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The music of Latvia 2010–2019: the mill of muses and voices in the treetops

23. March, 2020

This is the final part of a series of articles devoted to the past decade in culture in Latvia. Previously published articles by Viktors Freibergs, Santa Hirša, Valda Čakare and Anda Baklāne address the fields of cinema, art, theatre and literature.

Musicologist Orests Silabriedis: In the following paragraphs I will try to remember the most significant events in Latvian classical, contemporary classical, ethnic, contemporary folk, jazz and non-academic music between 2010 and 2019.

Introduction. Seeing as 2010 marked 100 years since the birth of Marģeris Zariņš (born May 24, 1910), the Latvian Composers’ Union dedicated the 2010 Latvian New Music Days festival to this composer. The festival’s artistic director, Kristaps Pētersons, not only produced concerts but also wrote a series of articles titled Musical Botany that were published on the Satori.lv portal and in the Mūzikas Saule magazine.

In this series of articles, Pētersons wrote about twenty or so Latvian composers but did not mention any of them by name. So now the riddle was: who is who? In fact, the answers to the riddle were published soon after, but the intrigue still exists – read the characterisation and start guessing all over again.

Regarding texts. Pētersons’ short articles did not really take the place of a history of Latvian music, nor have we at the present moment arrived at a real history. But some significant steps have been taken in that direction.

Two fundamental studies by Arnolds Klotiņš have been published since 2010: Music Under Occupation: Latvian Musical Life and New Works 1940–1945 (2011, with co-authors) and Music in Post-War Stalinism: Latvian Musical Life and New Works 1944–1953 (2018). Klotiņš remains our country’s most illustrious music historian and researcher, and he hopefully still has many years of study and writing ahead of him.

The initiative of the Jāzeps Vītols Latvian Academy of Music (JVLMA) to compile a fundamental history of music has also begun. The first early results could be read in Ilze Šarkovska-Liepiņa’s articles for the Mūzikas Saule, giving hope that we will eventually have a proper history of our music.

The following people deserve praise for their significant contributions in book publishing over the past decade: Ilze Šarkovska-Liepiņa (The Code of Latvian Music, editor), Elmārs Zemovičs (Symphonic Concerts in Jūrmala Until 1940 and Three Riga Symphony Orchestras), Inese Žune (The Violin in the Historical Development of Latvian Musical Culture), Andrejs Grāpis (Augusts Dombrovskis: Life and Accomplishments), Mārtiņš Lasmanis (Words and Music, a collection of essays), Lolita Fūrmane (Ķepītis: A Worker Bee), Baiba Jaunslaviete (Maija Einfelde: Her Life and Music, with co-authors), Orests Silabriedis (Latvian Radio Choir: Facts, Memories, Images), Jānis Kudiņš (Oskars Stroks: The King of Tango), Inga Žolude (1904: The Melancholy Waltz), Jānis Erenštreits (Jānis Cimze: The Weaver of Crowns), Guntars Prānis (Missale Rigense in the Spiritual Culture of Livonia) and Indriķis Veitners (The History of Jazz Music in Latvia 1922–1940).

Alex Ross, for his part, provided us with a very necessary view to the outside world in text form with the translation into Latvian of his excellent book The Rest Is Noise (Viss cits ir troksnis), published in 2012. I have heard much praise from music professionals and non-professionals alike, who now know much more than before having opened Ross’ opus.

2010. In January, Atvars Lakstīgala conducted his first concert with the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra (LSO) as its principal conductor. This was a major change for the Liepāja musicians, as they lost their long-time orchestra director Imants Resnis but were now transformed from a local ensemble into a national orchestra. Lakstīgala headed the LSO until 2017, when Lithuanian conductor Gintaras Rinkevičius, already well known Latvia, took over the reins as principal conductor, although he did not seem to express an overwhelming enthusiasm in his new ensemble.

The LSO’s great contribution to Latvian culture during this decade is primarily linked to its commission and performance of new works, and here Lakstīgala’s will and skill in interpreting newly written music played a significant role. Andris Dzenītis’ Liepāja Concerto No. 1 “Duality” for piano and orchestra premiered in March 2011. It was followed by a series of concertos composed by Rihards Dubra, Kristaps Pētersons, Ēriks Ešenvalds, Rihards Zaļupe, Santa Ratniece, Andris Vecumnieks, Kārlis Lācis, Vilnis Šmīdbergs, Juris Karlsons, Arturs Maskats and Platons Buravickis. This concerto series was in turn followed by a series of Liepāja symphonies; currently, five such symphonies have been composed, of which those by Dzenītis and Vecumnieks are likely the most successful.

