Founded in 1972 on the initiative of conductor and long-time orchestra director Gunārs Ordelovskis, the Orchestra “Riga” has over time become one of the leading professional wind orchestras in the entire Baltic and Nordic region. It has always strived to expand its “playing field” and break the stereotypes that accompany wind orchestras regarding when, where and what they ought to play. It currently positions itself as a concert orchestra that performs not only at municipal celebrations in Riga and on days of national importance but also holds high-quality concerts at halls in Riga and elsewhere in Latvia, including Riga Cathedral, featuring a very wide variety of music styles from different eras in its drive to always seek out the new and as yet undiscovered.
Conductor Andris Poga directed the Orchestra “Riga” from 2007 until 2010, and these four years marked a significant surge in the orchestra’s development. Poga demanded a highly professional quality of play and interesting concert repertoire. Under his baton, the orchestra performed arrangements of large-scale symphonic and vocal-symphonic music (Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, Johannes Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem), followed new trends in repertoire for symphonic bands, and also commissioned and performed new works by Latvian composers. Ēriks Ešenvalds, Nic Gotham, Vilnis Šmīdbergs, Andris Dzenītis, Ilona Breģe and Imants Mežaraups all composed for the orchestra, with works ranging from symphonies to a requiem.
Mārtiņš Ozoliņš served as the artistic director of the Orchestra “Riga” from 2011 until 2015. Under his leadership, the orchestra organised the Windstream International Composers’ Competition in 2014 as part of Riga’s European Capital of Culture programme. It was at this time that the orchestra also began a fruitful collaboration with Raimonds Pauls, which resulted in three new concert programmes featuring new arrangements of the Black Colours suite, the Rhapsody for Piano and Orchestra and the Stained Glass of Old Riga vocal cycle. During this time, conductor Raitis Ašmanis also worked with the orchestra and was responsible for the orchestra’s jazz, rock and Latin concerts.
Valdis Butāns became the artistic director of the Orchestra “Riga” in 2015, determined to realise even more new concert projects. One of these was the performance in 2016 of Scott McAllister’s composition Mercury on the Moon. The concert was nominated for the Latvian Grand Music Award and won the “Delfi” Audience Award as well as the Hennessy Award. In 2017, the Orchestra “Riga” and Butāns won the Latvian Grand Music Award for outstanding performances throughout the year.
In 2010, the Symphony for Wind Orchestra composed by Vilnis Šmīdbergs specially for the Orchestra “Riga” won the Latvian Grand Music Award for best new composition. That same year, the orchestra was also nominated for the Latvian Grand Music Award in the best ensemble category.
In 2008, the work of conductor Andris Poga and the orchestra’s managing director Ilona Breģe was acknowledged with the “White Sparrow” Riga Annual Cultural Award, while the orchestra’s 40th anniversary gala concert in 2012, conducted by Mārtiņš Ozoliņš, received the Latvian Television “Kilogram of Culture” Award.
Promising young conductors, such as Guntis Kuzma, Kaspars Ādamsons, Jānis Retenais, Andis Klučnieks, Mārcis Miķelsons and Dāvis Jurka, can increasingly be seen on the podium of the Orchestra “Riga”. More and more Latvian composers are also responding to invitations to compose specifically for the orchestra, including Rihards Zaļupe, Linda Leimane, Jachin Pousson, Santa Bušs, Jēkabs Nīmanis, Platons Buravickis, Jēkabs Jančevskis, Selga Mence, Imants Zemzaris and Andris Sējāns.
The orchestra’s first Windstream Summer Festival took place in 2010. In 2017 the orchestra initiated the Three Stars festival dedicated to the centenary of the Latvian state; the event took place in November from 2017 to 2019 and linked music with literature, art and significant events in Latvian history.
The Orchestra “Riga” performs across Latvia. In recent years it has also performed in Saint Petersburg and Pori, Finland. The orchestra collaborates with noteworthy Latvian musicians – singers, organists, instrumentalists, chamber ensembles, choirs – as well as musicians from abroad. The Orchestra “Riga” Big Band also performs regularly.
The Orchestra “Riga” has recorded five albums: Merry Christmas! (2007) and Windstream (2008) under the director of Andris Poga, Riga. Tannenbaum. Christmas Tree (2011) under the baton of Mārtiņš Ozoliņš, Riga Jazz (2014) with Raitis Ašmanis and Raimonds Pauls and Cherished (2019) with conductor Valdis Butāns. Cherished includes original compositions by Vilnis Šmīdbergs, Jēkabs Jančevskis Ilona Breģe and Andris Sējāns written for the Orchestra “Riga”. The orchestra also appears on the Pēteris Vasks: Prayer album (2019) released by the national record label Skani.