Best Choirs of the World to Participate in the World Choir Games in Riga

Best Choirs of the World to Participate in the World Choir Games in Riga
Interkultur, Germany
A little more than two weeks remains until the opening of the World Choir Games in Riga. The Song Festivals and choir singing are innate to every Latvian, we can therefore safely say that the impressive showcase of choirs from nations around the world, which will run in the European Capital of Culture for eleven days in July, will expand the boundaries of vocal arts and elevate choir singing to new heights.

The World Choir Games is the largest choir music festival or forum, bringing 460 choirs from 73 countries in five continents to Latvia. 27,000 participants in the festival will demonstrate the immense variety of choir music and choir singing traditions in the world. The festival in Riga will be the largest World Choir Games to date. This year, choirs will compete in 29 categories, from classical choir singing to folklore, jazz, gospel, barbershop, pop music and much more.

“It is important for us to understand that this will not be a classical choir music display such as that we usually see at the Song Festivals, and the event will broaden our concepts of choir singing.

To give you an idea of the scale of the event – the organisers have to arrange about 1,500 choir rehearsals and concerts to take place within a period of just eleven days. This translates into more than a week of non-stop singing,” says Ilze Salna, the Head of the World Choir Games’ Press Service.

A good example of the impressive variety found at the World Choir Games is one of the largest categories of the competition – folklore. While Latvians typically understand this to be singing of beautiful folksongs by choir singers dressed in national costumes, in the case of, for example, Uganda, Mexico or Indonesia this means a near-fiery performance incorporating the elements of a show.

All choirs participating in the World Choir Games are divided in two main groups. First is the Open Competition, held in 26 categories. Any choir, regardless of its experience, could sign up for the Open Competition. The other group is the Champions Competition, held in 29 categories and featuring choirs with significant stage experience that have won various local and international competitions. The best choirs for inclusion in this competition are selected by the World Choir Council. However, the choirs that compete in this group are not professional choirs, and we will not see such ensembles as the State Choir “Latvija” or the Latvian Radio Choir at the World Choir Games.

Latvian choirs have participated in both the Open and the Champions Competition at the past World Choir Games, and almost all of them did remarkably well, winning several gold, silver, and bronze medals. In total, sixteen Latvian choirs have participated in the past seven World Choir Games. This year, when Latvia is the host to the World Choir Games, 102 Latvian choirs will participate in the competitions – the largest number of choirs coming from one country. China is next with a total of 82 choirs.

Where to start?

Ilze Salna recommends us to first visit the www.singriga.lv website and acquaint ourselves with the World Choir Games’ programme and information about the competition categories, concerts and choirs. As the event draws closer, the website will also offer various recommendations, additional information, and highlight the most important upcoming events.

Several top-level stars and vocal music heavyweights will visit Riga during the World Choir Games, including “The King’s Singers” from Great Britain and “The Real Group” from Sweden. Both have already performed in Riga before, becoming very popular with Latvian listeners.

On the other hand, singers or persons whose professional work is associated with music – even if they do not participate in the World Choir Games – should carefully read the programme of master classes. Listening to “The King’s Singers” perform at the event is one thing, whereas attending master classes by the famous singers is a different matter altogether.

“The King’s Singers” will host two master classes at the Riga Latvian Society House, but in total there will be 24 different master classes over a period of six days. One master class, for instance, will be on the performance and interpretations of Arabic music, there will also be classes on preparing a choir for an international competition, and master classes by prominent Latvian choir music personalities: composers Ēriks Ešenvalds and Uģis Prauliņš, conductors Māris Sirmais and Ints Teterovskis, and many others.

Competition concerts – free of charge

A large part of the World Choir Games’ concerts will be free of charge – these will mostly be competition and friendship concerts on eight stages in Riga that any visitor will be able to attend for free. Every choir will be performing, depending on the type and category of the competition, for 15 to 20 minutes.

Some may want to roam from one concert venue to another – hear a performance at the Academy of Music, then visit the Great Hall of the University of Latvia where classical choir music will be performed as well as concerts in the related categories, and later go to the Congress Centre which will feature scenic pop and show choirs, and so forth.

For these eleven days, Riga will become the capital of world choir music, hosting a great variety of brilliant concerts.