Regarding other orchestras. Audience favourite Karel Mark Chichon became the artistic director of the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra (LNSO) in 2009. As the orchestra’s management made changes within the orchestra, the quality of the ensemble’s performance noticeably increased. However, Chichon left his position in late 2012, citing insufficient funding and the inability to “influence them as before”.

Andris Poga took over as artistic director and principal conductor of the LNSO in the autumn of 2013. Under his direction, the musical intellect of the orchestra continued to grow, however, as the author of this article has links to the LNSO, he cannot be fully objective in his assessment.

The LNSO has in recent years recorded a number of albums of music by Sergei Rachmaninov, Jānis Ivanovs, Juris Karlsons and Pēteris Plakidis. One of its most significant moments in terms of concert performances was the meeting on the Riga Great Guild stage of Mariss Jansons and Raimonds Pauls on September 16, 2016, as part of the concert series organised in honour of the orchestra’s 90th anniversary.

Interestingly, the revival of the Baltic Symphony Festival, which could have been simply a formality for the purpose of realising certain projects, in fact aroused curiosity about what was going on in the neighbouring countries and encouraged the organisation of several concert programmes in which orchestra musicians from all three Baltic countries together created music of a surprising quality in the best sense of this word.

During this same time, the national chamber orchestra Sinfonietta Rīga, established in 2006, has continued its activity unchanged under the direction of its founder and artistic director Normunds Šnē. The strategy it adheres to regarding repertoire attracts a steady audience, its concerts are well attended, and it is gaining increasing international recognition. The series of new chamber symphonies commissioned by the orchestra, in particular Linda Leimane’s fascinatingly aggressive Guesstimations, was particularly praised.

The Orchestra “Riga” gained a new lease of life in the second half of the 2000s under the direction of Andris Poga. Mārtiņš Ozoliņš headed the orchestra from 2011 until early 2015, when Valdis Butāns took his place and has been its conductor ever since. “Riga” continues to search for its most loyal listener, but the orchestra’s programmes are interesting and diverse, and its contribution to the creation of new works is highly appreciated.

Regarding concert halls. After a very long wait, the first building in Latvia constructed specifically to host concerts was unveiled in May 2013 – the “Gors” Concert Hall in the eastern Latvian city of Rēzekne. I still vividly remember hearing the sound of the choir and orchestra for the first time. It was at a rehearsal for the hall’s inaugural concert, and because of the warm clarity and expansive quality of the sound, I found it hard to believe I was actually in a Latvian concert hall. I cannot refrain from a personal note – in terms of sound, “Gors” remains my favourite among Latvia’s new concert halls. But that’s a matter of taste. Others may prefer the Cēsis Concert Hall opened in May 2014, the Great Amber Concert Hall in Liepāja opened in November 2015 or the “Latvija” Concert Hall in Ventspils unveiled in July 2019. Twenty years ago we envied the Estonians for their new halls in Pärnu and Jõhvi and the restored concert hall in Tartu, but now it might be said that our own new concert halls have more vivid personalities – each with its own style, architecture and sound.

Of course, there was also no lack of smaller, privately initiated concert venues to emerge during this decade, such as Small Mežotne Palace, Rūmene Manor, Ērmaņi Manor, Oleri Manor, Lūznava Manor and others.

But a concert hall in Riga... For the time being, it is of no use remembering and commenting on the endless unsuccessful efforts made so far. We can do so this spring, when representatives from the Ministry of Culture have promised to report again on the current situation. Hope springs eternal...

Meanwhile, many new venues opened in the capital, Riga: the “Ziemeļblāzma” Culture Palace, the VEF Culture Palace, the “Daile” music hall, the Zirgu Iela Concert Hall, Hanzas Perons, the “Artissimo” salon of the Hermanis Brauns Foundation, the Tallinas Street Creative Quarter hall, Aleponija, C. C. von Stritzky Villa and more. I believe the Riga Reformed Church is still not praised enough as a venue – the sound there is excellent, but its location is not included in the regular routes of audiences, and this issue should be addressed. It is quite a pity that the Andrejsala area appears to no longer be on the radar as a concert venue; it was a pleasure to attend events at the Turbine Workshop and photo studio there.

