s employees creep in to listen. As does the dog, who performs his own curious incident in this particular night by cosying up to the viola player as though about to request a tune. He is ushered briskly through a side-door.
Berit Nordbakken Solset´s sweet clear voice blends with the fine-grained string sound, the lute´s plucking nudges new rhythms, and we sigh to Dowland and cry for Neil Gunn´s lost wife in his dreamy lament. But everything in its intriguing way is dance, slow and swaying, or finger-flicking fast.
“Irresistible” – The Times on Alehouse
At the micro brewery, its time for an Eike speciality, the Alehouse. Bjarte explains the concept – how 18th century unemployed artists used to meet to play, sing, dance – but the audience is already so excited that history is put aside. We laugh, gasp and sigh. The virtuosity is amazing – fingers and feet fly, songs are sung in sonorous harmony, joyful disarray swerves into cool precision. They´ll perform it all – no doubt in a totally different invention – at our Mimi Goes Glamping festival next weekend to astound and delight another audience.
A crowd of delighted children gather next day for Gulliver´s Travels: just two violins, a map and a journey full of tricks from London across the seas and back. We meet seals, sirens, dangerous natives, pirates and folk fiddlers. Gulliver gets led astray in Paris (well, who doesn´t…?) but all, a squillion scampering semiquavers later, ends well.
Dinner at 18/19th century Scots-born boat builder Colin Archer´s beautifully restored historic house with yet more music. We dance through the house´s elegantly painted rooms led by Steve Player´s nimble pointing toes, and tap our fingers to sizzling reels.
At midnight under an opaque moon, a small red boat is putt-putting across the water to a harbour unknown. The start of a lullaby is winding through my head. Next weekend, by Sognefjorden, we´ll hear Baroque opera under the stars, another Alehouse, young singers and great voices. Mimi glamps and celebrates this suddenly arrived Norwegian summer. Light. Music. A bonfire of scented birch branches. Paradise, maybe.