Monday, July 17, 2017

Echoes of the song festival / Dziesmu svētku atskaņas / Part 2

(This is part two of a two-part post on the Latvian Song & Dance Festival in Baltimore. You can find Part 1 here…)

The Šmidchens clan represents in Baltimore
The Līdz Auseklis Lec dance party was underway when we returned from our Inner Harbor excursion aboard the Spirit of Baltimore. Organized by the American Latvian Youth Association, DJ Ai-Va kept the tunes flowing long into the early morning. Check out this video via #niceonequipment to hear ALJA’s Dziesmu Svētki beat.

The next morning we grabbed the kids and joined Iļģi once more, this time sacrificing Rakstnieku cēliens in return for bērnu rīts. I’m not sure who enjoyed the morning more - the kids, or the adults that had joined them - for what turned out to be a foot-stomping, bagpipe-wailing, kicking-up-a-fiddle-storm type of concert. We sang along, we danced and we even learned about some of the traditional Latvian instruments; the morning was over far too soon.

Two more events we had to skip: the Kamermūzikas concerts at the American Visionary Art Museum and the Ceļā uz mājām theater production which had traveled all the way from Latvia. There just wasn’t much choice, as we wanted to be able to enjoy the main event of the entire festival – the Kopkora koncerts – and needed some down time in between. Before long we were boarding one of the shuttles that would take us to Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, the perfect venue for what is the climax of the song festival.

The festival choir explored the centuries-old tradition of song in Latvia in a heart-stopping, emotion-evoking crescendo of 28 songs. The tears started with the first two, the American and Latvian hymns; as the audience stood up and joined in, it was clear that we were not to be an audience for this concert, but sentimental līdzgājēji on the journey through over a hundred years of the Latvian Song Festival. From there, 400 voices singing as one took us through the prayers of our forefathers, Pauls Berkolds conducting Tev mūžam dzīvot Latvija and a little later in the program, Vizma Maksiņa with Lūgšana. Again and again the audience leapt to their feet with applause, but somehow the conductors maintained their forward momentum, raising the bar with each additional song instead of caving to audience demands to repeat favorites. I couldn’t breathe during the last four songs before intermission, the pride in our national identity overwhelming during what was a finale that shattered expectations and left the audience trembling: Saule, pērkons, Daugava (conductor Kaspars Ādamsons), Jāņu dziesma (conductor Laura Padega Zamura), Tēvijai (Kaspars Ādamsons) and Lec, saulīte (Krisīte Skare).

We returned from the intermission with tissues stowed, thinking ourselves ready for the onslaught of sentiment. The concert continued with a celebration of East Coast Latvian composers, rejoicing in the return of the song festival to the east US in the first time in 40 years. Exciting arrangements of popular favorites – Ziedi, ziedi, rudzu vārpa, Dod dieviņi kalnā kāpt and Pērkonītis ducināja – rolled over the audience in waves, bringing the end of this portion of the concert far too quickly. As the final farewell approached, we were taken on one more voyage of passion: the reverbrations of Gaismas pils (conductor Kaspars Ādamsons), Šķind zemīte, rīb zemīte (conductor Krisīte Skare) and Pūt Vējiņi (conductor Laura Padega Zamura) cut clear to the soul, and will stay with me long after the final echoes of applause have died away.

The most unique event at this Dziesmu un deju svētki might have been the Festival Dinner. The menu for the banquet was created and produced by Māris Jansons, head Chef of Bibliotēka №1 Restorāns in Rīga, Latvia. We knew we were in for a treat when we arrived to an epic spread of finger foods, all traditionally Latvian but with a contemporary twist: Rīga sprats on rye bread with horseradish cream, goat cheese with cloudberry (lāceņu) jam and onion pickled in beer, grey peas with bacon, herring on rye bread with sour cream, and my favorite, salmon in beet roots on toast with hemp butter.

Once we had been seated the feast continued, albeit with less emphasis on the Latvian and more on the modern. The mixed green salad with raspberries, candied walnuts and crumbled goat cheese was topped with a red wine vinaigrette. The salmon was accompanied by wild rice, asparagus puree, asparagus mélange and pickled fennel. The third course was pork tenderloin seasoned with Old Bay, smoked corn puree and heirloom tomatoes on the side. As sated as I was after the third course I should have known there would be two desserts: A melt-in-your-mouth strawberry shortcake, and the Latvian counterpart of sweet rye bread and red bilberry (brūklenes) trifle!

Chef Māris had produced the entire meal in the hotel kitchen, working alongside the (American) hotel chef and a local team. The festival dinner was an event to remember, and I’m excited for the chance to someday dine in his restaurant in Rīga. As a final coup de grace Chef Māris had arranged for Rīgas Melnais Balzams to be served alongside the coffee and tea, and we emerged from the banquet thoroughly sated.

The final event of the Svētki was the Festival Ball. Toronto-based Latvian rock band Penzionāri had a deal with the attendees – we keep dancing, they keep playing! It was a final hurrah, and an energizing night with friends; ballējam, neguļam!
The cousins (with husbands, kids and significant others!)
Thank you for joining me on this journey to the Latvian Song and Dance Festival in Baltimore! For those of you already looking forward to the next festival, next year Latvia is hosting the XXVI Vispārējie latviešu dziesmu un XVI deju svētki during the Latvian centennial celebrations. Tickets go on sale in January of 2018; for more on that and the Latvija 100 celebration, visit the official LV100 website

However if you’re looking for the next festival on this side of the Atlantic, you will only have to wait until 2019 when Toronto will be hosting the XV Latviešu dziesmu un deju svētki Kanādā! The dates have been set (July 4-7), and a preliminary calendar of events is already available; please visit their website and follow them on facebook, twitter and Instagram to keep up to date on all the latest.

Māci man dvēsles mieru, māci debess spēku,
Kā pati Laima lika, tinot mūža rakstu.
Lec, saulīte, spīdi spoži, torā puisi, rotā meitu,
Lec, saulīte, tumsu šķel, vieno visu Latvju tautu.
(Lec, saulīte - Raimonds Tiguls)

For more memories from the Baltimore Song and Dance Festival, make sure to visit festival Reviews and Reports page as well as the Smugmug page which features photos available for download. One of the articles I think best captures the essence of the festival is the Latvians Online article “Baltimore Latvian Song Festival– a resounding success.”

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...