Regarding opera. Richard Wagner’s entire Ring des Nibelungen was performed during the Riga Opera Festival in June 2013. It was an unprecedented event whose realisation could be debated, but whose significance could not be disputed. In September 2013, Minister of Culture Žanete Jaunzeme-Grende dismissed Andrejs Žagars from his position as the director of the Latvian National Opera. Zigmārs Liepiņš replaced him as the next director of the “White House”.

Žagars’ contribution to raising the status of Latvia’s opera house from the ashes was very highly appreciated, and Liepiņš presided over a successful continuation of the work Žagars and his team had set in motion, in spite of the confusion surrounding the institution’s name change (we still puzzle over when to say National Opera, when National Opera and Ballet and when National Ballet).

It is a great shame that Andris Dzenītis’ opera Dauka and Kristaps Pētersons’ opera Mikhail and Mikhail Play Chess were removed from the repertoire. Both were successful from the musical as well as theatrical perspective. Arturs Maskats’ opera Valentina and Ēriks Ešenvalds’ opera The Immured met with less success. The opera did well in inviting directors Margo Zālīte (with a crazy The Rake’s Progress, an emotionally impressive Rigoletto and an elegant The Little Magic Flute) and Aik Karapetian (with a humorous Barber of Seville and ingenious Faust). The horizons of the opera’s repertoire were expanded not only by Igor Stravinsky’s work but also by Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites, which was one of the best opera productions in Latvia of the past thirty years.

Offering video recordings of its performances on Opera Europa was another success of the Latvian National Opera. And very pleasantly, the decade was framed by a concert performance in 2011 of Imants Kalniņš’ masterpiece Spēlēju, dancoju (I Played, I Danced) and a full production of the same work at the beginning of the 2019/2020 season that stimulated conversations, opposing views and a desire to reread Rainis’ play and watch the performance again and again.

Regarding musical performances. Clearly, musical productions did not take place only at the “White House”.

Of the wide and rich range of events hosted by the Cēsis Art Festival, a particular highlight was witnessed in 2017 with Osvaldo Golijov’s opera Ainadamar (conductor Andris Poga, director Viesturs Kairišs). This was joined by composer Līga Celma and artist Kristaps Pētersons’ electronic stroll Pasaka par Kurbadu (A Story About Kurbads; musical director Kaspars Putniņš, director Zane Kreicberga), which was performed on the Cīrulīši Nature Trails in the summer of 2010 and, I believe, also the following year. The decisions of the Latvian Great Music Award jury do not always correspond to the diverse opinions about the best event of the year in the various award categories, but in the case of these two events, both deservedly enjoyed the honour of receiving the well-known silver statuette.

I still vividly remember the Cantando y Amando programme by Ilona Bagele and her colleagues (Latvian Great Music Award 2012); The Ring of Zemgale by Sigvards Kļava, director Roberts Rubīns and the Latvian Radio Choir (Latvian Great Music Award 2018); and also the Kalpotājs. Blumbergs. Kamēr… (Servant. Blumbergs. Kamēr…) concert programme by Jānis Liepiņš and the Youth Choir “Kamēr…” at Riga Art Space.

A separate highlight was the Tree Opera by composer Anna Ķirse and playwright Andris Kalnozols, which was performed in three very different incarnations in Susēja, Āgenskalns and Finland.

I admire the wonderful initiative and enterprise of Agija Ozoliņa-Kozlovska, the director of the Latvian Operetta, who has continued staging productions since 2013 despite inadequate funding. At first, the performances did not always fully reflect the criteria of a professional musical theatre, but changes in conductors and directors have been made, and we shall now see how the theatre’s new plans will be appraised by the newly established “Support for the development of the musical theatre genre” programme of the State Culture Capital Foundation of Latvia.

Regarding other things. Notwithstanding the superb quality and respectable repertoire of the highly praised Spīķeri String Quartet, the Sinfonietta Rīga String Quartet, the Liepāja String Quartet and the ReDo String Quartet, for the past thirty years Latvia has been a country without its own permanent string quartet whose musicians would work only in this particular format, rather than meeting in their spare time after their regular jobs in orchestras or schools. Or is that utopian thinking and we in fact do not need such an ensemble?

