Mixed choir Sõla celebrate 20th anniversary with double album

The Latvian Academy of Culture Mixed Choir Sõla is one of the premiere amateur choirs in Latvia. Praised not just for their technical skill, but also their nuanced and artistically rich performances, the choir has achieved success and renown not just in Latvia but worldwide. The choir was one of the finalists in the European Grand Prix choir competition in 2017, and were also the guest choir and the 2017 Latvian American Song Festival in Baltimore.

Much of the success and recognition that the choir has achieved can be attributed to lead conductor and artistic director Kaspars Ādamsons, who, with his boundless energy as well as deep appreciation and understanding of music, inspires his singers to achieve greater and greater heights. Ādamsons was the conductor for two of the songs at the 2018 All Latvian Song and Dance Celebration closing concert at the Mežaparks amphitheater – the joyful and vibrant folk song ‘Gaismeņa ausa, sauļeite lēce’ and the somber, powerful ‘Tavas saknes tavā zemē’, which displayed his versatility and skill as a conductor.

The choir celebrated their 20th anniversary in 2018, and, to mark this occasion, released a two CD album entitled Dziedot dzimu, dziedot augu. The goal of this collection is to spotlight the diversity and variety of Latvian composers throughout the years. The collection contains a total of twenty songs, and, to highlight the geographic areas of Latvia, four composers were selected from each of the geographic areas of Latvia – Kurzeme, Zemgale, Vidzeme, Latgale, as well as Riga. Additionally, to add a layer of complexity to the calculus, ten of the songs are folk song arrangements, while ten are original works. Using these requirements to select the works included in the collection has resulted in a truly diverse collection of songs by composers both well-known and less familiar. Ādamsons, along with assistant conductors Laura Štoma and Artūrs Oskars Mitrevics, have created a comprehensive and compelling document of Latvian choir music.

The collection covers almost the entire history of Latvian choir music, and includes early choir music works such as Jāzeps Vītols dramatic and solemn lament for three downed oak trees in ‘Dievozolu trijotne’, as well as Pēteris Barisons’ lively and spirited ‘Pa zvaigžņu ceļu’. The collection begins with a joyous and rousing rendition of Alfrēds Kalniņš’ arrangement of the folk song ‘Dziedot dzimu, dziedot augu’.

One of the benefits of the constraints set by the choir for the included repertoire is that it allows for some less well known composers to be represented on the album. Listeners will have the opportunity to become familiar with composers such as Ainars Plezers, who provides an arrangement of the folk song ‘Trīs sidraba upītes’, full of undulating harmonies, as well as Solvita Ivanova, who provides a wintry scene in ‘Bij dziļa ziema’, creating a snowy musical landscape with poet Rainis’ text.

Some of the composers have a limited link for their corresponding region – for example, Canadian Latvian composer Imants Ramiņš is included as one of the composers from Kurzeme (indeed, the composer was born in Ventspils, but he and his family fled during the war when he was just one year old). However, this allowed for the inclusion of Ramiņš’ arrangement of the folk song ‘Pūt, vējiņi!’, which is one of the most beautiful modern folk song arrangements. The gentle, constant flow of the song as it builds to a crescendo provides for a stirring interpretation of the song.

Though all the composers represented are from Latvia, not all of the songs are in Latvian, for example Ēriks Ešenvalds’ ‘Only in Sleep’. This slightly sentimental song is elevated by soprano Laura Štoma’s soaring solo, displaying Ešenvalds’ talent for creating memorable melodies. The spiritual ‘В начале было Слово…’ (In the Beginning was the Word) by Pēteris Butāns balances a mysterious, mystical introduction with a tormented prayer for mercy.

Perhaps the most momentous performance on the album is the choir’s rendition of Pēteris Vasks’ ‘Mūsu māšu vārdi’, a work nearly ten minutes in length. As with many of Vasks’ works, the work is full of dramatic tension and conflict, as well as themes of nature – the titular mothers of the Māris Čaklais poem are birds. The work concludes with the choir providing birdsongs, representing birds nesting in the trees.

The CD booklet contains extensive notes on the composers and compositions by musicologist Orests Silabriedis in both Latvian and English, as well as the texts and translations for all the songs. In a charming touch, the booklet also includes both recent and childhood photos of all the choir members.

