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.

Top 10 digital essentials for travellers to Latvia

If you are heading over to Latvia this summer here are the top 10 digital essentials to consider.

  1. Get a local SIM card for your mobile telephone. You will need a local number to be able to perform some of the other items mentioned below. Prepaid SIM cards are available from Narvesen, Circle K and larger stores and start from as low as EUR 2. Latvijas Mobilais Telefons has the best mobile coverage in Latvia, but you may want to also consider Bite, Tele2 and others. If you are staying for more than a month several cost-effective plans are also available from as low as EUR 9.99 for unlimited calls, SMS and data.
  2. Get your new mobile eID. If you have a Latvian passport and are using either an iOS (iPhone) or Android smartphone register for the new eSignature mobile service. This will enable you to sign documents electronically and correspond with Latvian government agencies, banks and other businesses no matter where you are in the world effectively bypassing notaries and other intermediaries. To register you will need to visit the Business Registrar of Latvia on the 2nd Floor on 2 Pērses (near the corner of Barona & Blaumaņa Streets). Bring your passport and mobile phone – the whole registration process shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes (ring them on 67108787 to check on the waiting times).
  3. Register your own personal domain, for example, abolins.id.lv. Every Latvian citizen is entitled to a free personal domain in the id.lv space subject to availability. If you’re feeling especially patriotic then you can also register āboliņš.id.lv with the complete Latvian letters. Having your own personal domain means that you can set up an email address that won’t change every time you decide to switch your email provider. If you have been feeling uneasy about your current email service because of the way they are using your personal data then this a great alternative. Why not set up an email address for every family member, eg. janis@abolins.id.lv, maija@abolins.id.lv, peters@abolins.id.lv and so on.
  4. Download the Latvian folksongs app for iOS (iPhone) and Android smartphones. There will be lots of singing this summer so why not have a few folksongs under your belt in preparation. The Tautasdziesmas app will also work without an Internet connection and the zoom function is particularly useful for campfire and other social gatherings. You can also listen to the melodies in case you need a refresher.
  5. Share your travel photos and videos using files.fm. Upload up to 20Gb or more and you can password protect your data as well. Founded by Latvian Jānis Viklis, this free service has been going strong since 2007 and is a super-fast alternative to Dropbox.
  6. Transfer your money with TransferWise and avoid unnecessary bank and currency conversion fees. Brought to you by the same people who created Skype, this service will allow you to transfer your money in hours rather than days and save money as well. Set up within minutes and use on your iOS (iPhone) and Android device. The borderless account service is even faster.
  7. Get around Riga with public transport using Moovit or Trafi. Enter your destination and you will be guided with step by step directions on your smart device (phone or watch). The mobile friendly website 1188 also provides timetables for services outside of Riga.
  8. Get around Riga with Taxify, the Uber taxi service of the Baltics. Estonian-based Taxify now operates in over 25 countries and 40 cities worldwide. Download the app, choose a driver based on distance, prices and car model and watch the driver arrive at your pick-up destination in real time. Expect to pay no more than 10-15 EUR for a taxi from the airport to the centre of Riga.
  9. Get around Riga with car-sharing service CarGuru. Download the app and register in minutes (which includes taking a photo of your driver’s license). Select a car from a list of nearby locations – you have up to 20 mins to get to your reserved car. Unlock the car using the app, take the keys out of the glovebox and you’re ready to start driving. The price includes all costs including fuel, parking and insurance.
  10. Get around Riga with a Sixt rental bike. Choose from 28 rental stations in Riga as well as Jurmala. Download the Nextbike app and register. The first 30 minutes are free, thereafter EUR 0.99 for each additional 30 minutes or EUR 9.99 for a 24 hour rental.

Latvia enjoys one of the fastest Internet speeds in the world and Lattelecom provides a free public WiFi service. But we suggest you get off your devices and enjoy the rich cultural program on offer (including the Song Festival in early July) as part of Latvia’s centenary celebrations!