It's important to keep culture sense. Interview with Juris Žagars

It's important to keep culture sense. Interview with Juris Žagars
Kaspars Garda, Rīga 2014 . Juris Žagars
Una Griškeviča
30-06-2013 A+ A-
Actor and businessman Juris Žagars also works as a creative project director at Vidzeme Concert Hall. He meets us next to upcoming Cesis Concert Hall. They celebrated reaching the ridge of the Hall recently. At first, it looks like a large ocean liner entering small streets of Cesis because of its glass annex. "I'm gonna show you all the interesting places," promises Žagars. He, in fact, has to work hard on annual Festival of The Arts "Cēsis 2013". So, while leading our excursion, Žagars receives phone calls frequently.

You chose to show the large hall first. Will it be located the same place where the old Culture House hall was?

Yes, the main idea was to maintain the old project by fulfilling it by an architect Juris Poga. Therefore, the old building from 1915 should be kept. This building has always been connected to cultural events, so it seemed important to keep it that way. I think, right now, the culture sense is there. Of course, 70% of the building is newly built. The stage is going to be 12x12 meters big, so perfectly in order for concerts with full orchestra staff and for professional theatre performances. We might also show opera and theatre plays, if necessary. We have full-sized orchestra hollow for those cases. A big lifting platform is built in front of the stage. We will be able to immerse it by creating the orchestra hollow. Also we can lift it back to a level of the hall floor by getting more space for the audience. At the same time, it could be lifted even higher, so we can get the stage bigger. Of course, the platform might be used for lifting piano, instruments or decorations to and from storages.


The idea was not ours. It was a regional concert halls programme initated at the time Helēna Demakova was the Minister of Culture. It was six years ago, so called "rich years". This was a political decision on government level to build the hall in Cesis. Of course, it had to do with Cesis local authorities, as well, when I was a deputy, too.

The idea of Cesis Concert Hall seemed logical considering that Cesis has always been the cultural capital of Vidzeme. We have always kept a rich cultural life, besides, the city itself is put in order, beautiful and suitable for tourists.

Culture House was hopelessly old and small. Some large concerts were held at the house from time to time, so were annual summer opera performances at the open-air stage. "Carmina Burana" by Carl Off was performed at The Festival of the Arts seven years ago where a symphony orchestra and a choir took part. I myself sat in the first row about 50 centimeters from musicians.. (Laughing.) We have more space now. Speaking of the idea about concert hall, we had to options back then. First, to build it near Cesis Castle Park or, second, to rebuild the Culture House. Then we realized we just can't afford two halls. So we would not want to take down the old building.

You speak joyfully about the stage where theatre performances might be showed. Do you feel nostalgia about this place?

Yes! (Smiling.) I was at high school when Tatjana Šverste, the legendary director of Cesis Folk Theatre, invited us to take part in a play "Tā tas varētu būt" ("It might be so") by Andrejs Dripe, a very popular piece, by the way. Back then, we were just a beating sixteen-year-old kids with interest in sports, not arts. The play went great, we toured around Latvia with it.


One more great thing of yours is the small hall where movies will be showed.

Yes, I am really happy about the fact Cesis finally gets its own cinema theatre. We will be fully equipped with the newest technologies in order to broadcast movies, even some pieces from "Metropolitan" Opera or London Royal Opera House, why not? In Riga, tickets for opera broadcasts are sold out six months in advance. Many people in Cesis might like to buy those tickets here. Also let's not forget about European cinema. Of course, we will have to cover commercial cinema area, as well. What's more, I have an idea of some sort of a movies club.

Every city in Europe has its own movies club. Why should not we have it in Cesis, too?

It’s a simple idea. People register to the club, therefore, they get the entrance to special shows one or two times a month. If a club member have booked a ticket two times but does not come to a movie, he is expelled from the club. (Smiling.) People get addicted from good movies, besides, they get to decide about a cinema repertoire.

Ony residents of Cesis might get to register to the club?

No, everyone, but with a strong selection! (Laughing.) They will have to prove their relation to Cesis or at least Vidzeme by showing their family tree or some special certificate. Maybe we will welcome those whose ancestry come from Madona region. (Smiling.) But the border could be drawn somewhere around Vangaži.

It’s an irony, no doubt. We often get criticized about exaggerated local patriotism.

In any case, people in Cesis are well educated to evaluate such kind of projects. There is a reason why so many talented people, including artists, writers, dramatists, come from this region or Piebalga. It might be inherited, the gene of creativity.


Newly built Rezekene Concert Hall is called the The Embassy of Latgale. Would Cesis Hall be The Embassy of Vidzeme?

I don’t think this should be emphasized. Latgale is a very specific region with its dialect, mentality, etc. Therefore, Latgale has the urge to support its identity with a strong name. It might get easier for us, simply „Vidzeme Concert Hall „Cēsis””. It’s Vidzeme because we cover whole region not Cesis alone. But, yes, the building will belong to Cesis local government.

