For a small country and a population of just 2 million people, Latvia has a rich culture of classical music and produces some remarkable musicians who thrill audiences in the world’s most prestigious concert halls and opera stages. But you don’t have to travel to New York or Vienna to hear Elīna Garanča sing or book a flight to Munich to see Mariss Jansons conduct his Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra – for the cycle “Born in Latvia”, some of the country’s most beloved artists return to their origins to celebrate the State centenary.

Elīna Garanča
© Paul Schirnhofer | DG

The Riga Festival in June celebrates Latvian composers as well as young Latvian artists who bring a new and quite unique approach to European classical music. The young all-female ensemble Art-i-Shock, consisting of pianist Agnese Egliņa, percussionist Elīna Endzele and cellist Guna Šnē, opens the festival with works by de Falla and Ravel’s Boléro arranged for this unusual trio, while young Latvian pianist Vestard Shimkus pairs Bach's 9 Chorale preludes with his own original composition Dream Scenes, 9 etudes for piano. The Latvian Radio Choir joins the Sinfonietta Rīga for a very special concert of silence, love and light with the title “Prayer of Mother Teresa” at the Cathedral, put together by the festival’s artistic director Sigvards Kļava. It consists of Pēteris Vasks' The Fruit of Silence and Prayer, both based on texts by Mother Teresa, Ēriks Ešenvalds' Drop in the Ocean with prayers from Mother Teresa and St Francis of Assisi and Arvo Pärt's Song of Silouan. The festival concludes with a true showstopper when the remarkable Elīna Garanča sings Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder accompanied by the Vienna Philharmonic.

Kristine Opolais
© Elena Nezenceva

Garanča, who was born into a musical family and started her vocal training at the Latvian Academy of Music, traces the impressive number of Latvians prominent in the classical music world back to the country’s “deep choral singing tradition” and a “very serious musical education [...] with obligatory opera, concert and theatre visits.” She once again returns to Latvia in July for an evening with Russian soprano Olga Peretyatko and Ukrainian tenor Dmytro Popov at the Dzintaru Koncertzāle in Jūrmala.

Soprano Kristine Opolais started her career as a member of the chorus with Latvian National Opera and shot to international fame with Martin Kušej's controversial Rusalka production in Munich in 2010 which she sees not only as her breakthrough in her career, but also as a breakthrough in her personal development as a singer, “I became so much stronger and learned how to sing in any condition [...] I truly grew as a performer.” For "Born in Latvia", several outstanding Latvian musicians, including Oplais, each work with a young and promising musician to present a performance at the opening concert of the Jūrmala Festival in July. The mentors and young talents are accompanied by the conductor Ainārs Rubiks, the music director of the Komische Oper Berlin. In October, Opolais is joined by the Latvian conductor Andris Nelsons, who also started his musical career the Latvian National Opera – as a trumpeter – before studying conducting. He leads his Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra for a concert of Tchaikovsky arias and Mahler’s First Symphony at the Great Amber Concert Hall in Liepāja.

Mariss Jansons
© Marco Borggreve

Last November, Mariss Jansons was awarded the Royal Philharmonic Society Gold Medal, one of classical music’s highest honours, for his “revelatory and truthful music-making over forty years”. He spent most of his early childhood at the opera house in Riga, where both his mother and father worked (she a soprano, he the conductor Arvīds Jansons) and where he decided to spend his life with music and in the theatre. On his tour with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and German violinist Frank Peter Zimmermann, the Latvian conductor returns to Riga in May. Sir Antonio Pappano conducts the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in the seaside surroundings of Jūrmala in August, while the Latvian organist Iveta Apkalna performs Joseph Jongen’s Sinfonia concertante with the Konzerthausorchester Berlin in Riga in September.

Other musical highlights this year include the finals of the Belvedere Singing Competition – a prestigious competition whose former prizewinners include Stuart Skelton, Angela Gheorghiu and Rachel Willis-Sørensen – in Jūrmala in June and concerts with the Sinfonietta Rīga; among others a concert at the Pēteris Vasks Festival dedicated to the Latvian composer in Cēsis in late April. In 1997 Gidon Kremer created the Kremerata Baltica, a chamber orchestra comprising 23 young musicians from Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. In June they present two programmes of string trios, from Schubert to Debussy and Bartók.

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Article sponsored by Investment and Development Agency of Latvia.