Mixed choir Juventus celebrates centenary with works by Latvian composers

Mixed choir Juventus, of the University of Latvia, has had a long and storied history. Founded in 1920, the choir has been active for more than a century and has been led by many distinguished Latvian conductors, such as Haralds Mednis, Daumants Gailis, and Juris Kļaviņš. Throughout its history, the choir has been recognized as one of the premiere amateur choirs in Latvia.

The choir, which celebrated its centenary in 2020, is now conducted by Valdis Tomsons. To celebrate their 100th anniversary, the choir recorded an album of new works – twelve works by twelve distinguished Latvian composers. No small feat, considering that much of the work was done during a global pandemic, when choir rehearsals and performances almost came to a complete halt worldwide.

The resulting album – entitled Jauns sākums (or New Beginning), was released in 2022, and is a digital-only release that can be found on multiple streaming services. The album serves as a bridge between the choir’s two centuries of activity.

The celebratory ‘Rasa’, with music and words by composer Laura Jēkabsone, along with elements from Latvian folksongs, opens the collection. The choir delivers a clearly articulated and crisp performance, as Jēkabsone’s composition moves from an energetic beginning to a more melodic mid-section.

Guitarist Kaspars Zemītis provides the peaceful, jazzy ‘Dialogs’, which begins and ends with the choir simulating the sound of rain, and then, accompanied by the composer himself on guitar, the choir forms a kind of dialog between the male and female voices, resulting in a gently flowing performance.

Composer Jēkabs Jančevskis contributes the somber and haunting ‘Klāt pie sevis’. Similarly, Irīna Mihailovska’s composition ‘Semikols’ (Semicolon), for which Mihailovska also wrote the words, also has tragic undertones – the semicolon here is a symbol of those who have had suicidal thoughts, and the choir provides an achingly beautiful interpretation of this emotional work.

Ārījs Šķepasts has often had world music elements in his choir music, particularly Eastern motifs. ‘Tu tuvināji mani mūžībai’ is inspired by Indian raga music, infused with elements from Latvian popular music (particularly the work of Imants Kalniņš) and the resulting work is atmospheric and immersive, enhanced by the soaring voices of the choir.

The choir presents works of many styles on this collection, and does not shy away from more challenging and difficult works. Composer Andris Dzenītis is known for his complex and intricate choir compositions, and ‘The Morning of the World’ (words by Pablo Picasso) is no exception. At times discordant and harsh, but also harmonious and calm, the work displays the versatility of the choir when singing this multi-faceted and multi-layered composition.

The album also contains works by Valts Pūce, Arturs Maskats, Jēkabs Nīmanis, Andris Sējāns, the group “Sigma”, and Jānis Ķirsis.

In 2023, in addition to preparing for the Latvian Song and Dance Festival in July, the choir will also be traveling to Maribor in Slovenia for the Gallus – Maribor International Choral Competition.

Though the choir is now in its second century of activity, it remains true to its name (‘Juventus’ meaning ‘Youth’), and the dozen performances on Jauns sākums confirm Juventus’ status as one of the best amateur mixed choirs in Latvia. In addition to displaying the skills of the choir and conductor Valdis Tomsons, it also reveals the wide variety and styles of Latvian composers – at times melodic, at times challenging, other times melancholy, even tragic. Juventus and Valdis Tomsons have set a new course – a new beginning – with these twelve memorable performances.

For further information, please visit the Juventus website and the choir Juventus Facebook page.

Jauns sākums

Mixed Choir Juventus


Track listing:

  1. Rasa – Laura Jēkabsone
  2. Dialogs – Kaspars Zemītis
  3. The Morning of the World – Andris Dzenītis
  4. Mēs iedegamies cits no cita – Valts Pūce
  5. Vējasuns – Arturs Maskats
  6. Tu tuvināji mani mūžībai – Ārijs Šķepasts
  7. Tulkojums – Jēkabs Nīmanis
  8. Un tad vienā jaukā dienā – Andris Sējāns
  9. Klāt pie sevis – Jēkabs Jančevskis
  10. Semikols – Irīna Mihailovska
  11. Kalnā – music by the group “Sigma”, arranged by Platons Buravickis
  12. Gaisma – Jānis Ķirsis

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.

