Art-i-Shock trio debut with collection of contemporary chamber music

The Latvian chamber music trio Art-i-Shock has now been performing for seven years, and with their somewhat uncommon lineup (piano, cello, and percussion), not to mention eagerness to perform new and experimental works, have inspired many Latvian composers to compose especially for them. The trio gathered together and recorded some of their favorite compositions and, in 2017, released their debut album, simply entitled Contemporary Chamber Music from Latvia, which was released by the Latvian national record label Skani.

Art-i-Shock, made up of cellist Guna Šnē, Elīna Endzele on percussion and pianist Agnese Egliņa, formed in 2011, and have since become one of the premiere performers and interpreters of not just modern music, but they also arrange music from throughout history.

The album, a collection of seven chamber music works of a wide variety and styles, reveals the many facets and diversity of modern Latvian academic music, from melodic works to radical experimentations. The composers represented are of varied generations and in varied styles, and all the works are adeptly and expertly performed by the trio.

It is immediately clear from the first few seconds of the album that this will not be an ordinary album of music. Endzele’s drums introduce the first composition, ‘Voltāža’ (Voltage) by Platons Buravickis, which are then joined by harsh cello sounds and bursts of piano. As per the composer the work is ‘a message about the pressure that acts upon a person’. Indeed, the work is full of tension, and the ensemble maintains this energy throughout the work, particularly in Egliņa’s tumbling piano phrases.

After that anxious beginning, there is a small respite in composer Georgs Pelēcis’ ‘Pieneņu lauks’ (Field of Dandelions), a more melodic work where Šnē’s cello and Endzele’s vibraphone, and, later in the work, Egliņa’s piano, take turns in the forefront to provide a musical flowery landscape.

Crashes and sudden bursts of sound are an integral part of composer Linda Leimane’s ‘Silhouettes. Behaviors’, a particularly challenging work for both the performers and listeners. As per the composer, the goal was to create ‘something alive, organic and plastic’, and with these various sounds the Trio creates an engrossing sonic journey.

Perhaps the most ambitious work on the record is composer Kristaps Pētersons’ ‘Z.I.E.M.A.’ (or – Zigzagging Images and the Elements of the Melancholic Actuality), where the trio are joined by DJ Monsta on scratch and the composer himself on double bass. This is a particularly dense and complex work, with many sound effects and musical themes, and it is most helpful that the CD booklet includes a minute by minute breakdown of the compositions, with sections like ‘Leaving Gas Station Scene. Night’ and ‘Killing Scene. Late Morning’. As this is more of a theatrical work, Art-i-Shock set the stage with their evocative performances, while ghostly voices quote Emily Brontë, Shakespeare, and Wilhelm Müller.

The CD also contains performances of compositions by Andris Vecumnieks, Rihards Dubra, and Zigmārs Liepiņš.

Their work has not gone unnoticed; it is not particularly surprising that this CD was awarded the Zelta mikrofons award for best classical music album in 2017. The trio continues to work with many Latvian composers and premiere new works.

The CD booklet is full of extensive notes on the group and the compositions in both Latvian and English. These notes are particularly helpful with understanding the compositions and their meanings, and one gets a sense that the composers find it both an honor and a challenge to compose for Art-i-Shock.

Contemporary Chamber Music from Latvia provides for conclusive documentation of the talents and abilities of the trio Art-i-Shock. Certainly, many of the works on the record are very modern and make for challenging listening, as they are often discordant and non-melodic, but still serve to create intricate musical paintings. The releases by the Skani label continues to reveal the many varied aspects of modern Latvian academic music, and Art-i-Shock are one of the most exemplary and innovative Latvian chamber music ensembles.

For further information, please visit the Art-i-Shock website and the Skani music label website.

 

Contemporary Chamber Music from Latvia

Art-i-Shock

Skani, SKANI057, 2017

Track listing:

    1. Platons Buravickis • Voltāža
    2. Georgs Pelēcis • Pieneņu lauks
    3. Andris Vecumnieks • Valse Art-i-Shock
    4. Linda Leimane • Silhouettes. Behaviours
    5. Rihards Dubra • Rudens kaislības
    6. Kristaps Pētersons • Z.I.E.M.A. – Zigzagging Images and the Elements of the Melancholic Actuality
    7. Zigmars Liepiņš • Ķiršu lietus

Egils Kaljo is an American-born Latvian from the New York area who lives in Rīga, Latvia. When not working in the information technology field, he sings in the Latvian Academy of Culture mixed choir Sõla, does occasional translation work, and has been known to sing and play guitar at the Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs in Old Rīga. Kaljo began listening to Latvian music as soon as he was able to put a record on a record player, and still has old Bellacord 78 rpm records lying around somewhere.

