Two symphonies by Ivanovs, Karlsons, titled “1945” released on one album

1945 was one of the most traumatic years in world history, particularly in Latvia. The Soviet occupation, which had already begun in 1944, added to the misery of many years of war which left Latvia and many other nations devastated. Much of Latvia, Rīga in particular, was in ruins, with rubble remaining where many buildings once stood.

Many composers have found inspiration for their composition from the years of war, and two Latvian composers have created works influenced specifically by the year 1945. The first was the renowned 20th century symphonist Jānis Ivanovs, who entitled his 5th symphony ‘1945’. Also, composer Juris Karlsons gave his music for symphony orchestra the title ‘1945’ (the work itself was composed in 1985). Recognizing the significance of these two compositions in the canon of Latvian symphonic music, as well as the musical and historical links between the works and the composers themselves, the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Andris Poga, recorded these two works, which were then released by the Latvian state record label Skani on the album Ivanovs. Karlsons. 1945 in 2018.

Nearly forty-five minutes in length, Ivanovs’ 5th symphony is a monumental work, weaving together weighty themes of war and destruction, of terror and hopelessness. Ivanovs himself said little about the work, save for the laconic comment “This contains everything that had accumulated over those years.”

The first movement has frequent bursts of sounds, similar to alarms, and the brass instruments provide a dark, pulsating sound to contrast with the shrill strings, while the slow and somber 2nd movement begins as a kind of funeral music, with the flutes and clarinets playing what sounds like a melody of confusion, of something difficult to understand. There is a rise in tension over the course of the movement, and a general ominous sense of unease.  

The 3rd movement features a section with a solo trumpet, which then leads into an almost sentimental melody, which briefly becomes a waltz, perhaps recalling a time before the war began. The 4th movement then brings the work to a thunderous close with a kind of emotional upheaval that bursts forth, a cataclysmic finale to this emotionally strained opus.

According to the extensive and fascinating historical notes by musicologist Orests Silabriedis in the CD booklet, the work initially enjoyed praise and recognition from the Soviet authorities. However, beginning in 1948, there was an extensive reevaluation of music in the Soviet Union and the work was now condemned, and Ivanovs was even forced to repent publically for composing the work, and then, to ‘rehabilitate’ himself, had to compose a more ‘appropriate’ work – his 6th symphony, which was considered as something that could be ‘understood by all’. It was only much later when Ivanovs’ 5th symphony was spoken of positively again. There are many historical details and anecdotes in the booklet, and the text is in both Latvian and English.

Juris Karlsons, born in 1948, was a student of Ivanovs, and even completed Ivanovs’ final symphony. In 1985, to honor the 40th anniversary of the end of the war, Karlsons was asked to compose a work to mark the occasion, and he provided the symphonic work 1945. Further strengthening the link between these two works, the premiere of Karlsons’ work also included a performance of Ivanovs’ 5th symphony.  Drawing inspiration from meeting actual survivors of the siege of Leningrad, Karlsons’ 1945 is a similarly fateful and dramatic work. It even begins with the representation of the year in musical form (1st – C, 9th – D flat, 4th – F, and 5th G flat). There are brief moments of lightness and even tenderness in the work, and an accordion makes an appearance in the middle of the work, perhaps to indicate a farewell event for soldiers leaving for war (and perhaps even homage to the similar waltz section of Ivanovs’ work). The work comes to an expansively dramatic conclusion, perhaps to signify the victory of the Soviet forces.

The Latvian National Symphony Orchestra, conducted  by Andris Poga, has created memorable and evocative performances of these two major works. The deft and precise performance of the orchestra brings out the artistry in both of the symphony works, creating detailed musical imagery that reveals the many sonic facets in these works, from terror and fear to a fragile sense of peace, and even triumph.  Ivanovs. Karlsons. 1945 is an affecting and moving document of these works inspired by the tragic events of 1945.

Ivanovs. Karlsons. 1945

Latvian National Symphony Orchestra

Skani, SKANI062, 2018

Track listing:

  • 1. Jānis Ivanovs • Symphony No. 5: I Moderato. Maestoso – Allegro
  • 2. Jānis Ivanovs • Symphony No. 5: II Andante
  • 3. Jānis Ivanovs • Symphony No. 5: III Allegro
  • 4. Jānis Ivanovs • Symphony No. 5: IV Moderato
  • 5. Juris Karlsons • Music for Symphony Orchestra 1945

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.

Singer-songwriter Ivars Štubis’ new album features nature sounds from Latvia

3rd generation Australian-Latvian singer-songwriter Ivars Štubis has just released a new album with nature sounds from Latvia, blended with his own compositions for various instruments. 

