Book, CD a tribute to exile musical trio Trīs no Pārdaugavas

One of the most serendipitous events in exile Latvian history is the coming together of the musical trio Trīs no Pārdaugavas. Initially planned as a one-off performance, the group performed together for more than twenty years, entertaining both Latvians in exile and later performing in Latvia as well. The uniquely talented members – Fēlikss Ērmanis and his resonant vocals, Vilnis Baumanis and his impeccable songwriting and arrangement abilities, and multi-instrumentalist Mārtiņš Ērmanis – came together to form a singular musical group. Not content to just sing Latvian standards, their original songs ranged from the humorous to the deeply serious, often reflecting exiled Latvian life – being Latvian in the United States. Baumanis’ thoughtful, nuanced lyrics, along with their intricate three-part harmonies (all three were talented singers) resulted in Trīs no Pārdaugavas becoming one of the most beloved exile ensembles, whose songs still are fondly remembered today.

Though it has been decades since the group last performed, and, sadly, only one member – Baumanis – is still alive, interest in their music and their accomplishment remains. Baumanis, along with distinguished Latvian author Nora Ikstena, collaborated to write down the definitive story of Trīs no Pārdaugavas. Published in 2020 by the Micrec recording company, the book, simply entitled Trīs no Pārdaugavas, provides a history of the group and their accomplishments both in the United States and in Latvia.

Always a popular draw at Latvian events, the group’s sly humor helped Latvians forget the difficulties of life in their adopted home. As part of their concerts, they often poked fun at recent events at a particular Latvian center, often including verses about events having taken place that same day.

The book is also a biography of Vilnis Baumanis. Baumanis’ life story also offers some fascinating anecdotes, including a chapter about his work at Voice of America. Baumanis worked there for many years, and one can follow along the growth, and then decline, of the radio service. The book also details his childhood years in Latvia, then memories from Displaced Persons camps in Germany and then on to exile in the United States. The book’s introduction, by Ilze Jurkāne, also provides a glimpse of the bohemian atmosphere of the Baumanis’ house in New Jersey, where multiple Latvian families lived and Latvians regularly congregated.

The group collectively decided to disband in the early 1990s, with the explanation given that, along with the restoration of Latvian independence, the group had achieved all that they had set out to do, and there was less of a need for them now that Latvia was again free. Certainly, their concert at the Mežaparks Stage, which gathered tens of thousands of listeners, was the culmination of their efforts to keep alive the Latvian spirit in their songs.

At just over one hundred pages, it is a slim book. Some readers may be left wanting more, since the group was such a vital thread in Latvian life for decades. One does wish there was more about the songs themselves – there are just a few pages detailing the inspiration for some of the songs, but not much else. The group’s albums often had notes and commentaries on the songs, which were often fascinating and entertaining, and one wishes there was more of that in the book. As the songs were written in the 1970s and 80s, some references may be lost on readers, particularly those outside the United States. If one had little knowledge of the group or of exile Latvian life in general, this book only provides a brief glimpse, and one may finish the book not fully understanding how truly essential Trīs no Pārdaugavas was to the American Latvian community.

The book comes along with a CD of the group’s original songs recorded by the group Ducele. Ducele, who call themselves a Latvian ‘ecological’ ensemble, perform the songs with aplomb, giving them a fresh sound and perspective. Humorous and lighthearted songs like ‘Monika’ and ‘Strīķēšana’ are as lively and good natured as the originals, but, perhaps surprisingly, it is the more serious songs like ‘Tauta tālumā’ and ‘Dziesma tālāk iet’ that are most effective and moving. Ducele also offer their own interpretive approaches to some of the songs, such as the slight Celtic atmosphere given to ‘Dzintarjūra’.

