Baltimore Latvian Song Festival – a resounding success

Latvians Online asked two Latvian-American song festival attendees – one a participant, the other an active community member – to share their thoughts on the Latvian Dziesmu svētki that took place in Baltimore from 29th June to 3rd July, 2017.

Kristīna Putene: Vai Baltimoras Dziesmu Svētki izdevās? Atbildēšu ar vārdiem no dziesmas “Lec, saulīte”, kas tika iekļauta Dziesmu Svētku kopkoŗa repertuārā: “Māci man dvēs’les mieru…”

Šie vārdi labi izsaka to, ko izjutu un ieguvu nule beigušos XIV Vispārējos Latviešu Dziesmu un Deju Svētkos Baltimorā ASV. Esmu pārbraukusi ne tikai ar dvēseles mieru, bet arī ar lepnumu, pacilātību un pateicību, ka piederu latviešu tautai. Šajos Dziesmu Svētkos likās, ka bijām, vairāk kā jebkad, latvieši savos svētkos. Ne trimdas vai diasporas latvieši, ne jaunatbraucēji, ne viesi no Latvijas – bet latvieši.

Piedalījos Dziesmu Svētkos kā koriste un no tāda redzes punkta uzskatu, ka Dziesmu Svētki izdevās pirmklasīgi. Viss, kas saistīts ar gatavošanos kopkoŗa koncertam, bija apdomāts un izdomāts. Sākot ar visādā ziņā rūpīgi izmeklēto dziesmu repertuāru, kas bija gana skaists un piemērots diasporas koru spējām, līdz mēģinājumiem pašos Dziesmu Svētkos, varu teikt tikai labus vārdus par mūzikas nozares vadītājas, Krisītes Skares, darbu. Ļoti drīz pēc ziņojuma, ka Dziesmu Svētki notiks Baltimorā un, ka rīcības komiteja izveidota, svētku mājas lapā bija pieejami viesu koŗa, Sōla, audio ieraksti katrai balsij, katrai dziesmai. Tie palīdzēja visiem koristiem, it sevišķi, atsevišķi dzīvojošiem koristiem, iepazīties ar dziesmām un sagatavoties. Arī svētkiem tuvojoties, saņēmām ziņas par to, kas sagaidāms mēģinājumos, kāda būs norise koncerta dienā. Pēc svētku atklāšanas katru rītu notika koŗa mēģinājumi. Tajos valdīja minētais dvēseles miers – diriģenti skaidri zināja cik laika katram paredzēts izmēģināt “savas” dziesmas un tā mēģinājumi ritēja gludi, bez saspīlējuma un, vismaz kā koriste, jutos gatava koncertam. Arī pašā koncerta dienas ģenērālmēģinājumā, atklājās, ka lielā pieprasījuma dēļ, koristu mantām un pusdienu paēšanai paredzētās vietas visaugstākajos balkonos nolēma pārdot. Rīcības komitejai apbrīnojami veikli izdevās atrast piemērotas telpas ēkā pāri ielai no zāles. Bez satraukuma, vienkārši un skaidri, Krisīte šo maiņu paziņoja un atkal – dvēseles miers. Par koncertu pašu labāk meklēt atsauksmes no kāda klausītāja, toties Meyerhoff zāles akustika man padarīja dziedāšanu vieglāku kā parasti, jo jutos, ka visu labi dzirdu. Koncerts bija laiks, kad manī dvēseles miers mijās ar lepnumu, pacilātību un pateicību.

Bez dziedāšanas kopkorī, Dziesmu Svētkos arī izjutu prieku un laimi satikt radus un draugus, ko ALA priekšsēdis, Pēteris Blumbergs, pieminēja savā apsveikumā svētku atklāšanā. Dziesmu svētku koncerti, sarīkojumi un balles bija kā krāšņs, prātam un sirdij bagāts fons uz kuŗa pulsē visi atbraukušie cilvēki– ģimenes un vieninieki, radi un draugi – bet visi kaut kādā veidā saistīti ar Latviju un latviešiem. Svētku dienu laikā katrs satiktais cilvēks, katrs izmainītais vārds, pat saskatīšanās un sasmaidīšanās, veido milzīgu latvisko dvēseļu tīklu. Jutos, ka ar katru šo saskarsmi ar pazīstamu, mīļu cilvēku manī ieplūst jauns spēks un nostiprinās saite ar to, kas es esmu – latviete.

