The Radio Choir - between letters, silent songs and Bach
Right letters at the right time
“It may be easy to ask – but very hard to answer – why one or another project emerges. Certainly, there are personal reasons or a complex of reasons for the creation of the “Letters. Silent Songs” programme. It produces very personal, sometimes intimate and sensual feelings, and concentrates in a public performance,” says Sigvards Kļava who we meet shortly after a rehearsal.
He believes that the name of the performance may create associations with letters we write but never send, or letters we are planning to write but eventually do not. “Usually these are personal and very powerful feelings. But then, sometimes we feel ashamed of the public finding out. So the letters are put at the bottom of a deep drawer.
Later however, a moment comes when someone finds them, and the energy that coming in contact with the letters creates, regardless of whether it is in the form of poetry or music, is accompanied by very strong, explosive self-expression. I am not sure, however, if that is beautiful and if the public should see it.”
The conductor does not deny that – if he had the idea of such a performance, there was obviously a reason for doing something like this. “Of course, I had my own personal reasons to believe why it had to be done at this exact time, and why this feeling is necessary at this particular moment."
Sigvards Kļava emphasises that the letters mentioned in the name of the performance, which will mostly feature poetry by the intellectual dissidents of the Soviet period – Knuts Skujenieks, Adam Zagajewski, Desanka Maksimović, Zviad Ratiani and Jaan Kaplinski – are an abstraction; they will form the basis for a narrative message in poetry readings by actor Kaspars Znotiņš. “This will be a work of art only!” Furthermore, it was very important for him to know that his creative friends – Kaspars Znotiņš and Sergejs Osokins – were as immersed in the project as he was and in tune with him. “Whether this has been so, we will see during the performance. Right now we are going through a creative process, trying to arrive at the version we deem the best for now.
As the stage can be very cruel, it often shaves off the more subtle sensations. That is why it is the duty of artists to not love the feelings they may have more than the idea can address and fulfil the people that will be around us.”
Whether the performance will be repeated again sometime in the future is rather a matter of marketing and planning. “We are still continuing the creation of something new and fragile. Once it is born will we be able to see if, and in what way, it settles and how popular it is with the audiences. Because, no doubt, there is a time for every music and every sensation. A time comes when a revolution has to be staged or a battle fought, or a time may come when you may want to think something over, in a very simple yet very serious manner. And it just so happens that it is not always possible to do some very simple things with utmost seriousness, or very seriously ponder about the very simple feelings that rush past us every day.”
Making Europe notice Riga
Commenting on the major project scheduled for April – all three Johann Sebastian Bach passions (Bach’s St Mark’s Passion and Ēriks Ešenvalds’ St Luke’s Passion in the Riga Dom on the 4th of April, St Matthew’s Passion in St Peter’s Church on the 11th of April and St John’s Passion in St John’s Church on the 18th of April, Sigvards Kļava says that the concept was to present all the Passions composed by Bach. Given that St Luke’s Passion is not an authentic Bach composition (or at least the original Bach manuscript has not yet been found), he turned to Ēriks Ēšenvalds asking him to write a Latvian version of St Luke’s Passion. “During Holy Week the four canonical gospels will each have their own Via Dolorosa, concentrating the spiritual pinnacles of musical genius. Every passion will be performed in a different Riga church, thus creating a kind of “Stations of the Cross” here, culminating on Easter Friday.”
But will Ēriks Ešenvalds’ St Luke’s Passion blend in, stylistically, with the mood of Bach’s music? “It will take some time for me to answer this question. But Ēriks certainly knows in what context and environment I am planning the performances to be in, likewise, he is aware that his Passion will be performed on the same night as St Mark Passion. And yet – Ešenvalds is writing an independent opus, his own one, which, just like any other composition, will have to live its own creative life after the performance,” says Sigvards, not denying that it is also his responsibility in choosing which composer to tap.
“It goes without saying that I had been pondering on which musical and sound language would fit and be involved in the dialogue in this particular context. To fit a concert programme where Bach music is featured – that is beyond competition, here we can only speak of creative dialogue or being in touch with that world.”
The artists – local and foreign musicians alike – who are involved in the interpretation of Bach compositions are truly the best of the best. Of them the Artistic Director of the Radio Choir says the following: “Some of the artists are our creative friends who we met touring the far corners of the earth and performing together, and I have absolute confidence in their artistic quality and integrity. Some of the others we have just met but hope to make good friends. At any rate, this togetherness is promising to be very interesting because all of these artists are tremendous authorities on performing baroque music, and there is no soloist, conductor or orchestra involved that has not proved itself, in the best possible way, in specifically interpreting Bach music.”
Sigvards Kļava also makes no bones about being very happy that the Radio Choir can be part of international cultural developments that are now taking place here, and even make an impact on these developments. This, he believes, will have a profoundly positive effect on further development:
“If it falls to Riga to have the privilege and the unique opportunity of being the cultural capital of Europe, and if we have been entrusted with creating something, then we must create such an event that fully deserves to become part of the cultural life of Europe. If you happen to tell a music aficionado, a music agency or a conductor that we are staging a different passion by Bach on a weekly basis before Easter, involving different artists every time, everyone will duly appreciate this, realising this is no joke, especially given the rank of the performers and the resources we have.
Thus I believe that turning the spotlight on what is going on in Riga is highly important because we are accustomed to take pride in Latvian musicians, and now also athletes, making headlines with their victories, performances and associations elsewhere. Now the focus is on our home country, and that is very important!”