Regarding other types of chamber ensembles, in my opinion two stand out in particular: the musically original Trio Palladio, which, quite unbelievably, unites the three superstars Eva Bindere, Kristīne Blaumane and Reinis Zariņš; and the Quadra piano quartet consisting of Arvīds Zvagulis, Pēteris Trasuns, Kārlis Klotiņš and Rihards Plešanovs, which unfortunately performs too seldom but whose programmes are always stunning.

Of the more unusual combinations I should mention Altera Veritas, whose return to the stage is always eagerly awaited, and Art-i-Shock, which consists of three young women who competed against each other for the Latvian Great Music Award for best work in an ensemble in 2010: cellist Guna Šnē (née Āboliņa), percussionist Elīna Endzele and pianist Agnese Egliņa.

Art-i-Shock was the ensemble in residence at Latvian Radio 3 “Klasika” in 2017. The following year this position was filled by pianist Reinis Zariņš, who is a three-time winner of the Latvian Great Music Award, a creator of conceptual programmes and a Latvian musician of extraordinary depth. Among other pianists who have risen to the fore during this past decade are the brothers Andrejs and Georgijs Osokins as well as the young Daumants Liepiņš. Vestards Šimkus seems to have transformed from a dazzling virtuoso into a refined and improvisational interpreter of Ravel, Debussy, Scriabin and Marģers Zariņš as well as a very talented composer of film music (and recipient of the Lielais Kristaps Award for his work with Laila Pakalniņa’s film Ausma). Herta Hansena and Agnese Egliņa (to whom a special thanks goes out for her art-related conceptual programmes at Riga Art Space) are working untiringly; it would be nice to hear more from Elīna Bērtiņa.

A few more phenomena that flourished in the past decade: the rich repertoire of cellist Gunta Ābele; the exciting and varied work of the Balanas sisters, violinist Kristīne and cellist Margarita; Guntis Kuzma, who remains one of Latvia’s best clarinet players alongside Mārtiņš Circenis and Egīls Šēfers, has become a skillful conductor to be reckoned with in both the classical and non-academic music genres; rising star Anna Gāgane, also a player of the clarinet; and the emergence of violinist Georgs Sarkisjans as a soloist, chamber musician and concertmaster of the highest class (LNSO).

Time will tell how the promising young conductors Artūrs Gailis, Reinis Lapa and Jānis Stafeckis will develop.

Latvian conductor Andris Nelsons reached the global pinnacle of music – according to 2019 statistics, he was the busiest conductor in the world. Joining Nelsons up there at the top were our singers Elīna Garanča, Kristīne Opolais and Marina Rebeka, who is justifiably called one of the most full-blooded sopranos of our time. Inga Kalna successfully continued her career, which focused mainly on bel canto and Baroque music. Bass-baritone Egils Siliņš, the new director of the Latvian National Opera, remained a very sought-after performer.

Iveta Apkalna’s career developed at dizzying speed. She performed with the best orchestras, ultra-difficult new compositions were written for her, she obtained a digital organ for the “Gors” Concert Hall in Rēzekne and a pipe organ for the “Latvija” Concert Hall in Ventspils, and she also played the new digital organ of the Rīga Stradiņš University Great Hall at its inaugural concert.

Ksenija Sidorova attracted a wide audience of admirers, Baiba Skride performed in the world’s best concert halls, Vineta Sareika became first violinist of the legendary Artemis Quartet.

As of 2011, the career of Andris Poga swiftly developed beyond the borders of his native Latvia to Germany, France, Scandinavia, Russia and Asia. In the past decade, Ainārs Rubiķis was named principal conductor of the Novosibirsk Opera and Ballet as well as the Komische Oper Berlin.

The State Choir “Latvija” was regularly invited to perform with superb orchestras and conductors at some of the best concert halls in Europe and Asia.

Double bass player Gunārs Upatnieks played with the Berlin Philharmonic. Violist Santa Vižine joined the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam.

Regarding new compositions. Sinfonietta Rīga must again be lauded for its initiative in commissioning new chamber symphonies, and the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra is to be commended for its contribution to the composition of new works.