Your latest album titled Dabas Miers (Nature’s Peace) was just launched at the Melbourne Latvian Aged Care Facility in Australia. How did you come to choose this venue for the launch?

I work part time as the Lifestyle Coordinator at the Melbourne Latvian Aged Care Facility, the only Latvian-specific aged care facility in Australia. I like to include lots of music in the program including singing, meditation, music listening and more. The facility is also a cultural hub for many community events in the Melbourne Latvian community. For me, this was the natural place for Dabas Miers to start its journey.

Where did you draw inspiration for the concept of your new album?

The inspiration for this album also came about through my work at the Melbourne Aged Care Facility. One day I was talking about music with my colleague Ingrīda. We were speaking about meditation and relaxation music and she mentioned the lack of such music that is specifically “Latvian”. I completely agreed. There is plenty of Latvian folk music which includes nature sounds but there isn’t much in the way of instrumental music with influences from Ambient, New Age and Post-Rock genres, as well as folk. I also wanted to create something programmatic, that is, something that invites active listening and takes you on a journey through various elements of nature, music and emotion. That’s how the idea for this album was born!

What was the process involved in composing the music?

This project was the longest and most time consuming I have ever been involved in. There were many steps involved in the process – from recording, to mixing, to mastering and post-production.

First of all came recording of all the nature sounds. Much of this task was completed by Andrejs Jaudzems in the summer of 2017 when he travelled to Latvia with our Zoom H6 Microphone. Andrejs travelled to various locations in Latvia including Līvāni, Zvārtes Iezis, Buļļi and Mežaparks, where he recorded natural sounds such as birds, rivers, fields and trees. In the summer of 2018 I also had the chance to make some recordings during my concert tour of Latvia. It was a painstaking process – listening to the many hours of recordings, editing appropriate sounds and arranging them to create the soundscapes that I was after. At this point I began to fully realise the sonic impact that humans make on nature. Rarely was a recording not affected by the sound of cars, motorcycles, builders hammering, people shouting and cyclists whizzing by.

During this time I began composing and arranging for the album. My idea was to use Latvian folk melodies as an inspiration and then take them to new places. I recorded guitar, synthesizer, accordion, piano and even some voice as well as the traditional Latvian trejdeksnis. I spent many hours treating audio to create new and interesting sounds. For example, the final track “Pūt Vējiņi”, uses a mixture of synthesizer, accordion and voice to create the ethereal/spiritual sound that I was after.

After many hours of mixing and recording in my home studio I then enlisted the help of a professional mastering studio where my final touches could be realised and brought to a professional level. I am so grateful that I received funding from various organisations and individuals that allowed me to truly realise my ideas to their full potential.

What inspires your Latvian folk song compositions?

I grew up hearing and performing Latvian folk music. From a young age I went to Saturday School to learn Latvian, sang in choirs and participated in music classes. Many times I hated it and struggled to understand the meaning behind it all.
My real love for Latvian folk music was awakened when I met musicians and folklorists during my years attending the Latvian Summer High School (AZVV) near Adelaide. There I began to learn about the ancient history of Latvian folk music and the meaning that is conveyed through the words and melodies. I have to say it is the essence of Latvian folk music that inspires me in most of my work. The ancient unbroken knowledge and way of life shines through the centuries and reaches us today, much like the stories of the Australian Aboriginal Dreamtime. The gravity of thousands of years of joy and adversity seems so strong to me and is beyond our modern interpretation of music as a commodity. Traditional music emanates from the human condition itself.

What music do you listen to and do you have any favourite artists that have been influential in your own music-making?

I would have to say that my musical tastes are quite eclectic and broad. I enjoy heavy metal, ambient music, post rock, world, classical, folk and even a pop song or two. If I like it, I like it, no matter where it comes from.

One thing I do appreciate probably above all other musical types are traditional and sacred music. I particularly enjoy medieval canticles, Orthodox Choirs, first nations music, Hindu devotional music and more. This is music that was mostly composed for something other than earning money. It was composed to venerate, to tell important stories, to pass on knowledge in a time before “do you really think that will sell” was the overarching concept.

This is your third album now – yet this one is quite different to the previous two. Do you feel your compositions are moving away from one genre or are you just experimenting with different types of genre?

I have always been restless and I like to try many different things. My problem is that I like composing many types of music and I think many musical types have merit. I do however feel that guitar is my strongest asset and I greatly enjoy creating cinematic soundscapes utilising altered sounds, reverbs and delays. This album allowed me to indulge in this area and get really creative. I would like to continue moving down this path and create some more albums in the same vein.