New CD features vivid orchestral pieces composed by Kārlis Lācis

Latvian composer Kārlis Lācis has become known for his skills in many musical genres – choral music, children’s music, theater and film music, and for his songwriting, which combines elements of popular music and jazz music. He has worked with such well known Latvian singers as Intars Busulis and Aija Andrejeva, and has won many awards for his work. He is also well known for his songs with words by Latvian poet Imants Ziedonis – such as the collections Ziedonis. Lācis. Sievietes. and the corresponding Ziedonis. Lācis. Vīrieši.

Lācis has also composed in the sphere of symphonic music. Recognizing his contributions to the field of Latvian symphonic music, the Latvian national record label Skani released an album of two of Lācis’ major symphonic works – his Piano Concerto and also his Latvian Symphony. The works were recorded by the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra and conductor Atvars Lakstīgala, and the album was released in 2022.

Featuring pianist Agnese Egliņa, the Piano Concerto is a work in four movements. The first movement begins in dramatic fashion, with loud, crashing flourishes in the orchestra, which then alternate with an energetic, quietly manic piano melody from Egliņa. This almost nervous energy is sustained, and even builds, all the way through to the end of the first movement. After that heart-pounding movement, there is an almost jarring change to the slower, more lyrical second movement – subtitled ‘Krustceles’ (or ‘Crossroad’), and perhaps that title helps explain the contemplative nature of the movement – which path now to follow? Egliņa’s tender performance enhances this movement’s dreamy quality.

Another major tonal change comes in the third movement, subtitled ‘Izmisums’ (or ‘Despair’), and the subtitle provides an indication of the dark atmosphere to come. Lācis has the orchestra begin the movement with rhythmic clapping which then leads to ominous music in the brass section. The orchestra also provides vocal effects throughout, and there is a crescendo to near shouting near the end. The movement hurtles along, perhaps to reflect a soul reaching a breaking point. After the tumult, the fourth and final movement, subtitled ‘Šūpļa dziesma’ (or ‘Lullaby’) provides a soothing antidote to the torment of the previous movement. It is not a traditional lullaby, as there are still moments of energy and soaring orchestral grandeur, as well as some jazz-like elements that Lācis is known for. The work only becomes a true lullaby at the very end, where Lācis quotes the Latvian folk song / lullaby ‘Velc, pelīte, saldu miegu’, which brings the Concerto to a calming, reflective conclusion.

Lācis’ ‘Latvju simfonija’ (Latvian Symphony) also finds inspiration in Latvian folk songs and folk dances, and features accordionist Artūrs Noviks. The first movement (subtitled ‘Tumša nakte’ or ‘Dark Night’) is periodically stormy, periodically calm, and full of dramatism (Lācis mentions his fondness for Tchaikovsky in an interview contained in the CD booklet, and one can hear elements of the 19th century Russian composer throughout). The first movement concludes with Noviks’ accordion, playing a rising melody which then seems to dissipate into the ether.

The second movement is dreamy, almost mystical, and is subtitled ‘Ezers’ (or ‘Lake’), perhaps meant to represent some enchanted Latvian lake. The playful third movement – ‘Latvian scherzo’ – has a plethora of folk song quotes and allusions and is a kind of celebration of Latvian culture. The final movement – ‘Tec, saulīte, tecēdama’ (Hurry, Dear Sun) provides for a majestic conclusion. Finding inspiration in a mournful orphan’s song, this movement shifts between quiet, melancholic melodies and bursts of discordant sounds, and concludes with the orchestra quietly humming the folk song.

The CD booklet contains an interview with the composer, where Lācis discusses his many influences, how the time he spent in Thailand influenced his music and includes some humorous details about how Lācis was inspired to compose the Piano Concerto after an unsuccessful performance in the Eurovision song contest.

Full of dramatic moments, soaring melodies, and combinations of styles and sounds – from Latvian folk songs to Romantic era music to modern jazz – the orchestral works of Kārlis Lācis are vivid and lustrous. In the hands of skilled performers like the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra and conductor Atvars Lakstīgala, as well as pianist Agnese Egliņa and accordionist Artūrs Noviks, Lācis’ compositions are given an additional richness and breadth. Both works are deeply personal, and, with their multiple references to Latvian folk songs, also reveal the influence of Latvian culture in his music. Lācis’ Piano Concerto and Latvian Symphony are singular achievements and are two worthy additions to the catalog of Latvian symphonic music.

For further information, please visit Kārlis Lācis’ website.

