In November 2020, The Latvian Radio Choir (LRC) will celebrate the 80th anniversary of the choir’s founding by the legendary conductor Teodors Kalniņš. To celebrate this special year, the LRC has a wide range of artistic plans – concerts in Latvia and abroad, additions to their recording catalogue, and the endorsement of contemporary composers’ creative work, which has always been one of the main goals of the LRC. This year, the audiences will have a chance of meeting LRC in concert venues in Rīga, Cēsis, Liepāja, Rēzekne, Vilnius, Bogota, Barcelona, Hamburg, Nuremberg, Mannheim, Montpelier, Paris, Yerevan, Warsaw, Amsterdam, and Antwerp, bringing along a diverse set of concert programmes.
The LRC first stood in front of the Latvian Radio microphones on the 1st of November, 1940 with a programme of Latvian traditional folk songs. In honour of this historical fact, the first celebratory programme of this special year Diena aust (The Day is Dawning) will be dedicated to Latvian choral music classics.
The creative director of the LRC Sigvards Kļava has always wanted to discuss outstanding Latvian figures through music and poetry therefore, the LRC anniversary year will feature his idea – the concert production Latgolys Freska (Latgalian Fresco) that honours the Latgalian poet Anna Rancāne, and November will bring another concert production Purpura Pārdevēja (Crimson Merchant) that will tell the tale of the freedom fighter Lidija Doroņina – Lasmane.
One of the gems of this anniversary year will be Kaspars Putniņš’ carefully crafted concert cycle Canti Sacri. “These concerts always showcase the most important choral works that have each contributed something important to the evolution of music. This concert series is dedicated to sacred choral music of different ages and styles, from the opulent opuses renaissance polyphony to the most highly valued romanticism pieces to the best contemporary creations,” explains Kaspars Putniņš.
The central axis and culmination of this 80th anniversary celebration will be the world premiere of the Jubilee Mass on the 3rd of December, 2020 in the Riga Cathedral. Sigvards Kļava: “For the 80th anniversary of the choir, we’re planning to perform a mass that has been composed and created based on the same principle that the publishing house Casa Ricordi used in the 19th century. After it was suggested by G. Verdi, Tito Ricordi commissioned the leading composers of the late 19th century to each write one movement of a requiem to commemorate the first anniversary of Gioachino Rossini’s passing. The most famous composer of these was, of course, Giuseppe Verdi, who wrote the last movement Libera Me – this later grew into the brilliant Requiem. Another example of this approach came in 1998 when the German conductor Helmuth Rilling commissioned the greatest composers of the late 20th century from around the world to write Passion-2000 for the European Music Festival Stuttgart. Through this came the premieres of Deus Passus by Wolfgang Rihm, St. John Passion by Sofia Gubaidulina, Pasión según San Marcos by Osvaldo Golijov, and Water Passion by Tan Dun. The Latvian Radio Choir intends to do something different, yet based on the same principle – a Jubilee Mass consisting of a few pre-existing pieces and several new commissions from the most noteworthy contemporary Latvian composers, all coming together to paint on this large-scale canvas. In addition to the pre-written works of Pēteris Vasks and Arturs Maskats, the creation of new parts of the Mass has been entrusted to Juris Karlsons, Andris Dzenītis, and Ēriks Ešenvalds. The work is to be written for a choir, symphony orchestra and percussion, and is to be brought to stage by director Roberts Rubīns.”
During the year of its 80th anniversary, the LRC will perform more than 40 different concert programmes in Latvia and around the world.
The history of LRC
The Latvian Radio Choir was founded in 1940 by the legendary Latvian conductor Teodors Kalniņš who continued leading it until his passing in 1962. From 1963 to 1986, the creative director of the choir was Edgars Račevskis, followed by Juris Kļaviņš (1987-1992). Since 1992, the choir works with two conductors – the creative director and head conductor Sigvards Kļava and conductor Kaspars Putniņš.
To better recall the beginnings of the choir, one can flip through the pages of the voluminous photo album Latvijas Radio koris – Fakti. Atmiņas (Latvian Radio Choir – Facts. Memories) that was released for the choir’s 75th anniversary. The musicologist Ilze Šarkovska has noted the most important stops on the choir’s musical journey. “1940. The Year of Terror. It is like a mark of sin with a hint of the ambiguity in the act of creation. Like a scream of agony with the sinking of Atlantis and the golden age. Yet also with birth. The Latvian Radio Choir was formed in a clash of ages. Is that why its sound is so modern, unique, and striking? The choir has become a distinct part of the Latvia we know today – one of a kind, vivid, always changing, always admired. Nourished by a star-studded team of conductors, shaped like dough, raised as a garden. Teodors Kalniņš. Imants Kokars. Edgars Račevskis. Juris Kļaviņš. Sigvards Kļava and Kaspars Putniņš. The voices have been carefully passed down from one hands to others, they’ve been moulded, caressed, ruffled, braided, and knotted, and let go with the winds. Polished, chiselled, grinded. Cleaned. Bathed in the invigorating steam of a Latvian sauna. Reborn again and again. The generations and voices have shifted, also giving way to each conductor’s individuality and brightness. Both the choir and the conductor flowing through mutual ebbs and flows, falling and getting back up again. Growing closer. Finally – finding the individual colour of each voice to use on the collective canvas, to mix with the others, to spread, glaze, shade and illuminate, creating a new collective sound. They are also the cornerstones for the innovation castle that the Latvian composers build. Can we call it Latvian? Northern? Is it characteristic only to us? Contemporary?”
Today, the LRC is a set of unique, award-winning, professional singers that offers its audiences an unusually diverse repertoire – from early music to the most complex scores of modern composers. The choir has taken part in the recording of Arvo Pärt’s Grammy award-winning album Adam’s Lament (ECM) with conductor Tõnu Kaljuste, it has received multiple Latvian Grand Music Awards – the country’s highest musical recognition; also a recipient of the Award of the Cabinet of Ministers of Latvia. The choir’s work on Sergei Rachmaninov’s Vespers was named the best recording of 2013 in the Gramophone magazine, and the American radio NRP added it to its top 25 albums of the year.
The LRC has performed on some of the most famous concert halls around the world, including the Royal Albert Hall, and the Queen Elizabeth Hall in the UK, the Amsterdam Concertgebouw and Muziekgebouw in the Netherlands, the Elbphilharmonie in Germany, the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées and the Cité de la Musique-Philharmonie de Paris in France, the Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center, the Library of Congress, and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in the USA, and the Konzerthaus Berlin, and the Dresden Frauenkirche in Germany.
The LRC frequently performs in the leading international music events, including the Sydney Festival in Australia, the BBC Proms in the UK, the Saltzburg festival and the Klangspuren festival in Austria, the Lucerne festival in Switzerland the Festival Radio France Occitanie Montpellier in France, the Baltic Sea festival in Sweden, the Montecarlo Spring Arts Festival in Monaco, the White Light Festival in the US, Musikfest Erzgebirge in Dresden and Klangvokal in Dortmund in Germany, the OzAsia Festival in Australia, and the Soundstreams festival in Canada. In 2019, the Latvian Radio Choir toured Japan and China – two specially crafted concert programmes were performed in mid-October in the China Shanghai International Arts Festival, and the choral opera Neoarctic saw its premiere in Hongkong.
The LRC is like a creative laboratory that encourages composers to write music pushing the envelope in classical vocal ability. During its last 20 years of work, the collective has forged a whole new idea of what a choir is – each of the singers has their own role and responsibility, each offers an individual contribution to the whole, creating the characteristic unique sonic union.