By David Karlin, 16 March 2019

All the Baltic states have strong choral traditions, and before I entered St John’s Church in Riga, I was well aware that the Latvian Radio Choir are one of the very best. I was also well aware of the fine qualities of composers such as Tigran Mansurian and James MacMillan. But seeing these 24 singers unaccompanied at close quarters for the first time, I honestly found myself unprepared for the experience.

Although the Performance Art movement has been around for decades, it is still news when it comes to town. The idea of a heady mix of diverse arts-plastic, visual, musical, theatrical-has always been with us, but usually they are blended in such a way as to present a homogeneous whole.

Performance artists, on the other hand, prefer breaking the spectacle into discreet units, so that the audience is aware of the separateness of each contribution. This can dilute any intended effect, but it can liberate the mind of the viewer/listener in wonderful ways.

For anyone who likes the idea of 24 men and women using their voices to go beyond song, a Saturday-evening concert by the Latvian Radio Choir would have been a special treat.

Hosted by adventurous Toronto concert presenter Soundstreams at a packed Metropolitan United Church, the Baltic singers showed off remarkable technique, polish and balance under their longtime conductor, Sigvards Klava.

Latvia basked in the spotlight Friday evening with a concert by one of its leading musical groups at the Library of Congress. The Latvian Radio Choir marked the centenary of Latvia’s independence with a powerful program of unaccompanied gems. Andris Teikmanis, the Latvian ambassador to the United States, spoke proudly of his country, small in size but “a great musical power in the world” nevertheless.

“IF you think opera is antiquated art form in which tragic heroines take an eternity to die, then you need to see War Sum Up. 

This extraordinary production from Denmark-based company Hotel Pro Forma is an example of how opera is being redefined, leaving old-fashioned opera companies struggling to keep up. The concept may seem unlikely - a Danish production sung in Japanese by a Latvian Choir - but War Sum Up transcends cultural boundaries in its contemplation of the devastating effects of war.

"One could hardly ask for better performers in this repertoire than the Latvian Radio Choir under the inspired direction of Sigvards Kļava, and Ondine’s recording, made in St John’s Church in Riga, is a model of clarity. A superb release."

Los Angeles Times: " The choruses from Pärt’s Estonia and from Latvia added a demonstrative emotive aspect to the evening."

Saturday, April 16, 19.00 Riga Cathedral, Riga

"Spiritual transcendence, ghostly wailing, harmonic deconstruction, microtonal singing – not your average concert experience."

"The twelve men and twelve women of the ensemble, conducted by Sigvards Klava, sing together to form a superbly blended sound, with an excellent balance of voices."