Borealis 2014

Kurt Johannessen & Simon Phillips

And I’d say the opposite of the truly magical 45 minutes offered-up by actor Kurt Johannessen and pianist Simon Phillips in a small, book-lined room in the music section of Bergen’s public library the following afternoon. Was the room purposefully chosen because it was ever-so-slightly too small? Was the idea that rain-soaked punters would continue to pack into it from its many doors minutes after the performance had begun, charging the place with a sort of walking-on-eggshells atmosphere? Johannessen taps on the microphone as if he’s about to do the ‘turn off your phones’ spiel but the tap becomes a rhythm taken up by Phillips on the woodwork of the piano, and here begins Phillips’s 45-minute tidal journey from the woodwork to the strings to the keyboard (and the oasis of a note played by the mechanics) and back. Johannessen, looking the whole time as though he’s on gas and air, radiating warmth, eyeballing the lot of us, handing out small pieces of folded paper containing whimsical, opaque poems, to each and every one of us, in seat order and around the walls where latecomers stand. He’s doing it with this supreme patience – returning to the desk for each one, as if the idea has just occurred to him and he’s still working it through. I leave Bergen delighted by the image of Johannessen’s face and still holding it close, so moving even after the event. I see it there in the library room, printed in the programme, elsewhere in Bergen where I spot the guy: gentility, kindness, openness encapsulated. There’s a silent music in it, as in the Aurora Borealis. His deportment is like an exaggerated representation of Norwegian enchantment, naivety and earth-hewn seriousness and nobility. Phillips’s piano playing was really something too. We all shuffled out again, and the rain had become snow.

Andrew Mellor