Female Latvian composers celebrated on Liepāja Symphony Orchestra album

Throughout the centuries, composition has been an almost exclusively male dominated profession. Only in the 20th century did women’s contributions to composition become actively encouraged and recognized. In many ways, Latvia has been a leader in the field of women’s composition – in the last half century, several women composers have risen to prominence, and young women composers have been making their mark in recent decades.

To celebrate the contribution of these composers to Latvian academic music, the Latvian national record label released the album The Glittering Wind in 2020, which features symphonic works by five female Latvian composers, performed by the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra and conductors Atvars Lakstīgala and Gintaras Rinkevičius.

The ambitious Liepāja Concerti project, where a dozen Latvian composers were invited to compose a concerto with the city of Liepāja as an inspiration, has, up until now, only had one contribution by a female composer. Liepāja Concerto No. 7 for piano and orchestra, by Santa Ratniece, is a five-movement work that features pianist Vestards Šimkus. Šimkus described the work as being inspired by the ‘Himalayan mountains’, and themes of spirituality and Eastern mysticism are interwoven throughout the work. The first movement, fragile and almost dainty, has a dreamlike character, like a kind of deep meditation, with Šimkus’ piano performance giving an ethereal quality to the work. Piano arpeggios punctuate the brief second movement, both rising and falling, almost like flight, which then leads into the mystical third movement, a contemplative journey using Eastern instruments and sounds. The work concludes in the stormy, almost stressful fifth movement, with Šimkus’ piano sounding like an alarm, alongside ominous percussion from the orchestra. Conductor Atvars Lakstīgala leads the orchestra to the work’s reflective and subdued conclusion, as brief bursts of sound intermingle with silence as the work slowly dissipates.

The other five compositions on the album are miniatures, and Ratniece also provides ‘Aureola’, a musical representation of light around the moon. On this and the other miniatures, conductor Gintaras Rinkevičius helps conjure the visual and sonic representation of this imaginative work.

Composer Marina Gribinčika also finds inspiration in elements of nature in her work “Kolkas raga viļņi” (The Waves of Cape Kolka), about the northern point of the Kurzeme region in Latvia where the waves of the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Rīga meet, and, on windy days, crash into each other. The ebb and flow of these two bodies of water is captured in the sound of the orchestra and reveals the unique natural beauty of this area.

The poetry of Aspazija provides inspiration for Maija Einfelde’s somber “Un pār visu spīd saule trejkrāsaina…” (And a Tricolour Sun Shines on Everything…) Einfelde’s music is often tense, even harsh, and there are elements of sadness and melancholy throughout the work, such as bells tolling, and the orchestra provides a vivid interpretation of the varied resplendent colors of the sun.

Gundega Šmite’s “Vēja mirdzums” (The Glittering Wind) uses varied sonic textures and effects to achieve the representation of the wind, full of pollen from meadows. The swirling sound of the wind instruments, and the tinkling of bells, generates an enveloping atmosphere, where the listener can imagine standing in a field while the wind blows in all directions.

Selga Mence interweaves Latvian folk melodies with memories of her childhood in “Viļņu spēles” (Games of the Waves). A slightly sentimental tone can be heard throughout, perhaps viewing the waves through a child’s eyes, beholding and marveling at the beauty of the sea. The work leads to a stormy climax, with the rising and falling strings, as well as percussion, vividly portraying a tumultuous moment by the water. The work concludes with a fragment of the Latvian folk song ‘Es redzēju jūriņā’, a song about the Sea Mother, as perhaps a display of reverence for the power and beauty of the sea.

These symphonic works display the broad range and colorful palette of female Latvian composers. Each has her own unique, individual style, creating multicolored, layered works. The Liepāja Symphony Orchestra, and conductors Atvars Lakstīgala and Gintaras Rinkevičius reveal the many complexities and nuances of these symphonic works.

For further information, please visit the Skani website and the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra website.