Australian-Latvian creates and performs Latvian folk song arrangements

Guitarist, singer, songwriter and arranger Ivars Štubis is an Australian Latvian who performs a blend of folk and rock music, and often includes Latvian elements in his music and creates arrangements of Latvian folk songs to add to his repertoire.

Štubis has released two recordings, the first was 2016’s Young Blood, and the second was a mini-album of Latvian folk song arrangements entitled Tek saulīte in 2017. Almost all of the songs are just guitar and vocals, with some occasional percussion.

Young Blood is mainly songs in English, but has three Latvian folk song arrangements. Many of his songs have themes of relationships and making one’s way in the world. The combination of Štubis’ vocals and guitars are the ideal presentation form for these personal and introspective kinds of songs, such as the hopeful ‘Long Road’, where the singer stays positive in the face of life’s adversities, or the philosophical ‘Love for War’ (a duet of Štubis and singer Ella Mačēns).

Štubis is not just influenced by Latvian folk songs, but folk songs from other cultures, and this is displayed on the rousing performance of the traditional American song “Gracie” (also known as “I Wish I was a Mole in the Ground”).

Tek saulīte has five Latvian folk song arrangements, three of which are with vocals, while two are instrumentals. The mystical “Lēni, lēni Dieviņš brauca” is enhanced with Štubis’ guitar work, giving the song a mysterious, perhaps even ominous, feel. A similar result is achieved on his version of one of the most beloved of Latvian folk songs – “Tumša nakte, zaļa zāle”, a song that is at once sad and hopeful, and Štubis’ guitar work and vocals give this song the necessary tenderness and solemnity.

Some may find it disconcerting to have rock songs in English side by side with Latvian folk songs (particularly those that might not speak Latvian). However, as all the songs have the common thread of Štubis’ guitar and vocals, the transitions between the two types of songs are not as abrupt as one might think – there is a musical and melodic flow in these recordings. Some might even see how the one type of music influences the other – the melancholy of the Latvian folk songs flowing into his own songs (traces of the mood of “Tumša nakte” in the wistful “If You Find Her”), while his exuberant and vibrant guitar playing perhaps transfers into his folk song performances (the lively guitar of “A Former Life” then inspiring the rousing arrangement of “Āvu, āvu, baltas kājas”)

Štubis is performing throughout Latvia in July 2018, including stops in Liepāja, Rīga, as well as the festivals Muzykys Skrytuļs in Līksna and Vārti in Pope. Štubis has also expanded his musical horizons by working with Latvian choirs in Australia, including the Melbourne Latvian Men’s Choir “Veseris”, with whom he will be performing on July 3 at the Latvian Central Library on Brīvības iela.

Ivars Štubis guitar and songwriting/arrangement talents are quite evident throughout both Young Blood and Tek saulīte, blending Latvian influences with folk influences, as well as deft, intricate guitar arrangements, and these all make for an enjoyable and engaging listen. Being just guitars and vocals, the songs are at once intimate and personal, revealing the many facets of Štubis’ songwriting and arranging talents. His folk song arrangements display an accomplished ability to bring out new aspects of these centuries’ old songs, while still maintaining the essence of these traditional and beloved melodies. Štubis is a rare talent, and these two records are vivid confirmation of his versatility and abilities as a singer, guitarist, songwriter and arranger.

For further information, please visit Ivars Štubis’ Facebook page.

 

Young Blood

Ivars Štubis

2017

Track listing:

  1. Young Blood
  2. Long Road
  3. The Sea is Asking
  4. Seši jauni bandenieki
  5. Gracie
  6. Eastern Love
  7. A Former Life
  8. Kas spīdēja kas vizēja
  9. If You Find Her
  10. Out of Line
  11. Love for War

Tek saulīte

Ivars Štubis

2018

Track listing:

  1. Lēni, lēni Dieviņš brauca
  2. Tumša nakte, zaļa zāle
  3. Āvu, āvu baltas kājas
  4. Tek saulīte
  5. Jūriņ prasa

 

Egils Kaljo is an American-born Latvian from the New York area who lives in Rīga, Latvia. When not working in the information technology field, he sings in the Latvian Academy of Culture mixed choir Sõla, does occasional translation work, and has been known to sing and play guitar at the Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs in Old Rīga. Kaljo began listening to Latvian music as soon as he was able to put a record on a record player, and still has old Bellacord 78 rpm records lying around somewhere.

Organ features in album of Latvian chamber music compositions

The Riga Cathedral, and particularly the grand organ within, have long been an inspiration for musicians in Latvia and internationally. When the organ was completed in 1884, even famed Hungarian composer Franz Liszt composed the work ‘Nun danket alle Gott’ to mark the occasion. Even now, almost 250 years later, the large, stately organ continues to inspire composers.

