There's something special about hearing baroque music in beautiful, palatial surroundings of the kind for which it was composed. And the surroundings don't get much more beautiful or palatial than Rundāle Palace, an 80 km drive from downtown Riga, built between 1736 and 1768 as the summer residence of the Dukes of Courland, on the borders of Russia and designed by the same architect as the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. Saturday July 8th at Rundāle is filled with baroque concerts to conclude the Latvian Early Music Festival. Things kick off at 1pm with a chidren's concert based on Spanish fairy tales and concerts follow every two hours from 4pm. 

Rundāle Palace © Didzis Grodzs
Rundāle Palace
© Didzis Grodzs

Christian Frattima and Le Coin du Roi © Didzis Grodzs
Christian Frattima and Le Coin du Roi
© Didzis Grodzs
First up is Milan-based company Le Coin du Roi and their director Christian Frattima, who dedicate themselves to restoring "the social value that opera had in the 18th century": their young founders feel that Italy risks losing its own operatic heritage and set themselves on a mission to restore it. As well as the 4pm concert at Rundāle, which comprises music by Monteverdi, Handel and Vivaldi, they will appear at two events in Riga: the festival's opening concert on July 6th in the Small Guild Hall and a performance of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas on July 7th at St Peter's Church.

Artemandoline baroque ensemble © artemandoline.com
Artemandoline baroque ensemble
© artemandoline.com
An Italian ensemble with a French name is followed at 6pm by a French-speaking ensemble with an Italian name: Luxembourg's Artemandoline are dedicated to researching and reviving the fortunes of music of the mandolin family. The 8pm slot belongs to Collegium musicum Rīga performing music from the French Baroque, and the day concludes with the traditional concert in the gardens, with Sinfonietta Rīga playing The Four Seasons and other baroque works.

All the Baltic republics have strong choral traditions, both in composition and performance. Latvia is no exception, with their most celebrated contemporary composer being Pēteris Vasks, whose works are interleaved with those of Johann Sebastian Bach in what promises to be an exceptional Good Friday concert in Riga Cathedral on April 14th, featuring Sinfonietta Rīga with the Latvian Radio Choir. There are plenty more opportunities to hear the Latvian Radio Choir in the year, from Gregorian Chants in a late night concert during the Early Music Festival to a Carmina Burana (coupled with the Poulenc Organ Concerto) on Jun 21st at the Russian Tsars' summer retreat of Jūrmala, on the shores of the Baltic just west of Riga.

Pēteris Vasks © Schott Promotion | Christopher Peter
Pēteris Vasks
© Schott Promotion | Christopher Peter
June 16th gives the chance to hear the work of Ēriks Ešenvalds, another highly rated Latvian choral composer whose music has frequently impressed our reviewers, or in June, you can opt for the Jubilee Concert for Uģis Prauliņš, whose career has spanned folk and prog-rock as well as classical.

Latvia boasts two ensembles regularly seen on the international circuit. When Sinfonietta Rīga return home from their March tour of the Netherlands, you can see them in a variety of programmes through the year: one to look out for is a pair of Beethoven piano concerti on March 30th in Riga, conducted by Thomas Sanderling. 2017 is the 20th anniversary of Kremerata Baltica (as well as being founder Gidon Kremer's 70th birthday); they're spending much of the year on an extensive tour of Europe, but you can catch them back home on June 7th at the Riga Festival, performing with mezzo Olesya Petrova, described by Bachtrack's Nicolas Nguyen as having "the most splendid voice ... rich and exquisite throughout the range". The festival also welcomes the WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne as well as featuring top Latvian opera star Egils Silins.

Riga's opera house is always worth a visit: the building echoes the Bolshoi Theatre and Latvian National Opera is a top class company. The 2017-8 season hasn't yet been announced at time of writing, but the 2016-7 season has plenty left, from top ten classics (Rigoletto, Traviata, Carmen etc) through to Latvian contemporary opera: Arturs Maskats' 2014 Valentina, set in the Nazi occupation, and Ēriks Ēšenvalds' 2016 The Immured, a saga of the building of the National Library.

The house also has a full programme from Latvian National Opera Ballet, again ranging from classics (Giselle, Coppélia, Swan Lake) through to contemporary work (such as Juris Karlsons' family ballet Karlsson Flies...). More dance is on show in April at the International Baltic Ballet Festival, which brings companies from across the world to Riga and three other cities.

Full details are still to be announced of one more opera offering: the International Sigulda Opera Music Festival takes place in July amidst the ruins of a mediaeval castle set in a national park an hour's drive from Riga.

Outdoor stage at Sigulda Castle © Sigulda Tourism Information Centre
Outdoor stage at Sigulda Castle
© Sigulda Tourism Information Centre

 

This article was sponsored by Latvia Travel (www.latvia.travel).