Kārlis Lācis – Klavierkoncerts, Latviju simfonija

Liepāja Symphony Orchestra, conductor Atvars Lakstīgala

LMIC/SKANI 133, 2022

Track listing:

Concerto No. 1 for Piano and Orchestra

1. I. Allegro

2. II. Krustceles (Crossroad)

3. III. Izmisums (Despair)

4. IV. Šūpļa dziesma (Lullaby)

Latvju simfonija (Latvian Symphony)

5. I. Tumša nakte (The Night Is Dark)

6. II. Ezers (The Lake)

7. III. Latvju skerco (Latvian Scherzo)

8. IV. Tec, saulīte, tecēdama (Hurry, Dear Sun)

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.

Sinfonietta Rīga perform contemporary Latvian composers’ works on recent CD

The Sinfonietta Rīga chamber orchestra has been led by conductor and artistic director Normunds Šnē since the ensemble was founded in 2006. One of the goals of the ensemble is to promote new orchestral compositions by Latvian composers, and they have worked with dozens of Latvian composers throughout their decade and a half of performance.

A recent example is a collection of works by composers Andris Dzenītis, Platons Buravickis, Linda Leimane, and Ruta Paidere, released at the end of 2021. The disparate and eclectic compositions reveal the depth and variety of modern Latvian academic music.

Andris Dzenītis, a composer in his mid 40s, has, in his many decades of composition, already created a large and diverse body of work. His contribution to this collection is the comparatively brief (six minute) Euphoria, an overture for chamber orchestra. Though a shorter work, it presents a concentrated and distilled example of Dzenītis’ musical vision. The work is meant as a tribute to the late composer Pēteris Plakidis, whose orchestral works also had expansive, dramatic elements. Euphoria begins in a celebratory mood, but then quickly dissolves into an uncertain, tense atmosphere – perhaps this is meant as Dzenītis presenting both the actual euphoria, as well as the many after-effects of euphoric feelings.

Platons Buravickis, still in his early thirties, has already established himself with his compositions, at times experimental, at times romantic, his works encompass a broad range – from intimate chamber music pieces to large scale orchestral works. This collection presents his Concerto for Saxophone Plastmases temperatūra (Temperature of Plastics) featuring saxophonist Aigars Raumanis. The work has an environmental theme – it could be interpreted as a warning to humanity about pollution. Accordingly, the work has an ominous, foreboding tone – punctuated by Raumanis’ saxophone performance.  Raumanis has both flighty, delicate solo phrases (perhaps representing birds?) which alternate with interactions with the harsh, crashing percussion of the orchestra. There is barely any respite from the harshness throughout the work, even to the very end, when the work crescendos into what sounds like an alarm, then ends suddenly.

Composer Linda Leimane’s works are full of emotion and drama, such as Ray-Bows, included on this collection. Neither the CD booklet nor the composer’s website offers much in the way of programmatic notes (save for the score, which says ‘Brutally, hearts of iron’) so it is entirely up to the listener to interpret the work for themselves. The work is filled with dramatic tension, and is in a near constant state of motion, with frequent rising arpeggios, perhaps suggesting flight.

Hamburg-based Latvian composer Ruta Paidere’s work Tempera is a contrast to the other works on this collection – Paidere’s composition is calmer, quieter, with a kind of meandering quality. Paidere builds textures using the sounds of the orchestra, layering one on top of another, occasionally harmonious, but occasionally discordant. There is a sense of unease throughout the work, as small changes in tone have an unsettling effect, a sense of unsteadiness. The work has a long, gradual crescendo before quietly dissipating at the conclusion.

Sinfonietta Rīga and conductor Normunds Šnē reveal the many layers and textures of these four works. Technically difficult (requiring a skillful orchestra, such as Sinfonietta Rīga), deep, dramatic – these compositions by Andris Dzenītis, Platons Buravickis, Linda Leimane, and Ruta Paidere display both a broad spectrum of sounds and emotions, as well as compositional skill and creativity.

For further information, please visit the Skani website and the Sinfonietta Rīga website.

Dzenītis, Buravickis, Leimane, Paidere

Sinfonietta Rīga, conductor Normunds Šnē

LMIC/SKANi 130, 2021

Track listing:

  1. Euphoria – Andris Dzenītis
  2. Concerto for Saxophone Plastmases temperatūra (Temperature of Plastics) – Platons Buravickis
  3. Ray-Bows – Linda Leimane
  4. Tempera – Ruta Paidere

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.