Music and songs were an integral part of Latvian exile life, an audible link to the Latvia many had fled after World War II. Trīs no Pārdaugavas strengthened and amplified that link, leaving a particularly impressive collection of recordings that remain beloved and relevant decades later. Though their songs spoke to an exile Latvian audience, the songs still speak to all Latvians worldwide, even today. The new recordings by Ducele also confirm Baumanis’ songwriting talents, as the songs are as fresh and topical today as they were forty or more years ago. Nora Ikstena’s and Vilnis Baumanis’ book Trīs no Pārdaugavas is a valuable, enlightening document of the role of the group in exiled Latvian life and is a reminder of not just how talented, but vital and essential the group was.

For further information visit the Micrec website as well as the Ducele Facebook page.

Trīs no Pārdaugavas

Nora Ikstena and Vilnis Baumanis

Micrec 2020

CD track listing:

  1. Monika
  2. Latvieši kopš seniem laikiem
  3. Dziesma tālāk iet
  4. Lienīte
  5. Oliņ, boliņ
  6. Tauta tālumā
  7. Simtiņš
  8. LLA
  9. Dzintarjūra
  10. Strīķēšana
  11. Kaimiņš
  12. Ratiņš

Egils Kaljo is an American-born Latvian from the New York area . 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.

Dagamba meld classical Tchaikovsky with modern musical styles

Instrumental ensemble Dagamba have made a name for themselves both in Latvia and internationally not just for their technical skill and proficiency, but also their musical arrangements, which seamlessly combine both modern and classic elements. They have combined popular music with classical music on multiple albums, including Recycled, Ludwig Van Rammstein, and Seasons (a modern interpretation of Antonio Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’). In 2019, they returned with Feat. Tchaikovsky which features arrangements of works by famous 19th century Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky that include contemporary elements.

Dagamba, featuring cellist Valters Pūce, pianist Dainis Tenis, percussionist and occasional vocalist Hamidreza Rahbaralam, bass cellist Antons Trocjuks, and drummer Artūrs Jermaks, were formed in 2011 and this is now their fifth album. The group has performed throughout Europe, including an appearance at the Glastonbury Festival in the UK.

The opening track, ‘Football’, begins with a traditional string introduction, based on Tchaikovsky’s ‘1812 Overture’, which then evolves into a thunderous, distorted take on the French anthem ‘La Marseillaise’. One assumes the title is meant to evoke the arena spectacle of a football game, with moments of quiet intensity followed by euphoric bursts of energy.

Tchaikovsky’s delicate ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy’ forms the foundation for Dagamba’s ‘Nutcracker Rock’, where the composer’s dreamy melody becomes almost sinister and grotesque. A similar effect is achieved in ‘Cosmos’, which also features a work from Tchaikovsky’s ‘The Nutcracker’ – ‘Waltz of the Flowers’. This track also begins with Dagamba’s interpretation of Richard Strauss’ famous introduction to ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’, though this does sound somewhat out of place with the music that follows.

Rahbaralam provides vocals and rap on the track ‘Proto-Slavic Rap’, which incorporates Tchaikovsky’s ‘Marche Slave’. Rahbaralam’s vocals provide an additional musical layer to this performance. With no lyrics or translation provided, the listener is left to guess what Rahbaralam is singing, but perhaps this adds to the mysterious nature of the performance.

Dagamba also develop their own original compositions, such as the somber and melancholy ‘West Goes East’, composed by Pūce, as well as the driving, fateful ‘The Five’, composed by Tenis.

Dagamba have again successfully shown that music from hundreds of years ago can still sound modern and contemporary today. Their melding of classical melodies with more recent sounds and musical styles creates for enjoyable and unique pastiches, and reaffirms Tchaikovsky as one of the greatest composers in history – the composer’s melodies and works are still powerful and moving today.

For further information, please visit the Dagamba website.

Feat. Tchaikovsky

Dagamba

2019

Track listing

  1. Football
  2. Nutcracker Rock
  3. West Goes East
  4. Cosmos
  5. Proto-Slavic Rap
  6. The Five
  7. Black Swan
  8. Little Black Swan Dance
  9. Romeo and Juliet
  10. Variation No. 6

Egils Kaljo is an American-born Latvian from the New York area . 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.