You are an Australian of Latvian descent. Would I be correct in saying that through your albums you are expressing your Latvian identity? Or do you see it differently?

I suppose my identity is something I grapple with and explore through my music. Understanding who I am when I speak native English but the people around me don’t even bother trying to pronounce my name has been difficult. People have said to me “Your name isn’t very catchy as an artist, you should use a different one”. Then I think, “Why should I, I am who I am.” But on the other side of that, I am a third generation Australian and have never been in Latvia for longer than 3 months.

The thing for me is that Latvian folk music draws me. It seems so rich and plentiful, a fountain to draw from. I cannot find that same inspiration in the “Aussie” side of my identity. Besides the First Australians, Australia is a land of migrants and has been enriched by those migrants. I’m not sure if there exists a distinct Australian culture outside of the standard Western Capitalist paradigm. Australians are Italians, Chinese, Latvians, Indians, Afghanis and many more. Latvian traditional culture is something I can hold on to, just like many other Australians hang on to their own distinct traditions. Let’s just say that my music is an exploration of all of this.

You live in Australia, yet have created an album with nature’s sounds from Latvia. What association do you have with Latvia?

All four of my grandparents and some of their parents were displaced persons after World War Two. All of them made their way to Australia via the DP camps of Germany. All of them had terrifying stories of war, bombing, escape, atrocities and salvation. Some had to fight, others had to flee. I suppose that in the beginning they thought that they may return to Latvia, but after 70 years they became rooted in their new homeland.

I have spent most of my life volunteering and participating in the Latvian community both in Sydney and Melbourne. From choirs, to bands to teaching and now even working with Latvian elders, I have done it all. I have always been attracted to the culture and have spent time trying to understand the history and folklore of Australia.

One surprising fact is that I only set foot for the first time in Latvia when I was 22 years old and had saved up enough money to do so. I met some long-lost family members and felt my connection with Latvia grow. However, sometimes it’s hard to understand which reality I fit in with most. This is part of my life’s journey.

What do you see as the target audience for the album? 

Whilst the idea for this album came from my work with Latvian elders, I feel that this album can work for anybody who enjoys relaxing music, ambient music or field recordings. I was able to try my initial composition ideas in the memory unit at the Latvian Aged Care facility to see which sounds and songs were able to help calm people or evoke memories. I gave my songs to people of all ages to listen to and critique during the composition process.

I feel that the sounds will also connect with diaspora Latvians who long for the familiar sounds and melodies that they left behind. My colleague Ingrīda says that when she closes her eyes and listens to the album, she is transported back to the forests of Latvia. Sometimes her feelings are positive, sometimes they are sad. This album is for anyone who wants to go on that journey. I tried very hard to steer away from the usual new age meditation music and try to evoke sounds that would create a range of emotions.

As part of this album and its funding, I also want to give back to the community. I am currently in the process of sending free copies and digital downloads to Latvian aged care organisations. These include several organisations in Australia and America as well as many in Latvia itself. I hope that the music can be used for reminiscence, relaxation and meditation as well as active listening or even sleep. Even if it is only enjoyed by one person at each organisation, I feel that it will be worthwhile.

Can you share what new ideas you have in the pipeline?

As I stated before, if the interest is there, I would love to make a series of albums in this genre. I would love to have the time to record many more sounds and explore new sonic possibilities with those sounds.

In other musical pursuits I am currently working on a couple of recordings with the Melbourne Latvian Male Choir “Veseris”, and as always, I am writing songs and performing at local venues in Australia. I would love to travel to Latvia again for a concert tour soon!

Where can the album be purchased – physical copies, as well as downloads?

Digital and physical albums can be purchased and shipped worldwide via (Bandcamp) from ivarsstubis.com. Payments can be made via credit card or Paypal. If you manage to catch me at a show I will have them with me as well. It would be great to find a distributor in Latvia for the album so I can get more copies out there.

Daina Gross is editor of Latvians Online. An Australian-Latvian she is also a member of the Education Board of the World Federation of Free Latvians and the translator into English of various books on industrial history in Latvia.

Kaspars Dimiters releases new songs on double album “Ievainotie”

Singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Kaspars Dimiters recently celebrated his 60th birthday. To mark that occasion, he released the career spanning collection Ielūgums uz dzīvi in 2017, a collection of one hundred songs recorded over his many decades of activity. The collection certainly reaffirmed Dimiters’ place as one of the truly great Latvian songwriters.