Over the course of its twenty songs, Dziedot dzimu, dziedot augu provides for a vivid panorama of Latvian choir music – well-known as well as lesser known works and composers, folk song arrangements and original compositions, covering a broad musical spectrum of nearly 150 years of Latvian choir music. The choir Sõla, guided by their indefatigable and inspired conductor Kaspars Ādamsons, again confirm their status as one of the top amateur choirs in Latvia, with their technical ability complemented by their emotionally and artistically rich interpretations.

For further information, please visit the mixed choir Sõla website.

Track listing

Dziedot dzimu, dziedot augu



CD 1 – Folk song arrangements

  1. Dziedot dzimu, dziedot augu – Alfrēds Kalniņš
  2. Tu skaistõ Dīva dõrza rūze – Rihards Dubra
  3. Trīs sidraba upītes – Ainars Plezers
  4. Aizej, lietiņ’ – Ilona Rupaine
  5. Ziņģe par kumeļu un līgavu – Marģeris Zariņš
  6. Jūra krāca, jūra šņāca – Oskars Šepskis
  7. Pērkonami melni zirgi – Vilnis Šmīdbergs
  8. Muote dieleņu auklēja – Juris Vaivods
  9. Līgo! – Ārijs Šķepasts
  10. Pūt, vējiņi! – Imants Ramiņš

CD 2 – Original music

  1. Akmeni satikt – Līga Celma-Kursiete
  2. Pa zvaigžņu ceļu – Pēteris Barisons
  3. Bij dziļa ziema – Solvita Ivanova
  4. Vienu pašu – Ādolfs Ābele
  5. Dievozolu trijotne – Jāzeps Vītols
  6. В начале было Слово… – Pēteris Butāns
  7. Only in Sleep – Ēriks Ešenvalds
  8. Pēc vienkāršības noilgojies prāts – Georgs Pelēcis
  9. Mūsu māšu vārdi – Pēteris Vasks
  10. Tavas saknes tavā zemē – Pēteris Plakidis

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.

Sling your hook! My part in the Latvian centenary series “Sarkanais Mežs”

I have always preferred minor character actors to A-list film stars. They might only get a scene or two, but the presence of these strangely-shaped, broken-nosed, odd-looking and heavily-accented figures gives a film a human appeal and variety that can never be conveyed by the handsome and beautiful leading men and ladies.  

When I was young I even had a book called The Heavies, which chronicled the careers of a certain sort of supporting player. To this day I can rattle off the biographies and filmographies of Elisha Cook Jr,. Marc Lawrence and William Bendix, oddballs who can be seen lurking in the backgrounds of innumerable films noirs. No-one else is the least bit interested in them.

So when I was offered the chance to join the ranks of odd-looking people with a minor role in Sarkanais Mežs (Red Forest), the flagship TV production of Latvia’s centenary funding project, I accepted quickly despite a notable lack of acting experience. If reading The Heavies had taught me one thing, it was that drama school and The Method were by no means pre-requisites for a successful acting career. All it really takes is an interesting face that can be suitably contorted in the inevitable death scene.

Joining the cast came by a roundabout route. I occasionally act as a script consultant. Sarkanais Mežs is an adventure series loosely based on real events and set in 1949. Part of it involves Latvians being trained in England to infiltrate the Soviet occupation of their homeland and consequently, numerous scenes are set in a postwar England conjured from locations found entirely in Latvia. 

There are a few sections of English-language dialogue and the producers sent these to me for a quick look, as a result of which a few  minor changes were made. They mainly concerned the machinations of a slimy English doctor, a sweet Latvian nurse and our fine, upstanding hero. In a couple of scenes, a barman by the name of ‘Jim’ loiters in the background and occasionally brings drinks. The part could have been written for me as I do a lot of both in my spare time.

This was a marvellous opportunity to boost my thespian bona fides. The barman who does nothing but polish beer glasses and nod to customers is one of the great stock characters of twentieth century cinema. Only on rare occasions – notably The Shining – does the barman do more than polish and nod but oh! the importance of this job in establishing the mood or mise en scene, if you prefer the Godardian to the Kubrickian.  

Night in the Museum  

I arrived on the location for a night shoot convinced a new career would soon open up for me. The transformation of the Mentzendorff House museum into an English pub of the late 1940s was extremely well done. Reproduction advertisements for Guinness and Bass Ale adorned the walls, bottles with specially printed labels were lined up behind a neat little counter and tweed-capped “regulars” filled the tables, puffing on empty pipes and playing brag with practiced ease.