The Glittering Wind

The Liepāja Symphony Orchestra

Skani LMIC 079, 2020

Track listing:

Santa Ratniece – Liepāja Concerto No. 7 for piano and orchestra

  1. I. 4:44
  2. 2. II. 2:17
  3. 3. III. 11:49
  4. 4. IV. 2:36
  5. 5. V. 4:12
  • Marina Gribinčika – “Kolkas raga viļņi” / The Waves of Cape Kolka
  • Maija Einfelde – “Un pār visu spīd saule trejkrāsaina…” / And a Tricolour Sun Shines on Everything…
  • Gundega Šmite – “Vēja mirdzums” / The Glittering Wind
  • Santa Ratniece – “Aureola”
  • Selga Mence – “Viļņu spēles” / Games of the Waves

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.

Latvian Radio Choir sings all of Jānis Zālīts’ 20th century choral music

Choir music is an essential element of Latvian music, so it is no surprise that, throughout the last century and a half, hundreds, if not a thousand Latvian composers have composed in the choral music genre. With many distinguished choirs, both amateur and professional, not to mention the regular Song and Dance Celebration events, it could be argued that choral music is the most frequently performed form of music in Latvia’s history.

With so many composers having contributed to this genre, it was perhaps inevitable that the works of some composers have been forgotten or neglected. The Latvian music label Skani, with its regular release of Latvian academic music albums, has spotlighted modern and contemporary Latvian choral works, as well as opuses from earlier times, and the choral recordings most often feature the Latvian Radio Choir. The early 20th century in Latvia was one of multiple golden ages for Latvian choral music, with names like Jāzeps Vītols, Emīls Dārziņš, and Emilis Melngailis securing their place in Latvian music history with their memorable and timeless works.

One name from that same era that is, undeservedly, mentioned less frequently is Jānis Zālīts (1884–1943). Recognizing that Zālīts made a significant contribution to the development of Latvian choral music, the Latvian Radio choir and conductor Sigvards Kļava endeavored to record all of Zālīts’ songs for choir, and, in 2019, released Jānis Zālīts: kopotas kora dziesmas, a 2 CD collection of 44 recordings – thirty-six songs for mixed choir, seven compositions for men’s choir and one song for women’s choir.

In many ways, Zālīts was very much like his contemporaries, expressing a kind of Latvian national romanticism in his works, displaying a particular skill with textures and layering voices, such as in the dreamy ‘Kad nakts’, with words by Rainis. The undulating ‘Birztaliņa’, with words by Kārlis Jēkabsons, creates in music the swaying of a grove of birch trees.

Though most of the works are choral miniatures, Zālīts did compose a few more expansive works, like ‘Biķeris miroņu salā’, with the poetry of Jānis Poruks, a fantasy about a goblet on the Island of the Dead. Zālīts captures the fantastical elements of this story in the soaring voices of the choir, and the Latvian Radio choir gives a particularly dramatic and ethereal performance of the work.

Many of the songs are imbued with Latvian patriotism and celebrating Latvian heroes, such as the rousing ‘Varoņu dziesma’ and the inspiring ‘Ceļš uz dzimteni’. Zālīts also composed odes to Latvian soldiers, including the heroic ‘Kareivji drošie’ and ‘Kareivju dziesma’, both for men’s choir.

As the goal was to record all of Zālīts’ choral output, the collection also includes a few political works of that era, including more than a few works dedicated to Latvian dictator Kārlis Ulmanis, such as ‘Tautas himna Vadonim’ and ‘Vadoņa suminājums’, which are perhaps more historical curiosities, giving a musical view of a past era. There is also the brief (thirty seconds) ‘Sveiks, Vadon, sveiks!’ which repeats ‘Leader, We Salute You!’ a few times, then ends, and seems like a superfluous inclusion in this collection.

The CD booklet includes an extensive biography of Zālīts in Latvian and English by Elīna Selga, which includes some fascinating notes about the composer, such as how he was regularly rewriting his choir works, and that, in his work as a music critic, he published more than two thousand articles. Still, the booklet contains very little information about the songs; one would have liked to read more about the compositions themselves.

The Latvian Radio Choir and conductor Sigvards Kļava have not only done a great service to Latvian musicology by making a comprehensive collection of the recordings of Jānis Zālīts, but also shed new light on many rarely heard gems of early 20th century Latvian choral music. Zālīts proves to be an equal of the better-known names of that era, and this collection will reveal Zālīts’ talents to many new listeners.