Anita Bataraga: 14. Vispārējie Dziesmu un Deju Svētki ASV – The 14th Latvian Song and Dance Festival in the US – four sultry July days in the Baltimore Inner Harbor area immersed in a wave of upwards of thirty two hundred Latvians from the US, Canada, Latvia, Ireland, Venezuela, France, and most likely other nations as well. These days on the eve of Latvia’s Centennial, were defined by goodwill, enthusiasm and a collective happiness that seemed to transcend borders and generations, and unified singers, dancers and spectators from all age groups and nations.

I came as a spectator, yet felt deeply vested in the players: the “Rīcības komiteja” (RK) – the Organizers – that made this show possible. The initiators and organizers were a group of Latvians from the Washington, DC area, average age in the low 30’os, who belonged to both the post-war and late 1990’s immigration periods. Many of them first came on the Latvian East Coast scene as “Īkšķīši” and campers at the Latvian camp in the Catskills, where I first knew them and saw them grow up. Most of them inexperienced in this depth of organizational work and financial risk, they bonded together under Marisa Gudrā, and gathered the foremost talents from the music, dance and culture genres to establish a rich, professional and varied program. Included in the program were all of the vital signature events of Dziesmu Svētki, but also many new and interesting nuances such as the open-mike soundstage in the central hotel featuring musical performances ranging from the folklore ensemble “Sudrabavots” to the tween rock band “Nemiers”. Also unique to this Song Festival: the gala banquet featuring a spread of Latvian cuisine including Riga sprat hors d’oeuvres and a Latvian rye bread trifle for dessert brought to us by a master chef from Riga working from the hotel kitchen.

With a well-devised communications system that included information in “Laiks” and online/social media, as well as the Festival information booth, and with volunteers that came on board beckoned by Sign-up genius, the RK worked tirelessly, presenting us with a dynamic, well-structured and – for the spectator, at least – glitchless program.

I met Marisa on the last morning, while she was attempting to put her thoughts to words to sign the Centennial guest book brought by the Culture Ministry of Latvia before they returned to Rīga. Marisa, ever-humble, asked whether I thought Dziesmu Svētki “izdevās”– whether the Song Festival was a success. It was that moment that brought a new rush of exuberance – yes! Dziesmu Svētki “izdevās”, and not only did their endeavor work, it worked on a grand scale, because the four days carried a jubilant ambience that can not be created, only felt when, magically, it is present. One can only guess at the concoction of vital ingredients needed to create that ambience, but for my part I think I recognize two or three that were present here: one is the conviction and energy exhibited by the RK, as they dared to assume an endeavor on this scale, and made their mark on the future of Latvian Song Festivals in the USA.

The other ingredients stem from where we as Latvians in the US stand socially and culturally. One social-demographic element we witnessed here has at long last become wonderfully natural: the intermingling of the two immigration waves as they cooperatively planned, worked, sang, danced and celebrated together with a unified purpose.

Culturally, the landmark role of Dziesmu Svetki in the US was reconfirmed, when dancing with 776 other folk dancers predominantly from the US, we also saw the Latvian Ambassador to the UN and spouse, as well as dance troupes from Latvia, and a group of little Latvian dancers from Ireland. The landmark role of Dziesmu Svētki was reconfirmed when the “Kopkoru” gala concert, that by the way, the non-Latvian spouse of a singer afterwards termed as “magnificent”, featured not only choirs from all of North America, but also among the singers: the premiere Latvian choir Sōla”, the Latvian Ambassador to the US, and spouse, and the Minister of Culture from Latvia.

Certainly, a nostalgia could be sensed for one missing element – the traditional “Čikāgas piecīši” concert. But what was also evident was the sheer enjoyment with which the audiences accepted the mix of today’s artists, as seen at the Chamber Music Concert, with musicians from Latvia performing with the semi-professional musicians of the diaspora; with “Iļģi” as the energizing component of two evening programs – concert and harbor cruise. Added to these were the very diverse musical offerings of “Sōla”, and the Daumants Kalniņš Quintet – also from Latvia – and we had a fresh breadth of musical genres and quality performances that we here in North America could not achieve without the heightened cultural exchange between Latvia and the diaspora.

