As soon as Christmas has been packed back in its box, the BFO New Year concerts begin in earnest – first in Bergen and then a mini tour out to the districts several hours away. We head first to Førde. Rain lashes the windows of the bus but we are coccooned in warmth, still a little sleepy. Snippets of conversation….the life line of take away coffee … musicians come to life. The rain has turned to sleet. Knitting needles click rhythmically. Lively discussions about instruments, kids, food and drink … all pretty much standard fascination of musicians. Sleet turns into snow.

Martin Winter and Bodil Erdal waiting to go onstage

The countryside out here is wild. Deep, dark fjords and remote villages made accessible by ferries. Impossibly sheer rock faces loom ahead, excluding light from the valley floor. Waterfalls cascade in spectacular torrents. Today all is grey, with a softened misty edge straight out of an illustration by Theodor Kittelsen, one of my favourite Norwegian artists. The light changes, brightening as we enter areas where snow lies more thickly. Ghostly tree outlines emerge. It is all too easy to conjure up the shapes of trolls in trees and rocks. We vanish into yet another tunnel, only to be spat out into even brighter white. The bus tyres judder as they secure a grip. On one smaller lake, an icy skin has already formed, white creeping across the surface. As we cross a bridge, a tiny fjord set in a storybook majestic valley appears. Dwarfed by the peaks, a single farm and two houses huddle close to the water. I wonder each year what life can be like in such remote areas. Random dwellings, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Down yet another winding descent and the ferry awaits, like a beast in its lair on the fjord below. A whole orchestra scrambles for the toilets on board. Priorities, priorities. Emerging then into the familiar aroma common to all Norwegian ferries – hotdogs. Musicians swarm like locusts over coffee and sustenance. We are, incidentally, on one of the latest electric ferries. Very quiet and no nauseating fumes. Another hour on the road brings us to our hotel in Førde, grateful to stretch our legs. Here it is raining hard. In less than three hours, rehearsal starts and I need caffeine. More priorities.

Førdehuset welcomes us once again with an enthusiastic audience who settle back to experience our programme, guided by wine critic and konferansier, Ingvild Tennfjord. The evening is a smooth offering of crowd-pleasers, complete with young stars and our very own Martin Winter on trumpet. Tchaikovsky’s Waltz of the Flowers always gets them – and I can see the smiles breaking out for the music to Harry Potter. The acoustics are challenging but performance mode soon kicks in. There’s something about this job … something satisfying about being able to bring the joy of live music out to people outside the main cities. They are deeply appreciative and this concert is a highlight of their season. That much I learn from audience conversation as we mingle in the break. Singers Caroline Wettergreen and Hermine Oen sparkle…also literally…and are rewarded with striking scarlet bouquets. Our latest young assistant conductor, Nils Erik Måseidvåg, is a newcomer to these concerts and has acquitted himself impressively well, especially in accompanying the soloists which demands a steady hand and quick reactions. Later this week he will begin prepping us for the arrival of our conductor for the Salzburg tour, Juanjo Mena. For now, we pack away instruments and head back to the hotel. To a celebratory post- concert drink, enjoying the company of colleagues. Then rest. Next stop, Sogndal.

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