In the preceding decade, the LNSO developed a significant cycle of new symphonic and vocal symphonic music in honour of Latvia’s centenary. The orchestra also drew attention for its children’s performances (composers Rihard Zaļupe and Edgard Mākens). At the same time, 2019 was a time of restoration and the bringing to light of long-forgotten gems: Andris Poga conducted the first performance in Latvia of Tālivaldis Ķeniņš’ ingenious Symphony No. 8; Jēkabs Jančevskis restored the score of Alberts Jērums’ “Andante” symphony; for the LNSO and Poga, Vilnis Šmīdbergs dug out his almost completely forgotten Concerto-Symphony; Andris Vecumnieks led the orchestra in the first performance in Latvia of Romualds Grīnblats’ Symphony No. 6.

A significant event took place in December 2012 in Munich, when the prominent Ensemble Modern, under the direction of Péter Eötvös himself, performed works by several young eastern European composers. Three of the six finalists for this project were from Latvia: Andris Dzenītis, Jānis Petraškevičs and Kristaps Pētersons. Petraškevičs participated with his opus Darkroom, which won the Latvian Great Music Award in 2013 for best new composition. For many, this was probably just as big a surprise as Mārtiņš Viļums’ win of that same award in 2012 for Tvyjoraan.

I would also like to mention the refined mystic Krists Auznieks, the unpredictable industrialist Platons Buravickis and the constructive discoverer of beauty Kristaps Pētersons as some of the brightest revelations of the decade.

Flashbacks. Many will fondly remember the Bach Passion cycle and the Dzimuši Rīgā (Born in Riga) concert in the square in front of the Latvian National Opera in 2014, the concert in honour of the 150th anniversary of Jāzeps Vītols’ birth at the Great Hall of the University of Latvia, Sol Gabetta’s solo in the Latvian premiere of Pēteris Vasks’ Cello Concerto No. 2 “Klātbūtne” (Presence), the Merkūrijs uz Mēness (Mercury on the Moon) programme by the Orchestra “Riga”, and the meeting of the Latvian Radio Big Band with James Morrison.

It is a pleasure to see that the Grand Concert of Latvian Symphonic Music, a tradition begun in 2005, has come to be seen as a necessity, as something audiences can no longer live without.

I am happy that the tribute year of Hardijs Lediņš was a success and that the unbelievable became a reality. Namely, Platons Buravickis expertly transposed the NSRD (Workshop for the Restoration of Unfelt Feelings) sound to string orchestra, thus giving us a new version of Kuncendorfs un Osendovskis (Kuntzendorf and Osendovsky).

I am happy that Latvian National Opera baritone Armands Siliņš founded a new kind of festival. The first edition of the Sansusī alternative chamber music festival in Susēja was half-empty, but every edition since then has been full of campers and forest-lovers who contentedly consume classical, contemporary and undefined art all in the embrace of Mother Nature.

Throughout this decade, the unsurpassable chamber singer Ieva Parša brought us several new, intimate chamber productions until in 2019 she surprised and delighted us with a Rainis-and-Aspazija-like musical programme she had composed herself.

Having mentioned our two great national poets, we cannot forget to thank the Naba Music/Melo Records label for its albums Pretējības (Opposites; featuring the poetry of Aspazija), Vaidi un gaidi (Moan and Wait; the poetry of Eduards Veidenbaums) and Skalbe. Dzirnavās (Skalbe: At the Mill; Kārlis Skalbe’s well-known story). And also, of course, for everything else.

It was good to see that music increasingly went beyond its usual borders. I already mentioned the nature trails in Cēsis and Susēja, but I must also remind readers of the beautiful moments at Spilve Airfield with Sinfonietta Rīga and harpsichordist Ieva Saliete as well as the forest near Riga to which Armands Siliņš took his listeners. And more, and more.

The Skaņu Mežs festival – an event of international significance, great guests and powerful intellectual and aural intensity – was always quick to notice new venues for concerts.

Music could even be heard at the Riga Bus Terminal, where, on that cold January day in 2014 when a human chain transferred books across the river to the new National Library of Latvia, the music of Bach could be heard streaming from the second floor of the city’s main bus terminal, played by young and middle-aged musicians as well as the legendary octogenarian Jautrīte Putniņa. Those were unforgettable moments.

The work of Māris Kupčs (head of the Early Music Department at the Jāzeps Vītols Latvian Academy of Music) and the Collegium Musicum Riga baroque orchestra he conducts has been highly valued both locally and internationally. Concerts, a new festival in Bauska, opera productions, high quality, critical acclaim.

