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.

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