It Takes More Than Dozen Carols to Create Christmassy Feeling

It Takes More Than Dozen Carols to Create Christmassy Feeling
Kaspars Garda, Riga 2014 . “Latvijas Koncerti” Director Guntars Ķirsis
Una Griškeviča
It takes more than a dozen carols to create a Christmassy feeling, says Guntars Ķirsis, Director of the “Latvijas Koncerti” concert agency, as he tells the “Riga 2014” culture portal about the traditional festival “European Christmas” that opened the with the concert “European Crown” at the concert hall “Riga” on the 6th of December – which was also one of the events in the “Riga 2014” Programme.

“I would certainly like to say once again that the majority of the popular Christmas music, and the authors thereof, comes from Europe – not America as many people may think. That is why we will try to showcase traditions, music and atmosphere of European countries during the festival, and our concerts will offer much more than just “Jingle Bells” and “O Little Town of Bethlehem”,” Guntars Ķirsis tells us about the festival, adding that, in his opinion, it takes more than ten or so carols that we all know to create a Christmassy feeling.

“For this reason, the programme of the festival is very diverse, and I would like to point out that the festival this year is truly impressive – it features many local artists as well as those Latvian artists who reside in other countries. I will not try to name every single one of them right now, but each concert of the festival will be an unforgettable musical experience.”

The “Latvijas Koncerti” Director also emphasises that many concerts during this year’s festival have been possible thanks to the involvement and support provided by “Riga 2014”, which is especially obvious in two projects – the said opening concert “European Crown” on the 6th of December and the performance of Felix Mendelssohn’s “Elijah” on the 13th of December. The “European Crown” concert featured traditional Christmas melodies arranged by Latvian composers and interpreted by the chamber orchestra “Sinfonietta Rīga”. The composers who arranged the melodies included Jēkabs Jančevskis, Raimonds Tiguls, Valts Pūce, Rihards Dubra, Selga Mence, Andris Sējāns.

Whereas Felix Mendelssohn’s oratorio “Elijah” can be considered the festival’s megaproject. Guntars Ķirsis reveals that organisation of the project took several years: “We had been discussing the staging of “Elijah” in Riga with bass-baritone Egils Siliņš for five years – that it was the composition of his dreams that the artist would certainly like to sing in Riga.

I believe that the oratorio has never been produced in Riga, therefore it will possibly be the Latvian premiere for “Elijah”. It is an immense composition with rich texture, one that only Mendelssohn could have written, and there are so many beautiful melodies in it!”

It is because of this hugeness and complex score that all the components were hard to bring together to create the sum total, explains Guntars – the impressive, one-of-a-kind concert will feature Latvian National Symphony Orchestra, State Choir “Latvija”, the popular conductor Olari Elts, acclaimed bass-baritone Egils Siliņš and a great number of Latvian and foreign soloists. “I expect it to become a truly impressive musical event, because this unique work by Mendelssohn is one of the greatest compositions in the world, only comparable with such compositions as Handel’s “Messiah”. Therefore you definitely have to attend the performance of “Elijah” and hear it all!”

However, when we ask Guntars Ķirsis if the Great Guild Hall is not a little too small for the oratorio, he agrees that it is, and that it should have been performed in the Riga Concert Hall – which still has not been built. “It’s not really worth analysing whether the current concert hall, the Great Guild Hall, is too large or to small, we simply have no other venue,” he sums up, stressing that compromises are also possible and such major concerts could take place at the “Arena Riga”, for instance, which is where Gustav Mahler’s Eighth Symphony was performed couple of years ago – but that was a special case. “If it were summer, the opus could be performed at the Dzintari Concert Hall, but in the winter, Rēzekne concert hall “Gors” would make the best venue. But given the scale of the project and the number of artists involved, this is not an easy process, therefore we decided to stick with the Great Guild Hall.”

But in conclusion, Guntars Ķirsis says with pride:

“On the European scale, the festival we have organised looks very respectably. Elsewhere in Europe, compositions that are indeed traditional are preferred, for instance, Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio”, which will close our festival on the 29th and 30th of December. Our festival, on the other hand, aims for diversity and what could be described as “art house” music. 

But it doesn’t mean that people do not need it, just the contrary! Therefore I am very grateful to our public that support us and create that very special atmosphere at concerts!”

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