How many people have noticed that the “Ave Sol” Riga Chamber Choir under the direction of Andris Veismanis and Jurģis Cābulis has over the past five years become one of the best professional ensembles in the country?

And more. Unbelievably, the Hermanis Brauns Foundation and Inese Galante decided to part ways. As a result, in 2013 the former Summertime festival was replaced by two separate festivals: Artissimo and Summertime – Inese Galante & Friends.

And some more subjectively selected highlights. The field of music and sound art is inconceivably broad in Latvia. In an effort to narrow it down a bit, I have adhered in my further observations to the criteria of what would be fully or partly appropriate for broadcast on Latvijas Radio 3 “Klasika”.

In the field of ethnic music, the Saucējas traditional singing group has been doing amazing work. The singers study the archives and learn their repertoire directly from traditional singers, historical documents and even the natural environment. Each of their albums is not only a source of joy but also of new information. The albums they released in this particular decade focused on the rotāšana tradition of springtime singing in the Sēlija region as well as the musical heritage of the Latgale region recorded in the 1950s.

Saucējas were one of three groups from Latvia to have the great honour of performing at WOMEX, the world’s biggest annual forum for world music. Saucējas performed at the expo in 2019, following Laima Jansone and Olafs Okonovs in 2011 and Iļģi in 2015.

Tarkšķi, a group from Iecava, has made very valuable contributions to the field of popular songs from the early 20th century. Another fine group, Lāns, rose to the fore but then regrettably faded away. Laiksne continues playing and singing, which is great, but it has not released any new albums recently. Juris Kaukulis and his group Jauno Jāņu Orķestris always manage to put audiences in a good mood. Of more recent appearances on the scene, the Op. 2 album by Asnate Rancāne and Stanislav Yudin pleases with its refined elegance. Rancāne’s successful group Tautumeitas is another group we will watch with interest.

Regarding jazz, in addition to the energetic activity of Māris Briežkalns and the Rīgas Ritmi festival, one can only marvel at the high level at which the Latvian Radio Big Band has been reborn under the leadership of Kārlis Vanags. Of the more experienced jazz musicians in our country, I am delighted and intoxicated by the work of Inga Bērziņa, especially her newest album, Sievietes sapņi (Woman’s Dreams).

I don’t know why I get the impression that Deniss Pashkevich is working at some distance from the field, but each new album he releases is nevertheless full of cosmic delight.

Artis Orubs is a world-class musician. Everything he touches is transformed and shimmers with light.

Jazzatomy is a band that’s filled with vivid colour and freedom. I also look forward to watching and expect lots from the newly formed band Lupa.

Džezs dzied Aspaziju (Jazz Sings Aspazija), the wildly varied, feminine and temperamental concert programme by Beāte Zviedre and colleagues was full of excitement and revelation.

And two more explosive phenomena of recent years: Toms Rudzinskis’ debut album Abra, and Holographic Projections, which was the first and unfortunately only disc by the Toms Lipskis Quintet.

I’m going to place guitarist and composer Matīss Čudars somewhere between jazz and the non-academic genre. His sensitive and fruitfully exploring work – which ranges from the group Spāre and the Auziņš/Arutjunjans/Čudars trio to the Latvian Radio Choir, Ieva Saliete and Bach – is so diverse that it has made him increasingly difficult to define.

As I write all of this, a thought pops into my mind now and then. Namely, much of what I’ve mentioned would possibly not have taken place had the Latvian Academy of Music not in recent years established programmes in ethnomusicology (actually, ethnic music performance), jazz music and sound engineering.

A few more impressions from the non-academic genre of music. Ezeri entered the Latvian music scene with an absolutely original, accessible, fascinating, convincing yet enigmatic style. Following the group’s debut album, Ogle, its 2019 album, Sāls, definitely did not disappoint.

Spāre, for its part, immediately caught listeners’ attention with its first album but then fell behind a bit with its second album (perhaps due to the Orubs phenomenon – he played on the first album but not the second).

I very much enjoyed the contribution of Gaujarts and Mikus Frišfelds, but it looks like that’s a thing of the past.

As a wannabe Latgalian myself, I highly appreciated Ašņa dasys, the clever CD by Kapļi. And when I’m in a melancholic mood, I enjoy listening to Nielslens Lielsliens or Никто.