In parallel to the competitions, a total of thirty friendship concerts will be performed on four open-air stages.

These include the “Esplande 2014” culture chalet, “Origo Summer Stage” at the Central Railway Station Square, the stage in the Botanical Garden of the University of Latvia, and in Vērmanes Park. Two to three concerts a day will be performed on each stage, and the programme for every day has been arranged so as to showcase the unbelievable diversity of the World Choir Games participants.

Furthermore, such friendship concerts will be performed in not only Riga, but also in Jūrmala and Sigulda, as well as in Salaspils, Dobele and Pūre where the guests from faraway countries will travel at the local choirs’ invitation.

Four award ceremonies

The “Arena Riga” will host a total of four award ceremonies during the World Choir Games. This is because there will be so many choirs performing in a great variety of categories. Much like the Olympic Games where athletes are awarded after every event, choirs that perform during the first week will be awarded once competition in a given category is over, without waiting for the conclusion of the World Choir Games.

The award ceremonies are usually the most emotional moments of the World Choir Games. All choirs that have completed their performances will meet at the “Arena Riga” to await the results. Similar to many other competitions, the lowest-scoring entries will be announced first, then higher-scoring choirs and so on until the category’s winners are announced. The three highest-scoring choirs will be presented bronze, silver and gold medals. In the Champions Competition, the Grand Prix will be awarded as well, with every Grand Prix winner accepting a statuette sculpted by Olga Šilova specifically for the World Choir Games.

Again, much like in sports competitions and the Olympic Games, national anthems of the countries where the winning choirs come from will be played, and the medallist countries’ flags will be raised.

The Champions Concerts

The award ceremonies will be followed by the Champions Concerts, featuring all the Grand Prix winning choirs. This will be the essence of the World Choir Games – the best of the best choirs from all over the world, the winners in each of the 29 categories. There will be four such concerts in all, and the programme for each concert will be announced once the winners in the Champions Competition categories are known. The concerts will be on the 13th of July at 3 p.m. at the Great Hall of the University of Latvia and at the Congress Centre, and on the 19th of July at these same venues.

“I’m confident that the choirs will give their all in these concerts. The stress of the competition will be in the past, the awards handed out, and there will be a great feeling of openness and freedom, the best there can be,” says Ilze Salna.

The Stars Concerts

This year’s edition of the World Choir Games will also include two Stars Concerts: one on the first week of the Games, on the 10th of July, and the other on the 17th of July. The a cappella group from Sweden, “The Real Group” will be the number-one star to perform in the first concert. The concert will also feature the Japanese percussion ensemble “Yamato, Drummers of Japan”, and a performance of Karl Jenkins’ “Adiemus” by the chamber orchestra “Sinfonia Concertante”, girls’ choir “Tiara”, dance ensemble “Dzirnas”, singer Ieva Parša. Conductor - Aira Birziņa.

The other performers in the concert include Intars Busulis and “Abonementa orķestris”, the German choir “Ladies First”, and choir “Vocal Motion Six” from Namibia.

The second Stars Concert will feature Britain’s “The King’s Singers”, Riga chamber orchestra “Ave Sol” together with the world-famous American composer Morten Lauridsen, and a special collaboration between the group “Instrumenti”, the mixed choir “Sõla” and conductor Kaspars Ādamsons.

It needs to be added that, besides performing in the Stars Concerts of the World Choir Games, the vocal music stars “The Real Group” and “The King’s Singers” will also give individual concerts during their visit to Riga.

The Great Celebration Concert in Mežaparks

The Great Celebration Concert at the Mežaparks Grand Stage will be something unprecedented for the World Choir Games. It will give a chance to choirs from all over the world to realise why choir music traditions are so strong in Latvia, and experience what it feels like to be performing together with thousands of choir singers at the Mežaparks Grand Stage where the Song Festival takes place every five years.

17,000 choir singers will participate in the concert in Mežaparks – 10,000 singers from Latvia and 7,000 from countries all over the globe. During the first part of the concert, songs from the classical Song Festival repertoire will be performed by Latvian choirs. The second part of the concert will open with a performance by “Yamato, Drummers of Japan”, and it will feature classical and popular choir music from around the world, ranging from the “Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves” in Giuseppe Verdi’s opera “Nabucco” up to the gospel music hit “Oh Happy Day”. For this song, the choir will be joined by the gospel music singer Walt Whitman, who will have travelled to Latvia from the United States for this particular concert.

