Flutist pays homage to diaspora composers

Ilona Kudiņa

An oft-overlooked aspect of Latvian classical music is that produced by composers in the diaspora. The recent major recordings of Latvian classical music cover the most well-known composers such as Pēteris Vasks and Imants Kalniņš, however, almost always the composers represented spent most of their lives in Latvia.  So it is quite a pleasant surprise to find out about flutist Ilona Kudiņa’s On the Bridge (Uz tilta), a two-compact disc collection of chamber music by diaspora Latvian composers.

Due to the upheavals of the mid 20th century, many Latvian composers found themselves outside of Latvia, and remain there to this day. Many have achieved success and have composed many great works, but are rarely included in recent Latvian classical CD releases.

All the works on On the Bridge feature the flute because this project was organized and realized by Kudiņa. Kudiņa was born in Latvia, but after completing her studies at the Berklee College of Music in 2003 remained in the Boston area, teaching and performing. Since her broad repertoire includes works by diaspora Latvian composers, she had the idea of collecting many of these works and releasing a CD.

It is fortunate someone took the initiative to compile a collection like this. Besides the fact that many of these works are rarely heard and many of these works (and composers) are rarely represented on CDs, this is an excellent collection of compositions and performances. These days, when CDs featuring Latvian composers and performers are becoming more and more plentiful, this is one collection Latvian music fans as well as classical music fans should not pass up.

The collection begins with “Rhapsody for Flute and Piano” by Jānis Mediņš, who resided in Sweden after leaving Latvia. As if to announce that this collection is work of Latvian composers, the track contains allusions to Latvian folksongs, such as “Pūt, vējiņi!” and “Skaisti dziedi lakstīgala.” Piano on this work is performed by Ventis Zilberts.

As is to be expected, Latvian composers are often influenced by their environments, and often may compose works based on decidedly un-Latvian themes and ideas . For example, Latvian-Canadian composer Tālivaldis Ķeniņš’ “Fantasy – Variations on an Eskimo Lullaby Theme,” is a work for flute and viola (performed here by Arigo Strals). Another example would be Latvian-Australian Edgars Kariks’ “Suite of Three Works for Flute,” particularly the second work, “Vocalise of the Blessed Spirit,” which was influenced by the composer’s birthplace of New Guinea.

Of course, there are works that are influenced by Latvia, as well as vocal works in Latvian. For example Latvian-American Dace Aperāns’ “Pienenei, kas uzziedējusi novembrī” (“For a Dandelion Blooming in November”), which is based on lyrics by poet Knuts Skujenieks. This work, for flute, piano (Zilberts) and voice (Antra Bigača), was written in 1968 when Skujenieks had been sentenced to a prison camp for his “anti-Soviet activity,” the dandelion being a symbol of the desire for freedom.

Other composers featured in the collection include Arnolds Šturms (United States), Albert Jērums (Great Britain), Andris Vītoliņš (Sweden, currently in Latvia), Helmer Pavasars (Great Britain), Pēteris Aldiņš (United States), Mārtiņš Aldiņš (United States) and Imants Mežaraups (United States, currently in Latvia)—giving the listener a broad panorama of diaspora Latvian composers, both past and present.

The two CD collection comes with a very informative booklet, including short biographies of all the composers represented, as well as descriptions of all the works included. Oddly, there is no biographical information of the principal artist, Kudiņa herself.

This is a vital collection of works by composers, who, though being part of the Latvian diaspora, are no less important than the composers who remained in Latvia. Admirable in her goals, compelling in her performances, as well as establishing herself as one of the premiere Latvian flautists, Kudiņa has put together a collection that will resonate with not just Latvian classical music fans, but all fans of the chamber music genre. From Australia to Europe to North America, Latvian composers have been making their mark in the world of classical music, combining local and Latvian influences to weave a tapestry of color and sound, and this collection is proof positive of the success of their endeavors and should not be missed.


On the Bridge (Uz tilta)

Ilona Kudiņa

Ilona Kudiņa,  2006

On the Web

Ilona Kudiņa

The artist’s Web site provides her biography and examples of her performances. EN

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.

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