Friday, July 14, 2017

Echoes of the song festival / Dziesmu svētku atskaņas / Part 1

Our four days in Baltimore passed in a blur of concerts, what felt like several years of Latvian culture boiled down into 100 hours of events. With three young children along (and an abundance of family and friends we wanted to catch up with), we knew we would not be able to do everything – but that didn’t stop us from trying!


Our largest obstacle to fitting everything in was arrival time, as we were set to arrive in Baltimore on Friday night. This meant we wouldn’t be able to attend the opening ceremony (svētku atklāšana), about which my friend Daina had this to say; “While the official opening event (atklāšana) has traditionally been less than exciting, this festival's opening featured enough interesting people (Latvia's Minister of Culture! Latvia's Ambassador to the US!) who kept their remarks brief, as well as high quality musical performances that indicated the great concerts we were to experience during the festival. The East Coast Combined Choir's performance of Ēriks Ešenvalds' stirring Dvēseles dziesma was particularly beautiful.” After the opening ceremony the Song Festival continued in earnest with various acts taking the Printful Stage, as well as with the Sacred Music Concert (garīgās mūzikas koncerts). The one event that I regret missing most was the dance party that evening with Iļģi; luckily we were to have more opportunities to hear them play, but more on that in a bit…


Saturday we took a quick look at the svētku market before heading out into the heat of the day to see the Peabody Library and Bromo Seltzer Tower, missing the Jaundeju skate (new choreography contest) at the Lyric Opera House. Here’s a view from backstage with members of the dance group Sienāzītis, the children’s group that traveled all the way from Longford, Ireland to the festival...


We used a moment of quiet in the early afternoon to check in at the mobile passport station, and then while dad set out to take care of a few obligations, the boys and I headed to the Sheraton for the theater production Emīls un Berlīnes zēni. Based on the children’s novel Emil and the Detectives by German writer Erich Kästner, the production was an adaptation performed by the San Francisco Theater Workshop. Director and producer Māra Lewis brought a cast of 18 to Baltimore, and the family-friendly show was a hit with parents and children alike; the kids had all gathered at the foot of the stage within the first 10 minutes and were kept enthralled for the duration, while the parents enjoyed the positive values put forth such as honesty, hard work and teamwork. My three boys give 6 thumbs up to the show. Parole – Emīls!


The next morning we headed downstairs to the Fells Point room for bērnu nodarbības (children’s activities). Overflowing with energy, the kids made puzuri out of straws, decorated mittens with Latvian designs, played with helium balloons, and in general, caused a ruckus until mom declared it to be pool time. Only complaint? Who puts 50 children in a room together with their parents with no coffee…


While dad took two of the kids to the pool (another enclosed space with 50 kids and no coffee), the third joined my sister and me on a tour of the art and the fashion & folk costume exhibits. The latter showcased contemporary fashion alongside traditional dress, and featured a number of current designers with their take on folk patterns & symbols.


The art exhibit brought together an eclectic collection of work, all by Latvian-American artists and relating to the theme “On the Road to Latvia’s Centennial.” After browsing the pieces, more than one of which was the work of a familiar name, we took in the view of the harborfront, Latvian flag fluttering in the steady breeze coming off the Patapsco.


The folk dancing show (tautas deju lieluzvedums), one of the primary events of the weekend, took place Sunday afternoon at the Royal Farms Arena. 778 folk dancers came together to reflect the changing face of Latvian folk dance, the selected dances highlighting the evolution of patterns, movements and music over the last 100 years. The dancers came from all over the world: 32 dance troops from the US, Canada, Latvia and Ireland, and the 26-dance program was strewn with crowd favorites ranging from Vidzemes polka to Gailis un vista.


From there, a portion of the attendees headed to Christ Lutheran church for the SŌLA concert. Daina writes “Attending the Sōla concert was a true musical treat. The program had been well chosen – the first half contained works by Latvian composers, and the second part presented Latvian folk songs in choral arrangements. The beautiful setting of Christ Lutheran Church with its excellent acoustics only added to our enjoyment of this outstanding choir’s concert.”


Meanwhile we were trying to get the boys fed because that evening we were lucky to have vecpaps Jānis around to watch the kiddos while we relaxed aboard the Spirit of Baltimore. Setting sail from the Inner Harbor, we watched the sunset over the city while enjoying hors d’oeuvres, and soon were slipping past a dark Fort McHenry. The lively accompaniment of Iļģi filled the boat and floated out over the water as we navigated all the way out of the Inner Harbor to the Francis Scott Key Bridge. The conversation and laughter of long-time friends reunited echoed from the shore, if only for one magical evening on the Chesapeake.



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