After being issued with a white shirt, black waistcoat, a pair of rather tight shoes and a natty little apron to signal my occupation unambiguously to the viewing public, I wandered around the set admiring the work. I was even able to provide a little additional value by pointing out that prices on the menu (Jim seemed able to cook a variety of lamb dishes combined with increasingly unlikely vegetables but little else) and beer pumps should be written with a “d” to represent pence and not “p” in pre-decimal Britain.

When I told this to an assistant director, he looked skeptical.

“But why ‘d’ if it stands for pennies?” he asked, not unreasonably.

I had to admit I had no idea, though subsequent research showed that it was derived from the Roman dinarius. Maybe later this year Britain will regress to using “d” for pence again as its post-imperial Brexit fantasy plays out and it reintroduces the florin, the sixpence and the shilling?

Another of my pieces of advice went unheeded, for the simple reason that the change I suggested would have completely ruined one of Sarkanais Mežs‘ main plotlines. In the scene in question, some Latvians are singing along to the popular song Rozamunde when an English hooligan takes exception to these foreigners and their music, becomes aggressive and winds up having to be ejected from the premises by yours truly, Jim the barman.

The accordionists pumped, and the Latvians sang to get their voices warmed up for the scene.

“Um… there’s a problem,” I said to the assistant director.

“What now?” he replied.

“The song,” I said.

“Yes, Rozamunde. It was a very popular wartime Latvian song!”

“It was also a very popular wartime British song. It’s called “Roll Out The Barrel“. It’s exactly what you would expect to  hear in a British pub of the 1940s. No-one would ever get angry about hearing Roll Out The Barrel.” 

“Oh,” said the assistant director, “Let’s not say anything. Maybe the hooligan doesn’t like the Latvian words.”

With everyone warmed up, including myself courtesy of a small fire kindled behind me to add extra atmosphere, it was time for the moment of truth. My pre-poured beer was safely hidden out of site below my fake beer pumps. The extras were positioned with precision. The actors waited like caged panthers to hit their marks and collect their beers from Jim.  


Curiously, at precisely this moment I became acutely aware that polishing a beer glass is in fact the most difficult feat of dexterity ever required of human hands. It really is extremely demanding. When combined with nodding to customers and – even worse – moving one’s lips silently, it becomes virtually impossible. Never can a veteran barman have looked so curiously incapable of performing the basic tasks of his profession as I did during the dozens of takes it took for me to look like someone who was not being operated by a puppeteer. I was only marginally less wooden than the bar top on which I placed the beer.

But this shot was merely the prelude to my big scene. This would involve a very large working-class Englishman bursting into the bar, directing a stream of abuse at the singing Latvians and consequently being ejected by Jim.

Roll out the Barrel

Impressively, the casting director had somehow managed to track down a genuine Geordie lunatic to play the part of the troublemaker. While the set was rejigged and the cameras and recording equipment were prepared we got talking. It turned out he came from the same grimy town in the North-East of England as my mother. We compared notes while running through our lines and bonded by agreeing the town was a complete dump.

Then we were on. The accordion played, the Latvians sang, the Geordie stormed in, said something like “Shut up you rotten Germans!” and I shuffled out from behind my bar. “Don’t cause any trouble, please go away,” I advised and ushered him politely towards the exit. And that was it. This acting businesses was easier than I expected.

“Hmm, it lacks something,” said the director. It was hard to argue with this conclusion. It was about as dramatic as the unusual combinations of lamb and vegetables on Jim’s lunchtime menu.

“Try it again, only this time a bit faster,” the director suggested for the second take.

“That was better, but this time, even faster and push him in the chest,” he said for the third take.

“A definite improvement, but this time much louder and really resist each other,” he said for the fourth take, adding “And don’t feel like you need to stick to the script, just say whatever you English people would really say in this situation.” That was the key phrase, which explains what happened next.

The next few takes are something of a blur. The accordion plays, the Latvians sing Rozamunde, and in bursts a psychotic Geordie who pushes everyone aside and bawls “Shut yer f****g mouths in my f*****g pub, yer bunch of f*****g German ****s!” 

Cue barman Jim, who leaps his counter, sprints into the fray and says “Sling your hook, you stupid b*****d, they’re Latvians, not b*****y Germans and this is my b****y pub, not yours, so b****r off!”

Even as I said it I thought “I wonder how they will translate ‘Sling your hook’ in the subtitles?”

