Bengt into shape

The following article was first published in the June 2018 edition of Viva Lewes magazine:

A conversation on the other side of the world first brought Swedish pianist Bengt Forsberg to the Lewes Chamber Music Festival. Although he’d visited the area previously – “I was here with my family many years ago for a performance of Carmen at Glyndebourne and we fell in love with your town”, he tells me – it was a chat in Australia that led to him returning as a performer. Viola player James Boyd mentioned “this festival of interesting, not always well known music” run by violinist Beatrice Philips; Bengt was convinced and made his festival debut in 2015.

This year, Bengt, Beatrice and James are all back in town as part of a three-day festival that’s now a well-established part of the classical music calendar. Over twenty artists – a blend of internationally-acclaimed professional musicians and some of today’s top young performers – will be presenting seven concerts in historic buildings. “Chamber music is in no way less intense in emotional impact or passion than music written for larger forces, such as a symphony orchestra”, Bengt explains. “The only actual difference is the amount of players involved; and you can really come close to the audience in a smaller room.” Playing with a group of other musicians is “very much a shared venture”, he says. “You always have to find a mutual understanding of the music.”

Last year, some of Bengt’s rehearsals were open to visitors. For 2018, there’s a formal open rehearsal ahead of the opening night. I wondered how comfortable he was with an audience hearing what could be thought of as an imperfect performance. He tells me the process is inspiring: “There is no such thing as a ’perfect performance’; interpreting music is an ongoing process of finding hidden secrets and revealing possible truths in it.” His definition of a good pianist is similarly broad and relaxed. “Someone who can think ‘outside the box’, so to speak; who enjoys discovering also the established masters… and, above all, feels great joy in music making; but that goes for all musicians, I believe.”

The musical theme for this year’s festival is ‘Exploring Vienna’, which Bengt describes as “a subject very dear to me”. It’s Beatrice who’s chosen most of the music “but I might have come with some suggestions”, Bengt adds. He’s become known as someone who enjoys uncovering and playing lesser-known works: does he have any interest in composing for himself? “No, not at all – there is too much music composed today. I prefer to discover exciting but dead composers who can’t defend themselves; there’s so much fantastic music out there waiting to be played!”

Lewes Chamber Music Festival runs from Thursday 14 to Saturday 16 June.