Speech by the Prime Minister at the opening of the Bergen International Festival

'The Festival takes us to new destinations, into waters we have never sailed before. We hear familiar chords alongside new harmonies and interpretations. The ocean, music, art – they never stay the same. They are timeless and at the same time a harbinger of renewal and change', said Prime Minister Støre.

Prime Minister Støre on stage in Bergen.
Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre. Credit: Synne Sofi Bårdsdatter Bønes / Festspillene i Bergen

Check against delivery (the speech was held in Norwegian)

Good afternoon, everyone,

It is a great pleasure for me to take part in the opening of the 72nd Bergen International Festival.

Here in the heart of the beautiful city of Bergen, with all its history, vitality and creativity.

A city built towards the sea, protected by mountains, the coastal capital of Norway. Encircled by a harbour with long quays and docks to welcome people, goods, new ideas and impressions from afar, often arriving from across the water.

Peer Gynt, whose story figures prominently in this first day of the Festival, says: ‘To think it, wish it, even want it – but do it! No….’ This was one of his greatest struggles.

But the Bergen International Festival thinks it, wishes it, wants it – and what’s more – actually does it, again.

With a range of top-notch performers and events that impress, energise and intrigue us. Filling Bergen with life. The true role of culture.


We have just heard renditions of In the Hall of the Dovre Mountain King and Solveig’s Song. Gems from Norway’s national treasure trove of literature and music. Created by Ibsen, Grieg and everyone who has subsequently been inspired by these words and melodies for inspiration – such as today, by the wonderful people’s choir.

The play about Peer Gynt tells a universal story about life. 

About Solveig, who patiently waits.

While Peer gives in to temptation and is captured by the trolls of the Mountain King. Where he discovers that in order to live there he must adopt the trolls’ creed ‘to thyself be enough’. Be complacent. And relinquish the ability to distinguish right from wrong. 

But Peer is saved by the chiming of the church bells. The bells frighten the trolls off, and Peer escapes into the darkness – running from his own emptiness.

And speaking about the impacts of church bells and sound –

Many of us today feel we are constantly surrounded by hubbub, bombarded with impressions.

Sometimes we yearn for silence.

But this is nothing new – not in Bergen’s history either.

It must have been a pretty cacophonous soundscape during the Middle Ages as well. With the loading and unloading of cargo, the blows of hammers, horses’ hooves, market haggling. And bells ringing from the more than 20 churches and 5 monasteries in the Bergen of the 1250s, announcing church services throughout the day.

When Bergen was the largest Nordic city – with more than 7000 inhabitants. Norway’s capital for hundreds of years.

The peal of the church bells – that summoned the people to worship and sounded the alarm in times of danger.

There must have been a lot of noise and song and music in the resonance of the Middle Ages.

Perhaps the Bergen International Festival is really 720 years old, not just 72?

But I had another thought as well. In the midst of all of this, in 1250, just imagine the young Prince Magnus on his way to school. Walking from the residence of his father, King Haakon, on Holmen, to instruction in the Franciscan monastery in Vågsbunnen.

The Prince was probably not walking alone. But still, his path to school must have shown him the diversity of sounds, languages, sailing vessels, smells, fish, the market, the rich and the poor.

These encounters with the plight of the poor, the sick and the marginalised affected the king-to-be deeply, and triggered in him a strong commitment to improving the conditions under which they lived.

A new banquet hall was built for the Prince’s wedding to Princess Ingeborg Eriksdatter in 1261. Still standing today, Håkon’s Hall is one of the arenas for the Festival. As is the Bergen Cathedral, where Magnus, now known as King Magnus the Law-Mender, wished to be buried. Back with the Franciscan monks. 

My point is, that these are the types of journeys – in time and place – that the Festival can take us on today as well.

Just look around you. And listen.

Can you hear history reverberating in the city sounds today? 

Let me close with another thought.

As I see it, the Bergen International Festival is like a ship – like the sailing ship Statsraad Lehmkuhl.

What do I mean by that? That the Festival is a like a training vessel?

Exactly. The Festival takes us to new destinations, into waters we have never sailed before.

We hear familiar chords alongside new harmonies and interpretations.

The ocean, music, art – they never stay the same. They are timeless and at the same time a harbinger of renewal and change.

Moreover, the Festival challenges us.

A vessel must be built to withstand stormy seas, not just to sail in sunshine.

In the same way, the Festival is intended to make us question and wonder, to create a tempest.

Good art should make waves. Also sound waves.

A boat cannot sail fast on a windless day. Not that there are many windless days here in Bergen or in Vestland county.

The creativity found here – in business life, cultural life and research – is essential for our country as a whole, for the restructuring we are facing. To promote a sustainable climate, safeguard the environment, generate clean energy and create new jobs for generations to come.

If Vestland succeeds, then Norway will succeed! This is a priority of my Government.

This Festival – like a ship – unites us. As crew and passengers on board. As performers and audience.

We come together to share new experiences, new insights, together as a community. We embark and disembark – together.

Peer Gynt was also on a constant voyage – throughout the play. But in the fifth act his ship founders.

Not so with the Bergen International Festival, for this vessel is renewed, reinforced, admired and owned by an entire city, an entire region and by all of us in Norway.

Happy sailing, everyone! Thank you.