All the 17,000 participants in the Great Celebration Concert will also perform several Song Festival numbers, including the breathtaking “Saule. Pērkons. Daugava” (“Sun, Thunder, Daugava”), spreading the message of the Song Festival, the pride of the culture of Latvia.

The Baltic Boys Choirs Concert

The Baltic Boys Choirs Concert is also a unique project created specifically for the World Choir Games in Riga. The project is closely associated with the Honorary Artistic Director of the World Choir Games, Morten Lauridsen. Music by the popular American composer is performed by professional and amateur concerts worldwide. One of the most popular compositions by Lauridsen is “Lux Aeterna”, originally composed for a boys’ choir. Although very popular with choirs all over the world, it has never been fully performed by a boys’ choir. Thanks to conductor Romāns Vanags’ enterprise, the unique project was created, featuring boys’ choirs from the three Baltic countries. The concert will be on the 14th of July at the Great Guild Hall, in the presence of the composer.

The World Choir Games’ Peace Bell

The special Peace Bell, often compared to the Olympic torch, is one of the main symbols of the World Choir Games. A new bell is cast for every World Choir Games. Ours is being made in the Netherlands, at one of the country’s oldest companies, a bell foundry established in the latter part of the 17th century. The bell weighs almost half-tonne, 480 kilograms, with the bell tongue weighing 20 kilograms.

The bell will arrive in Riga at the beginning of July, delivered from the Netherlands to Latvia by “Sixt”, a partner of the “Riga 2014” foundation. The welcome ceremony for the bell will be at the “Arena Riga”, and the bell will ring to mark the beginning of the World Choir Games’ opening ceremony on the 9th of July. The bell will also chime to close the World Choir Games in Riga.

The bell is approximately 90 centimetres tall, but the bell frame stands over two metres tall. For the duration of the World Choir Games, the bell will remain at the “Arena Riga”, and it will stay in the city after the games close. It has not been decided yet where the bell will be located after the World Choir Games in Riga end.

Symbolically, the bell rings with the note of A, the same as a tuning fork that choir conductors use to set the pitch.

The vibrant colours of the world

Participants in the World Choir Games in Riga include choirs from Indonesia, Namibia, Mexico, South Africa, Australia, Uganda, Colombia, Trinidad and Tobago, the United States, and many European countries. In order to raise funds for their travel to Latvia, choir members in many countries had to organise various campaigns, charity fairs, online fundraising events, give special concerts, and so on. It will be no exaggeration to say that the World Choir Games in Riga will possibly be the greatest event in many choir singers’ lives. Likewise, for many singers from African countries, Indonesia or Australia, the visit to Latvia could become one of the most memorable moments in their lives.

For example, a choir from Namibia is spreading the message about 200 Nigerian girls abducted this past April, many of them still missing.

The choir is an active participant in human rights campaigns, and some elements in the attire in which the singers perform concerts have been altered to draw attention to, and inform about the girls abducted from a school in Nigeria.

A choir singer in the United States, who was planning to participate in the World Choir Games in Latvia, died before his heart surgery this past April. His family used the money he had set aside to travel to the World Choir Games in Riga to set up a fund to cover the cost of a visit to Riga for some other singer who would want to go but cannot afford it. A senior citizen in another U.S. state decided not to go to Latvia after his wife died earlier this year. However, after learning about the said charity fund, he changed his mind and decided to go. He is currently ninety – the oldest participant in this year’s World Choir Games.

A choir from Uganda performs Ēriks Ešenvalds’ “My Song”

“We always keep in mind the great – and the very honourable – responsibility that we have to be as good as we can make it,” says Ilze Salna, the Head of the World Choir Games’ Press Service.

This and other stories come from “Twitter” and “Facebook”. Use the hashtag #wcg2014 to share your impressions and experience of the World Choir Games. This is also where programmes of the World Choir Games concerts and information about the competition categories is posted.

Tickets to the Champions, Stars and other World Choir Games concerts are available from “Biļešu paradīze” outlets.

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