Now Jim and the thug engage in protracted pushing and wrestling until eventually the Geordie Achilles is ejected. The scene concludes with an audibly breathless Jim returning to the room to make sure no Latvians were hurt during the making of this movie and finally taking his place again behind the counter where he resumes his totally inept polishing of tankards that are already perfectly clean.

And it only took about twenty-five takes. Indeed the exertion was so intense that by about take fifteen, instead of leaping over his counter, Jim the barman unceremoniously collapses behind it with cramp in his foot, caused by the unfamiliar shoes handed to him in wardrobe and the fact it is now three o’clock in the morning and he has been standing up, polishing his spotless collection of beer glasses since 10 p.m. Look out for it in the blooper reel.

A Star is Born

But we got there in the end. I have no idea how much of my boozy heroism will make it into the final cut of Sarkanais Mežs, but I would not be surprised if Jim’s brief but memorable appearance leads for calls for him to get his own spin-off series in which he protects Latvians in dangerous situations and tells villains to sling their hooks, preferably in exotic locations.

With my brief scene having held up proceedings for several hours, it was time for the real actors to take over with some high-intensity exchanges during which they threw the English-language dialogue I had doctored back and forth. It was impressive, highly professional, and a sharp contrast with the rank amateurism I had displayed. But I was improving. I only managed to ruin their scene three or four times when I put a glass of whisky on the table between them in a manner even more awkward and artificial than the way I polish beer glasses.

Just before dawn, it was all in the can. Handing back Jim’s apron and cramp-inducing shoes to the wardrobe department, I felt very much as Peter O’Toole must have felt handing back his robes and camel at the end of Lawrence of Arabia. And like O’Toole I left in search of an early-morning drink. It’s what we actors do.

However, I do have an admission. At the end of filming I stole a bottle of beer from the set which I intend to drink at the moment I make my screen debut. This is not such a serious crime as it sounds. After all, it was my b*****y pub.

This article was originally published on March 3rd, 2019 at http://lsm.lv

You can watch the series online worldwide via the Re:Play portal.

Mike Collier is a book author and the English editor of lsm.lv

Youth folklore group “Oglīte” celebrate 25 years, release folksong album

Oglīte is a children’s and youth folklore group from the Ropaži region in Latvia. Recently, the group celebrated their 25th anniversary, and released an album of folksongs, entitled Lustīte mana, laimīte mana in 2018.

Not only do Oglīte sing and play musical instruments, but the ensemble also includes other cultural elements in their performances, such as dancing and games. Ranging in age from 7 to 20, Oglīte have performed in many Latvian towns, as well as varied European Union countries. The leader of the ensemble is Ligita Šreibere.

Most of the album is vocal performances, with some instrumental accompaniment, such as on the song ‘Ziedi, ziedi, āra pļava’, which features a solemn string based introduction which then leads to unaccompanied harmonic singing by the ensemble.

There are also elements of the traditional Latvian ‘calling style’ singing in songs like ‘Es savos bāliņos’, which features a confident and authentic vocal performance by Līva Ozola. There are also traditional Latvian instruments like the kokle on songs like ‘Skaisti ziedi pureniņi’, as well as the stabule on the instrumental ‘Kaķ’ādiņa’, a duet between Līva Ozola and Undīne Simbirceva.

There are many dance songs on the album, such as the lively ‘Ciganovskis’, as well as the more subdued ‘Henķa polka’, performed on the kokle by Anitra Berga. The group also performs instrumental works from outside of Latvia, such as the woeful ‘Igauņu subate’ from Estonia, and the slightly sentimental ‘Shottis’ from Finland.

The album also has a few humorous moments, such as on ‘Gulu, gulu’, where the narrator refuses to wake up, claiming a frightful headache, until his true bride comes along and he miraculously recovers to be able to go along with her. The song ‘Lāci, lāci’ also instructs the bear to wash his mouth before he gets any porridge.

The collection ends on the positive and uplifting title song ‘Lustīte mana, laimīte mana’, a song about happiness and good fortune following one wherever one goes, leaving ones sadness by the side of the road, and not worrying about going off to war.

Though performed mainly by children, Lustīte mana, laimīte mana is not necessarily a children’s album – the vocal and instrumental performances, as well as the song selection, reveals a certain maturity. The arrangements are usually simple, if not sparse, which result in the performances being quite intimate and personal. Including a variety of Latvian folk elements and styles, Lustīte mana, laimīte mana is a well-performed and engaging album, confirming the talents of this young ensemble.

Lustīte mana, laimīte mana


Lauska CD076, 2018

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.