Recognizing the inspiration that many have drawn from the organ, the Latvian national record label Skani, as part of their recording series ‘Latvian Composers’, released Cantus Annae in 2017. This recording was initiated by organist Aigars Reinis (who performs the organ in all the works) and soprano Ieva Ezeriete, who sings in two of the compositions. The album collects six chamber music compositions by five contemporary composers where the organ is the central instrument in the work. Though some may consider the organ an ‘old fashioned’ instrument, this collection of works shows how the organ remains highly relevant in music, and how, in varied and unusual combinations, the organ can be an essential aspect of modern music.

The collection opens with the Toccata for organ by Rihards Dubra (one of two works by the composer on the album). This grandiose work, beautifully expressing the majesty of the Riga Cathedral organ, combines elements of both modern and classical organ music. Deftly moving between quieter and more introspective moments and the louder, more monumental passages, Reinis proves again to be one of Latvia’s most talented and adept organists.

Reinis is then joined by violinist Gidons Grīnbergs on Vilnis Šmīdbergs’ ‘Litany – Festivum purgativum’, and, as the title would indicate, this is a more somber and spiritual work. The sound of Grīnbergs’ violin can be interpreted as a prayer, soaring ever higher and higher. After a slightly tenser middle section, where the staccato organ sounds almost like a pulse or a heartbeat, peace returns at the end, first with a chorale-like section, and then as both instruments slowly fade as the prayer concludes.

Percussionist Elīna Endzele adds to the mix on Ilona Breģe’s ‘Bell Music’ with her sonorous and resounding performance of not just bells, but a number of metal percussive instruments. Inspired by the sound of bells at Orthodox churches, Breģe’s composition is meant to evoke the sound of passing by churches with their bells tolling. As the work builds to a crescendo, all the varied, simultaneous bells (as well as the undulating organ) gives the work a dreamy feel, as if listening to the bells ringing simultaneously at multiple churches. The work ends on a somber note, with a single tolling bell.

Ieva Ezeriete lends vocals to Santa Ratniece’s ‘El mirollo de l’arbore’ for soprano and organ, a work inspired by writings of the 14th century mystic St. Catherine of Siena. The flowing, meditative work is given the right amount of spiritual depth and emotional clarity via Ezeriete’s singing. And, as Ratniece explains, the composition has elements of love, humility and caution, and the composer weaves together both modern and ancient elements to create an absorbing and compelling composition.

Rihards Zaļupe, composer and inimitable percussionist, provides the work ‘Foxfire Under Bare Enoki Tree’ for violin, percussion and organ. The energetic work, with each instrument providing bursts of music and sound, is inspired by Japanese folklore, particularly a legend of flaming clothes worn by foxes that gather on New Year’s Eve. After an almost hyperactive beginning, the work then calms, with soft sounds from the high registers of all the instruments. Combining mystical and spiritual elements, this evocative, dynamic work is brought to vivid life by Reinis, Endzele, and Grīnbergs.

The collection concludes as it began, with a composition by Rihards Dubra – the expansive ‘Cantus Annae’, for soprano, percussion, organ and positive organ (a smaller, more mobile type of organ). Inspired by the Song of Hannah from the Old Testament, the composition depicts the story of Hannah, an infertile woman, and her conversation with God, begging for a child. Ezeriete’s soaring soprano, combined with the rhythmic and melodic performance of Endzele’s marimba, along with Reinis’ resplendent organ work, creates an exceptional interpretation of this Bible story.

The CD booklet includes information about the composers, compositions and performers in both Latvian and English. However, one does wish that they had included the vocal texts in the booklet as well, as this would aid the appreciation of the works with vocals.

The timeless Riga Cathedral organ, a cornerstone of Latvian music and composition for more than two centuries, has inspired and continues to inspire many generations of composers. As proven by the collection of compositions on Cantus Annae, this centuries old instrument has as much of a place in modern music as it did when it was built. This collection of chamber music, with its variety and broad spectrum of styles and sounds, is not just a testament to the creative strength of Latvian composers, but also the incomparable organ of the Riga Cathedral.

For further information, please visit the Skani website.

Cantus Annae

Skani

SKANI055, 2017

Track listing:

1. Rihards Dubra – Toccata for organ
2. Vilnis Šmīdbergs – Litany – Festivum purgativum for violin and organ
3. Ilona Breģe – Bell Music for percussion and organ
4. Santa Ratniece – El mirollo de l’arbore for soprano and organ
5. Rihards Zaļupe – Foxfire Under Bare Enoki Tree for violin, percussion and organ
6. Rihards Dubra – Cantus Annae for soprano, percussion, organ and positive organ

Egils Kaljo is an American-born Latvian from the New York area who lives in Rīga, Latvia. When not working in the information technology field, he sings in the Latvian Academy of Culture mixed choir Sõla, does occasional translation work, and has been known to sing and play guitar at the Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs in Old Rīga. Kaljo began listening to Latvian music as soon as he was able to put a record on a record player, and still has old Bellacord 78 rpm records lying around somewhere.