Not to be overlooked were the Literary gathering, a fine combination of humor and appreciation for our literary figures and heritage in the diaspora, and the two theater productions, one staged by the National Theater of Latvia, the other by the San Francisco Latvian theater group.

Add to this the ironic advantage brought on by working with audiences smaller than those of the Song Festivals of thirty years ago: we have been able to move our major venues to acoustically superior settings; the gala choir concert no longer took place in a sports arena, but at the Baltimore Symphony Hall. Indeed, the assembled program and performances spanned a broad cultural spectrum that addressed the interests and resonated with the soul of every participant.

Having this all occur on the eve of Latvia’s Centennial and the 2018 Dziesmu Svētki in Latvia made this Song Festival all the more heady. Having the financial support of ALA and the Latvian government ensured a degree of stability. But having a RK that could recognize, distil, engage and assemble a program of this quality is a basic reason for why yes – these Dziesmu Svētki truly “izdevās”!

 

 

 

 

ImantaDimanta un draugi mirdz!

Burvīgs pavasara vakars 25.maijā sagaidīja apmeklētājus grupas ImantaDimanta diska atklāšanā Trīs Māsās, vecpilsētā. Jāatzīst, ka man šī vieta bija sveša (padomju laikos Mākslas darbinieku nams), bet ieejot mīlīgajās un drusku ezotēriskajās telpās, uzreiz likās, ka šī ir ļoti piemērota vieta šim pasākumam.

Grupas sastāvs liecina par latviešu tautas mīlestību pret mūziku, kā arī tās spēju apvienot latviešus no visas pasaules – Imanta Nīgale dzimusi ASV, Katrīna Dimanta un Kristaps Strods ir Latvijas bērni, Krišjānis Sils dzimis Vācijā un Ingus Purēns mūžu sācis Austrālijā. Taču visi atraduši savas vietas Rīgā, kur dzīvo un muzicē, citu nodarbību starpā.

Slavenākie pop muzikanti bieži veido diskus ar noteiktu tēmu. ImantaDimanta neatpaliek. Disks Izauga matei brīnuma meita liecina, ka grupas dalībnieki cītīgi piestrādājuši pie satura – visas dziesmas veido stāstu par meitas iziešanu tautās, izmantojot tikai tautas dziesmu tekstus. Taču izpildījums neatgādina ‘tipiskas’ tautas dziesmas, vairākām dziesmām oriģināla mūzika un tautas meldiju apdares savijās ar tekstiem, izveidojot kaut ko jaunu, aizraujošu.

Atklāšanā arī piedalījās viesmākslinieki Baiba Indrēvica ar kokli un Kaspars Indrēvics ar perkusijām. Tas, ka grupas dalībnieki ilgi piestrādājuši pie diska parādījās uzstāšanās laikā, visi bija cieši saliedēti un enerģijas pilni.

Ir skaidrs, ka grupa pati iedziļinājusies tekstos un izjutusi to dziļāko būtību, ne tikai atsevišķu dziesmu izvēlē, bet arī komponētās meldijās un apdarēs, kas vai nu liek kājām kustēties, jeb pavēl arī klausītājiem pārdomāt tekstā teikto.

Imantas un Katrīnas spēcīgās balsis labi sader un spēj pielāgoties dažādiem mūzikas žanriem – “Pavasara vakarā” mūzikālai apdarei ir ‘kantrī’ piegarša, kas noteikti varētu būt ‘hīts’ Bauskas kantrī festivālā. Rotaļīgas tautas dziesmas pāriet domīgās, un tā aizkustina, ka var pat nobirt pa asarai (“Viena saule, viena zeme”; “Vecu ļaužu valodiņ’”).

Pats disks gaumīgi izveidots un ir prieks redzēt, ka tautas dziesmu teksti atstāti tikai latviski! Neparādās neveikli tulkojumi, bet gan tikai aprakstošs teksts par dziesmas saturu un būtību, lai angļu valodas pratēji varētu saprast dziesmas jēgu. Paldies par to!

