Christmas Joy in Latvia


Since its founding in 1975, the New York Latvian Concert Choir has always worked to promote the creation and performance of Latvian music. Soon after its founding the choir asked Bruno Skulte to orchestrate his symphonic poem Daugava. Unfortunately, his work was interrupted by illness and the composer died having orchestrated only 6-7 pages. I completed the work he had started so that the concert planned in the Lincoln Center in New York could take place. We then commissioned Haralds Berino to write the cantata Staru tilti [Star Bridges], while Jānis Kalniņš entrusted us to premier his cantata Asins tīrums [The Potter's Field], the score of which had been shelved for 25 years. Later Imants Kalniņš wrote the cantata Brāli, mans brāli [Brother, My Brother] and we performed it in the Latvian National Opera during the Latvian Song Festival in 1990.

Soon after its formation the choir began to cooperate closely with the Latvian Lutheran Church in Yonkers, New York. The church became our main location for rehearsals and concerts; the choir, in turn, performed at church services, mainly those at Christmas and Easter. We also began to organize Advent concerts at which we performed large-scale works with a Christmas theme. In our search for a suitable repertoire of Latvian music we found only one Christmas cantata Spoža zvaigzne attecēja [Behold, a Bright Star] by Bruno Skulte. To widen this very limited repertoire, our chorister and assistant conductor llze Akerberga wrote her first large-scale work Ziemas kantāte [Winter Cantata]. Its premiere was on December 13th, 1981 at Yonkers Church and later in the Bethlehem Church in Brooklyn. The audience's warm reception encouraged us to plan our next Advent concert and to think about an appropriate repertoire. We decided to commission a new work and another the following year. Soon the commissioning of new works became a tradition that has now continued for more than 25 years. New York audiences look forward to our annual Advent concerts that include at least one new work. Altogether the choir has commissioned over twenty Christmas cantatas, including one by the Estonian composer Urmas Sisask. They have all been premiered at Yonkers Church. These cantatas have also been performed elsewhere and are now becoming part of the repertoire of choirs in Latvia.

Cooperation with choirs and orchestras in Latvia has enabled us to organize Christmas concerts in Riga as well as record CD's together with leading choirs, soloists and orchestras in Latvia. This is our fourth CD of Latvian Christmas cantatas, the first three produced by the New York Latvian Concert Choir and this one by Albany Records.

 — Andrejs Jansons

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