For further information, please visit the Skani website.

Jānis Zālīts: kopotas kora dziesmas

Latvian Radio Choir

Skani, LMIC 077, 2019

Track listing:

CD1

1. Anužu himna

2. Apsveikums jubilāram

3. Ādolfam Kaktiņam

4. Biķeris miroņu salā

5. Birztaliņa

6. Ceļš uz dzimteni

7. Cildinām šodien varenos garus

8. Darbadaiņa

9. Dārgās ēnas

10. Dziesma Tautas Vienotājam

11. Jau no bērnu dienām

12. Kad nakts

13. Kā oši šalc

14. Kā sniegi kalnu galotnēs

15. Lai zemei sāpes nav

16. Lieldienu dziesma

17. Lielo pļaujas svētku noslēguma koris

18. Līgo

19. Līgo virkne

20. Pie koklētāja kapa

21. Preses himna

22. Profesoram J. Vītolam

23. Pūšat taures!

24. Rainim un Aspazijai

CD 2

1. Sirds tik grūta (1915 edition)

2. Sirds tik grūta (1917 edition)

3. Tautas himna Vadonim

4. Tā vēsma

5. Tev šie lauki

6. Tevi sveicam

7. Vadoņa suminājums

8. Varoņu dziesma

9. Vasara

10. Vasaras nakts

11. Vienības dziesma

12. Kārsēju, vērpēju un audēju dziesma

13. Kareivji drošie

14. Kareivju dziesma

15. Katordznieku dziesma

16. Kārlim Skalbem

17. Pūšat, vēji!

18. Rīta sveiciens

19. Varoņa sirds

20. Sveiks, Vadon, sveiks!

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.

Centre for Diaspora & Migration Research launches study on collaboration with Latvian scientists worldwide

Surveys of researchers in 2017 and 2018 of Latvian origin living abroad conducted by the University of Latvia (UL) Centre for Diaspora and Migration Research show a steadfast interest in engaging in research activities in Latvia (diaspora.lu.lv). At the same time, there is a lack of instruments at the national level for promoting collaboration between scientists in Latvia and abroad. Therefore, the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Latvia (MES) is working on networking solutions for scientists.

Currently, the Latvian National Research Information System (sciencelatvia.lv) includes information on Latvian researchers and their activities, but it lacks information on scientists of Latvian origin living abroad. To make it easier for scientists in Latvia and abroad to find out about collaboration opportunities and find each other – to identify similar research interests and areas – the Centre for Diaspora and Migration Research of the University of Latvia is conducting this research on behalf of MES.

This study includes a survey of scientists with links to Latvia living and/or working abroad to learn about their interest in being included in the Latvian National Scientific Activity Information System database. All scientists of Latvian origin living abroad who are carrying out research in the public, private or non-governmental sector, including studying for a doctorate or master’s degree, are invited to participate in the survey. The survey will be open until 25 June 2021 and can be accessed at https://aptauja.migracija.lvIt can be completed in Latvian or English. 

The aim of the previously mentioned research is also to deepen the understanding of the opinion of Latvian scientists working in Latvia and other countries on mutual collaboration. Therefore, in addition to the survey of diaspora scientists, the study also includes focus group interviews with researchers from various disciplines working in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and the Scandinavian countries. These focus groups aim to gain a better understanding of the potential of specific collaboration solutions with partners in Latvia. To find out the views of Latvian researchers and organizations, the study includes a survey of Latvian scientific institutions and in-depth interviews with researchers in Latvia about their experience and vision for collaboration with Latvian researchers abroad.

The report based on the findings of the study will be available this autumn and will include an overview of how Latvian scientists abroad and colleagues in Latvia see solutions for mutual collaboration. The report will also include specific recommendations to foster collaboration and networking. The data controller for survey data generated in this research will be the Ministry of Education and Science, Republic of Latvia.

Inta Mieriņa ir projekta "Labklājība un integrācija migrācijas kontekstā" zinātniskā vadītāja, ieguvusi socioloģijas doktora grādu Latvijas Universitātes Sociālo Zinātņu fakultātē.