Apmeklētāji no dažādām pasaules malām bija tik daudz, ka trūka sēdvietu. Diska prezentācija saveda kopā sen neredzētus draugus un radus, kas kavējās pie alus glāzes, gaidot kārtu dabūt ImantaDimanta un draugu parakstus. Ar pacilātu garu un disku somā, devos mājās, gaišajā, pavasarīgajā vakarā.

 

Surprises Possible in Local Council Elections in Latvia

The local government election that will be held in Latvia on Saturday may lead to a few surprises, the main issue having to do with the capital city of Rīga, which has been governed or misgoverned, according to one’s views, for the past eight years by the Harmony Party in tandem with the rather clumsily named Honor to Serve Riga. Polls show that fewer than one-half of voters are prepared to vote for the tandem again, and that leads to the question whether the dozen other parties can accumulate sufficient votes to deny it the majority. Not all of them, of course, will surpass the 5% vote barrier that is needed to win any seats at all, but if the three or four parties that have a chance to do so end up winning 31 or more of the seats on the City Council, then they will have to put together a coalition. They do not see eye to eye on all matters, and there is also the possibility that Harmony/HSR will try to peel off some members to form its own majority. I personally hope that the other parties will take the majority and will be able to form a stable coalition, because Harmony in my eyes is unacceptable for its excessive and entirely incomprehensible friendship with Russia and specifically with the pocket party of the Russian tsar, United Russia. The issue of whether that will happen depends in part on the fact that right now one-quarter of voters say that they have not yet decided for whom to vote. If they break in the direction of Harmony, it will probably continue to run the city for another four years with all that that implies.

Populism has been rife in this campaign. Parties are promising free health care for seniors, free public transportation rides, free health insurance for the elderly, etc., nowhere explaining where exactly the money for such largesse would come from. There have also been entirely peculiar promises. Aknīste is a small town in southeastern Latvia, and one party there is promising that if elected, it will withdraw the Aknīste Administrative District from NATO. Needless to say, that is not a local government issue, though it would certainly be interesting to see a little island of non-NATO territory amidst a sea of alliance territory. Elsewhere a party is promising to organize free tractor driving courses for young people. I truly don’t know for how many people the ability to drive a tractor is important in this day and age.

There are also some interesting candidates in Riga. The Harmony/GKR coalition is led by the incumbent mayor, Nils Ušakovs, who has attracted much opprobrium for his habit of communicating on Internet Websites both in Latvian and in Russian. The New Conservative Party (which is no longer particularly new) is fielding two former employees of Latvia’s anti-corruption agency, Juta Strīķe and Juris Jurašs, who have long claimed, not without reason, that the Rīga City Council is a den of corruption. An alliance between the Latvian Alliance of Regions and the For Latvia’s Development party is fielding Mārtiņš Bondars, a former chief of staff to Latvia’s former president Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga. In other towns, there are council chairs who have been in office since God was a teenager. The people of Ventspils will probably reelect the venal Aivars Lembergs even though he is on trial for serious financial and other crimes. Uldis Sesks will probably win another term in Liepāja after 16 years at the helm, ditto Mayor Andris Rāviņš in Jelgava. All in all, there are 8,945 candidates from 599 different parties, alliances of parties or alliances of voters (this is permitted in local government elections, but not national ones). A bit more than 60% of them are men, and more than 70% are registered as Latvians; 3.7% are Russians, and if one wants to go afield in this regard, there is one Ossetian, one Finn and one Swede on the list somewhere.

One way or another, Latvians will be electing members of councils in 119 administrative districts and nine cities. There is one administrative district where there is only one slate of candidates, while in other places people are spoilt for choice, with ten or more slates. Latvian citizens living abroad, of course, cannot vote in the election, because for the local government vote, you must be a resident of the relevant district. In Latvia, in turn, there is also the issue of voter turnout. If the weather is nice on Saturday, that will probably depress turnout, although precincts have already been open today, Wednesday, and will be open tomorrow and Friday, as well. No excuse not to vote, in other words. It is the duty of every citizen to vote, and I will certainly go to the polls on Saturday. Though I must say that this is the first election in my whole life where I am not yet certain for whom I will vote.

Kārlis Streips was born in Chicago, studied journalism at the University of North Illinois and University of Maryland. He moved to Latvia in 1991 where he has worked as a TV and radio journalist. He also works as a translator and lecturer at the University of Latvia.