Unless I’ve forgotten something very fundamental, the Latvian centenary in 2018 did not contribute anything unforgettably significant to Latvian music. A case in point: the State Choir “Latvija” commissioned a song for choir from practically every living Latvian composer, which it then performed in several concerts within a single cycle. Each song was dedicated to one of the elements: fire, water, earth (the Fatherland), the sky, love. There were quite a few good compositions, and even more average compositions, but none that were really memorable, none that will remain in the repertoire. On a micro-level, then, this body of centenary choral songs shows just how much new music is being created in the world and how little of it remains in the field of usability. And that’s just the way it is.

At a time when CDs are dying but cannot manage to actually die once and for all, the national record label Skani, under the direction of clarinet player Egīls Šēfers, has stood out with its commendable initiative. Here, finally, we are dealing with a well-considered strategy for immortalising the work of Latvian composers and musicians.

The counterpart for Skani in the field of non-academic music could possibly be Mareks Ameriks’ record label Jersika Records, while Lauska tirelessly continued working in the field of folk and ethnic music.

And now it’s time to bring this survey to a close. It is difficult to imagine that a person in the classical music environment very much wishing to compose or perform could not find a way to express him- or herself. Yes, one could wish for state funding of concerts by professional ensembles, but there is none. I believe that the projects supported by the Culture Capital Foundation of Latvia quite objectively reflect the current situation in Latvian concert life.

The nominations (but not necessarily winners) of the Latvian Great Music Award, for their part, provide a fairly diverse and credible view of what’s going on the country in terms of classical music and to some extent (but still insufficiently) jazz.

Not quite so with the Annual Latvian Music Recording Industry Awards, also called Zelta Mikrofons (The Golden Microphone), which covers all possible directions of music but consistently focuses only on what musicians themselves have submitted instead of taking into consideration everything that’s out there. From the resulting five nominations in each category, one sometimes gets the feeling that the award goes not to the best recording but rather to the one involving the best-known musician. The alternative Austras Balva (Austra Award) established in 2015 seems more geared towards reaching the potentially “best” decision.

The State Culture Capital Foundation’s new programme aimed at supporting non-academic music projects is to be lauded. But it cannot escape the question of which fields of music ought to enjoy state support and which should be left to fend for themselves. This is linked with the strange habit of dividing music into castes. The goal of this article is not to analyse this phenomenon, but it should nevertheless be mentioned, because the trend in the field of professional music is to collaborate – with varying results – with representatives from non-academic fields, and this leads to lots of discussion and diverse opinions. In fact, we are approaching a point at which anyone can compose. Everybody’s already taking photographs. Many people paint. And who has not at one point or another written poetry?!

Undoubtedly, there is too little support for writing about music. The Mūzikas Saule magazine, published since 2000, concentrates on portraits of various personalities involved with music, filling the blank spots of music history, discussions and album reviews, but a lack of funding has prevented it from expanding into the digital environment with reviews of current events.

In general, classical music reviews online and in the print media deserve a separate analysis. In the past decade, Armands Znotiņš joined Inese Lūsiņa in the top ranks of music journalists. Lauma Mellēna specialises in writing about musical theatre. Dāvis Enģelis (winner of the Normunds Naumanis Award promoting young art critics) was writing successfully for a time but has been silent as of late. The most recent winner of the Normunds Naumanis Award, Lauma Malnace, is currently exploring her own style and criteria.

Speaking of the Normunds Naumanis Annual Art Criticism Award, I am reminded of a conversation that aired on Latvijas Radio 3 “Klasika” considering the possibility of allowing nominations of broadcast journalists in addition to those who write for print or online media. The contribution of Latvijas Radio 3 “Klasika” in reviewing music and related processes is professional and valuable, and I say this with conviction, because I represent this medium.

Finally, I will remind readers that the Figaro music and entertainment magazine was published from 2011 until 2016. Its mission was to promote “high-quality entertainment” and, unlike Mūzikas Saule, it was aimed at a very broad audience.

Completely personally, though. There are too many concerts and events. Too little is being written. Despite the opinion that one shouldn’t talk about music, it sometimes turns out that’s precisely what we need. In fact, sometimes this is the most interesting job of all – assessing what from this profusion of music and events will rise to the top, transcending the mass of work of its time to shine in the long term or even in eternity.

Thank you to my colleagues Gita Lancere, Ilze Medne and Dāvis Enģelis for refreshing my memory while writing this article.

 

Orests Silabriedis
www.satori.lv
Translation - Amanda Zaeska