State Choir Latvija reveals richness and depth of Vasks’ sacred choir works

The choir music of Pēteris Vasks, particularly his sacred choir works, have long been an integral thread in the fabric of Latvian academic music. Not just in Latvia, but all over the world, his expressive and weighty works have been recognized and appreciated for their distinctive sound and emotional depth. At times discordant and harsh, other times gentle and hopeful, his music affects all those who hear it.

It is appropriate then, that, for the Latvian centenary in 2018, the Latvian national recording label Skani brought together the leading musicians in Latvia to record an album of Pēteris Vasks’ choir music. The State Choir Latvija, along with the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra and the Riga Professional Symphonic Band, all conducted by Māris Sirmais, released the album Lūgšana (Prayer) in 2018. The album collects four of Vasks’ vocal symphonic works, all with a spiritual nature, and, in the hands of such a talented group of performers, confirms again Vasks’ stature as a leading composer internationally.

The album includes both recently composed works, as well as earlier compositions, such as ‘Lūgšana mātei’ (Prayer for a Mother), based on a poem by Imants Ziedonis, which was composed in 1978. As it was composed during the Soviet occupation, sacred elements were forbidden in music, but Ziedonis’ text (sung by soprano Laura Teivāne), is still full of spirituality, with its repeated calls for “miers” (peace). Vasks’ earliest works are often harsh and discordant, and ‘Lūgšana mātei’ is no exception, with jarring and sudden percussion and bursts of sound and brief moments of choir singing. This is perhaps an unexpected musical approach for a prayer, but perhaps also considering that this was written during the Soviet occupation, messages of spirituality (or of discontent) had to be presented in, at best, oblique ways. From its quiet, mournful introduction, to Teivāne’s rich and resonant solo performance, this ode to mothers is memorable and moving.

A more recent work is ‘Laudate Dominum’ from 2016. The Latin text – Vasks only uses the words ‘Laudate Dominum. Alelulia.’ in the composition – provides the foundation for this powerful and expansive work. The gradually swelling orchestral introduction suddenly stops for the quiet entrance of the choir, providing a brief, almost Baroque interlude between the orchestral sections. Though filled with dramatic tension, the work closes on a hopeful, joyful note.

The centerpiece of this collection is the five moment ‘Mesa’ (or ‘Mass’) from 2005. The opening ‘Kyrie’ section is always in motion, with the choir melodies rising and falling with the text about begging for mercy from the Lord. The majestic ‘Gloria’ and the celebratory ‘Sanctus’ follow. The quieter and more tender ‘Agnus Dei’ concludes the work, and the delicate strings, along with the nuanced choir singing, completes this spiritual musical journey.

The album concludes with the brief but resplendent ‘Lūgšana Latvijai’ (Prayer for Latvia). As befitting its ceremonial nature, the brass instruments of the symphonic band Rīga give it a rich texture, and the text by poet Velta Toma, though laconic, offers an expansive prayer for Latvia and Latvians throughout the world in just a few words. It comes to a jubilant conclusion, with the choir Latvija, conducted by Sirmais, bringing the necessary gravity and vocal richness to make for a moving performance.

As with many of the Skani releases, the CD packaging includes an extensive interview with composer Vasks where he shares many details of the composition process and the history behind some of these works. The booklet text is in both English and Latvian.

As a present for Latvia on its 100th birthday, Lūgšana will have few equals. The immense compositional talent of Pēteris Vasks in the hands of exceptional musicians like the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra, the symphonic band Rīga, the State Choir Latvija, all conducted by preeminent conductor Māris Sirmais, provides for a memorable combination. The richness and depth of Vasks’ works are vividly presented in this collection of symphonic choral works.

For further information, please visit the Skani website.

Pēteris Vasks – Lūgšana

Latvian State Choir Latvija, conductor Māris Sirmais

LMIC/SKANI 070, 2018

Track listing:

  1. Lūgšana mātei
  2. Laudate Dominum

Missa

  • I. Kyrie
  • II. Gloria
  • III. Sanctus
  • IV. Benedictus
  • V. Agnus Dei
  • Lūgšana Latvijai

Egils Kaljo is an American-born Latvian from the New York area . 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.