Latvian Composers and Bach. “Organ Music under the Aegis of Bach” Closes

Latvian Composers and Bach. “Organ Music under the Aegis of Bach” Closes
Kaspars Garda, Riga 2014 . New music by three Latvian composers in concert at the Riga Dom on the 26th of September
Una Griškeviča
The project “Organ Music under the Aegis of Bach” will close on Friday, the 26th of December, with the series of compositions “Trilogy for Latvian Organ” in the Riga Dom, written specifically for this project by three Latvian composers – Jānis Lūsēns, Rihards Dubra and Ēriks Ešenvalds. The first part of the trilogy, Rihards Dubra’s “Jūrmala Partita”, had its premiere in Dubulti Church on the 7th of September, Jānis Lūsēns’ “Urban Fantasy with BACH”, dedication to Liepāja, was first performed in Liepāja Holy Trinity Cathedral on the 14th of September, whereas Ēriks Ešenvalds’ dedication to Riga, “The Voice of the Ocean”, will have its premiere on the 26th of September.

We call composer Ēriks Ešenvalds on the phone when he is almost at the other end of the world, in Alaska, to ask him to comment on his new composition, “The Voice of the Ocean”, that will have its premiere in the Riga Dom on the 26th of September. This is what the composer tells us about his new work, via e-mail: “The voice of the ocean booms out in the dark depths, rustles in the rocks, is full of birds’ cries, silent in the silvery veils of the East and West; it is the vast embodiment of what appears to be new imagination and still – of the same archaic feeling. Like a book without covers, like the field of vision without the horizon, is how the voice of the ocean speaks.” The composer also admits that his composition has a reference to Bach: “Yes, there is a subtle reference to Bach’s d moll opus, the G-A-G motif we all know so well.”

We have better luck with Jānis Lūsēns and Rihards Dubra, who both happen to be in Latvia and both are willing to tell us more about their relationship with Bach. “I have been passionate about organ music ever since the age of 14. There were no synthesisers, no modern electronics back then, and I was very much into organ music, I went to churches, I was gathering what information there was about various organs, and even played the organ in Liepāja Holy Trinity Cathedral,” says Jānis Lūsēns, adding that the proposal to compose something for this particular festival had come unexpected as he had not done anything in art music for a very long time. “To me, composing the fantasy, in which I had to encode B.A.C.H., was fooling around in a way, as I wanted to distance myself from the usual kind of music, the beautiful verses and choruses. The composition is a fantasy in form, where listeners will be able to hear interesting and unusual combinations of instruments – an electric guitar with the organ, which will indeed sound very unusual in some parts, or an electric guitar and a harp… There will be outstanding musicians performing the composition, and I believe it will sound wonderfully.”

We ask Jānis Lūsēns about his relationship with Bach, and he tells us, laughingly:

“I’d like to see a composer who has not been influenced by Bach! One famous composer said once, Bach is our bread and butter. Either way, to me Bach still remains the foundation of foundations. Bach is the sun in the sky!”

However, there will be no quotations from Bach in Jānis Lūsēns’ composition, although the organist did ask him to include something from Bach in his work. “I have so many phrases from Bach in my head that I couldn’t really decide which of them should be the main one in the composition,” confesses the composer, adding that he did use Bach’s principles for writing music for the organ – fugatos and tutti with abrupt, rhythmical patterns, very virtuoso and metronomic parts, which may be interpreted as a reference to the way Bach composed his music.

The composer goes on to tell us that lately he has been tempted to compose more classical music, and he has accepted several commissions: “Saxophone player and the Academy of Music Rector Artis Sīmanis has commissioned a composition for an alto saxophone, organ and soprano, which will have its premiere during the Saxophone Music Festival next February. In the near future, the Radio Choir will perform five 13th century laudas that I have arranged – compositions based on the surviving scores and parts of the period laudas arranged for a choir, saxophone and alto violin. Although I am composing more classical music now, it doesn’t mean that I will stop writing new songs – there will simply be fewer of them, and for a narrower range of performers.”

Just like the composition by Jānis Lūsēns, the work by composer Rihards Dubra has also been created at the request of the person who proposed the idea of the project, organist Edīte Alpe. “So I got down to it, but I didn’t want to repeat and use the famous BACH theme that everyone plays on and that has been used so extensively that I’m already tired of it. That’s why I decided to write a suite, which is what Bach did on many occasions. For this reason, “Partita” is made up of several parts, which though are performed without interruption. There is also one fugue halfway through the composition, which is also characteristic of Bach,” says the composer, adding with a smile that there is also something from Jūrmala in “Partita”, as the composition had to be dedicated to the city.

“I never quote anything, but a careful listener could hear something from the traditional Latvian music devoted to the sea.”

Dubra says that he has been asked in another recent interview if the composition was dedicated to Dubulti, one of the parts of Jūrmala, and to the Dubulti Church organ. “To this I can say, yes, because I live next to Dubulti Church, which is where I was composing the “Partita” this past summer,” the composer says, laughing.

Rihards Dubra’s composition has already had its premiere in Dubulti Evangelical Lutheran Church, whereas the concert in the Riga Dom on the 26th of September will have completely different sound, as the organ and acoustics in the Riga Dom are entirely different. “To be frank, I’m a little concerned about the performance as the composition is rather a chamber music piece, and it could get lost in this huge room. But it is the kind of composition I was asked to write, and that’s what I did.” And yet, knowing that it will be Kristīne Adamaite at the organ, Rihards Dubra is certain that everything will be perfect. “I believe that this concert, which will definitely be a very special event in the musical life of Latvia, will be performed by a star ensemble, including three organists who are probably the best organists we have – Kristīne Adamaite, Iveta Apkalna and Tālivaldis Deksnis.”

As for the effect that Bach has on his works, Rihards Dubra is laconic: “No professional composer is a true professional if he has not studied what Bach was doing, including polyphony that is so characteristic of Bach and without which no composition for an orchestra can actually be put together. And if somebody tells you that it is of no importance to him, well, he must be a dilettante.”


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