„Baltais flīģelis” („The White Grand Piano”) Concert Hall is not far from Cesis, in Sigulda. Might they be your competition or friends?

We won’t compete much, I think. Sigulda Hall is much different, with two hundred seats, more suitable for chamber concerts. Besides, Inese Zagorska is a great manager of „Baltais Flīģelis”. This is why I think we might cooperate. Their programmes would be performed in Cesis, and the other way around.

You are the project manager of the upcoming hall. Will you manage it daily when it’s finished?

I don’t think so, at least not in an employment form I am here now. By this I mean being here all the time without working on other projects the same time. Still, I am a professional actor. I have an agreement with the theatre that I step back from my roles. As soon as the hall is finished, I go back and play. My status here is a project manager at the local government, not the manager of Cesis Concert Hall. It’s still a year until the opening. Everything can change, deadlines or the timing for me to work here.

Concert Hall should be managed by a professional who does nothing else but works for the Hall. Besides, he might need a good team.

Soon, a local government Ltd. will be founded, a competition announced for the manager position, etc. I am not saying I won’t involve. I hope to work as a board member. Moreover, I am responsible for the project in general by being here from the first day. Still, there should be a professional art manager who works at the Hall on a daily basis.

You have said publicly that the Hall won’t earn enough with classical concerts only.

Of course, the Hall with eight houndred seats should be filled utmost to earn some money. It’s clear that regional concert halls can’t live without a regular support from the government. Only local governments in Scandinavia or Russia could support their halls. We can apply for the State Culture Capital Foundation (SCCF) where finances for regional activities are envisaged. But, still, SCCF can’t afford to spend the money they got in addition from The Ministry of Culture only for regional halls. SCCF supports several projects only.

Concert hall needs at least 150 000 lats a year to support creative content, otherwise there is no point in building a hall. Why would we need great cultural buildings without regular high-quality activities? We need to think of it on a state level.

It is not and it can’t be a problem of local government. Estonia is a good example of culture policy. Regional halls are government supported. Besides, if we wish to invite good artists they need to be booked in advance. Though, we are not sure about the next year’s budget. So we have no idea how to pay those artists. It’s an important and hard issue. I know The Ministry of Culture understands it and, thus, works in order to arrange the process. All culture ministers have confirmed government support for regional halls. They just need to find the right way how to use the money for right purposes. Also current minister Žanete Jaunzeme-Grende said finances are going to be searched and hopefully discovered.


You have told about an impressive opening concert.

My team, not me. We have a particular plan. By team I mean Artūrs Maskats, Indra Lūkina and other people who agreed to join the project right now. The Latvian National Symphony Orchestra, opera singer Aleksandrs Antoņenko and many other Latvian stars will take part at the opening concert. If everything goes right, it will be on 31 May, 2014.

You must have thought of how to fill the seats.

It might go semething like this: there are four weekends in a month. One weekend could be dedicated to classical or academic music, but on Saturday, popular music or jazz could be performed, or even Dzintars Čīča if people like him. We also plan to invite theatres from Riga, Liepaja and Daugavpils. Riga is only eighty five kilometers from Cesis. Actors can easily play and go home afterwards.

We must not forget about amateur collectives, including choirs, dance ensembles and folk theatres. They should be given the opportunity to perform on one Saturday evening a month.

Even if they do not sell out all seats, still, if there is more people in the audience than on a stage, it’s worth it one hundrer percent. Joining together in a collective is what’s important for amateurs, not so much as who is going to watch them. Also rock bands are invited. The Hall has a solid acoustics suitable for various music genres.

Maybe the time will come to realize your dream about „Jesus Christ Superstar” by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

We think of it from time to time, but it’s a huge project costing great amount of money. It would be around 100 000 lats, which is as much as one Cesis Concert Hall budget. We might rather cooperate with Lithuania and Estonia in order to show the play in The Baltics.

There is no point of showing the play one time only. We then would become adventurers of Latvian culture projects scene. In fact, we are already among them. (Laughing.)

We have found potential performers, it’s Lithuanian rock singer Jeronimas Milius. Judas could be performed by Intars Busulis. We must not forget that a symphony orchestra and a rock band is required for the show.

Do you have in mind some big musical projects? Boston Symphony Orchestra and Andris Nelsons, for instance?

(Laughing.) Of course, especially, if someone paid for that! If seriously, we wish to present „Tannhäuser” by Wagner at The Castle Park, where castle-ruine might serve as the background. Will se what happens next, those are just dreams.

Will Cesis involve next year when Riga becomes The European Capital of Culture?

We have negotiated about that and will try to emphasize our events and concerts. The programme is already known. The Festival of the Arts will be held next year, as well. We are open to everyone who wishes to visit Cesis next year. In summers, there is always something to experience in Cesis!




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