However, Ielūgums uz dzīvi should not be considered to be a sign that the songwriter is slowing down. Dimiters continues to actively write and record songs, and, in 2018, he released Ievainotie, a double album of new songs (though it does include a few tracks that were included on Ielūgums uz dzīvi).

The themes and mood of Ievainotie (or ‘The Wounded’) can already be sensed when viewing the stark, blood-red cover of the album. Indeed, this collection of songs veers more towards the personal (rather than the political), and has many elements of pain and personal hardship, though still tempered with the occasional hopeful, even cheerful moment. Overall, though the album does deal with the ‘wounds’ we receive in life, there is the possibility to survive all of this with the help of love and spiritual assistance and guidance.

Certainly, there are still songs that are critical of Latvian society, as well as what he considers to be potentially dangerous and treacherous trends, including the broad indifference that he sees in many. The song ‘Dzīvnieku dziesma’ has a long list of common complaints in Latvia, such as small pensions and wages, politicians, the media, poor teachers, all of which have been blamed for the difficult state that Latvia has been in since regaining independence. Dimiters counters that by saying that this is the price of freedom, and this freedom released many savage, animalistic elements within people, who have abandoned both civility and God. A similar warning is presented in ‘Ūdens ir pienācis slieksnim’, where he postulates that society has reached a point of no return, and how ubiquitous technology, though it may bring people together virtually, is doing significant harm socially.

Though most of the songs are of a relaxed and somber nature, there are still moments of liveliness and even levity, as can be heard in the song ‘Meža elektriķis’. The slightly absurd yet humorous song about replacing pine cones in the forest with light bulbs perhaps reveals Dimiters’ beliefs in the power of nature. One does wish that there were more songs like this on the album though, as this offers a respite from the often dour songs on the album.

Dimiters offers a requiem for the Latvian lats ‘Balāde zilbei’. The lats, which was removed from circulation twice (once after Soviet occupation, the second more recently when it was replaced by the Euro), was and remains a symbol of Latvian sovereignty. The five lats coin was a symbol of hope during the occupation, and Dimiters song is about how this one syllable contained much of Latvia’s strength, and, though it has been since replaced, the power in this one syllable remains.

The album concludes with the gently flowing ‘Vingrotājs aleluja’, which, at first glance is a curious song about a gymnast that sings ‘Hallelujah’, but, like many of Dimiters’ songs, is influenced by Christian texts and beliefs, and this song was inspired by the phrase ‘train yourself for godliness’ (from 1 Timothy 4:7). The song could even be considered hopeful, with its message that perhaps if we strive to be better, things may very well start improving.

Though now entering his seventh decade of life, Kaspars Dimiters shows no sign of slowing down, as the twenty-five songs on Ievainotie will attest to. Dimiters still has much to say and is as loquacious as ever, as many of the songs have a dozen or more verses. Though certainly, overall, a mellow and somber collection, perhaps indicating that Dimiters himself has mellowed, but Ievainotie still does contain many songs that are deeply, perhaps even uncomfortably personal, and Dimiters perhaps wisely avoids some of the more controversial and provocative, if not alienating, themes and thoughts he has expressed in some of his earlier songs. As a result, though often bleak, the album is one of Dimiters’ most satisfying works, and could be considered among his most seminal albums like Mans kumoss pilsētas baložiem and Krusta skola. Ievainotie confirms Dimiters’ status as one of the premiere songwriters in Latvia.

For further information, please visit the Kaspars Dimiters website.

Ievainotie

Kaspars Dimiters
2018

Track listing:

  • 1. Ievainotie
  • 2. Dieva siltā kabatiņa
  • 4. Pēdējās kalponītes dziesma
  • 5. Esi laimīgs vienkāršībā
  • 6. Tīrie ūdeņi
  • 7. Es pelnos neiršu bet burtos
  • 8. Audējas ziemsvētku dziesma
  • 9. Es tevi mīlu jau
  • 10. Tu nenojaut, kas aiz loga
  • 11. Nāve ir dzimšanas diena
  • 12. Visu visu sapratīsim
  • 13. Bēniņos apglabātās vēstules
  • 14. Baloži un lielgabali
  • 15. Vēl dzīvam uzvarēt nāvi
  • 16. Vēstule sargeņģelim
  • 17. Ūdens ir pienācis slieksnim
  • 18. Dzīvnieku dziesma
  • 19. Blokāde
  • 20. Viņu mīlestība nebeidzās
  • 21. Meža elektriķis
  • 22. Ielūgums uz dzīvi
  • 23. Fukušimas suns
  • 24. Balāde zilbei
  • 25. Vingrotājs aleluja

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.