The sound of Latvia

  • 2010-08-26
  • Interview by Raquel Dura Lahoz

Latvian National Symphony Orchestra (LNSO), together with Latvian National Opera and Latvian National Theater, is one of the most important cultural icons in this country’s traditions. The Symphony Orchestra concerts started in 1926, with just fourteen musicians, and today the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra continues with the Latvian and Russian musical traditions. With this peculiar sound, the LNSO performs around the world every season. Since more than one year ago, Ilze Paidere-Stake has been the administrator leading the orchestra. Two months before starting the new season, the administrative director of LNSO took time to answer questions from The Baltic Times in her office in the beautiful Great Guild Hall in Riga.

Could you explain your career? Which is your position at the LNSO?
My first education was here in Latvia, at the Latvian Culture Academy. I graduated from an International Cultural Program under the collaboration between Latvia and Scandinavia, and then I went to Hamburg, Germany to study Cultural Management. I came back to Latvia and I started to work in a small music agency here, Herman Braun Foundation. Later, I was interested in changing something in my life and I came to LNSO. I started as a concert producer, but then, my chief, Ints Dalderis, became Culture Minister of Latvia in March 2009. He asked me to help him for a couple of months with the orchestra, because the Latvian government used to change fast, but now more than one year has passed and nothing has changed and I am still here, leading the orchestra. My position is director, the administrative leader of LNSO.

It is not very common to find a woman with a responsible position in an orchestra. Are there more women in this role in the last years?
Yes, for Eastern Europe it is not very typical that a woman becomes the leader of an important institution. In other parts of Europe, as in Germany, it is more normal, but I had no problem and I hope that nobody here has that kind of problem. And I hope that in the coming years more women are in important positions.

What are the values that the orchestra wants to share with its music? What is the mission of the LNSO? Is the orchestra a way to raise awareness of Latvia abroad?
The great mission of our orchestra is to become one of the most important orchestras in Eastern Europe. We are doing really hard work to be one of the leading orchestras in this part of Europe. We have changed the orchestra in the last five years; actually, if you look at our orchestra there are a lot of young talented musicians playing and they are now working basically on the sound, on the new sound of the LNSO.  And, of course, the orchestra is a way to introduce Latvia in other countries with our music. In September we are going to start to give big concerts around Europe. This tour is going to be separated into two periods: the first one in September with seven concerts, and the second one in February. We will visit the main concert halls in Germany, Austria and France. In all these concerts two important musicians will be together. Our Chief Conductor and Artistic Director Karel Mark Chichon will be conducting and he will be working together with the mezzo soprano Elina Garanca.

What kind of music is played by LNSO? Does the symphony play modern music, or is it very classical?
Basically we are performing classical music. The symphony needs to go through the repertory to create this new sound I have told you about, and we are playing a lot of classical musical pieces from Beethoven and from Russian music, for example. We are performing twice in a season world premieres of music created also by Latvian composers, but of course we are basically classical.

What do you emphasize from LNSO? What could be the differences with other symphony orchestras? As with other symphony orchestras, in addition to the classical concert season, do you offer other activities, such as ballet?
I think our most distinguishing feature is our specific sound, which has been enriched over the years. Actually, the orchestra has a really old tradition because it was created in the ’20s; it is more than eighty years old. We can’t forget that we have a lot of beautiful Russian traditions, especially in string instruments, and we need to keep the sounds from the Old Russian school and combine these with the sounds of the wind instruments. I think our most characteristic feature is this special sound, the combination between the old and beautiful sound of strings with the modern sounds of the wind instruments. About the other activities, we are not doing so much. We are performing just symphony concerts, but once in a season we are making an opera performance which means that it is not a typical concert of opera. This year it is going to be La Boheme, an opera from Giacomo Puccini.

Are there Baltic musicians in the orchestra? How many members are in LNSO? In recent years, have the members of the orchestra been reduced?
At the moment there are ninety musicians in LNSO. All the musicians are from Latvia and just two musicians are from Italy. To be honest, now we don’t really have experience in collaborating with Lithuania and Estonia. In recent years we were 102 musicians, but after the crisis our budget came down and we had to decrease the amount of people in the orchestra, to 90.

What is the preparation to begin a new season? Is it hard work?
At the moment it is hard work for us, the administration. We need to prepare all the contracts with the guests we have every season: with the guest conductors, the guest soloists… and, of course, the orchestra is also preparing. We are inviting teachers from Germany, England to build the sound of the group and they are going to work hard with them in our new season, 2010/2011, to set that sound.

From the 2009/2010 season, Karel Mark Chichon has held the post of chief conductor and artistic director of the LNSO. He has worked as a conductor with really important orchestras throughout the world. How has a great musician like Chichon contributed to the orchestra? How is his work as a conductor?
He is very strict because he knows where he wants to go and where he wants to see this orchestra. He has a very good plan to reach all the aims that he has. I would say that it is not so easy work, because he is asking for a lot of things to change. But all the things he wants to change are necessary in order to have the great orchestra we want for the future. He has already changed the attitude of the musicians and they are really happy with our conductor. We have two more years with Karel Mark Chichon as chief conductor and artistic director, so let’s see; maybe we will be able to continue with him longer. There are people who think that the conductors of an orchestra are expendable, but I think we are in a period where we really need a conductor such as Chichon, because he is making a plan that is really necessary for the orchestra. He establishes goals and when the LNSO gets to this level they can move forward. At the moment I think he is the best artistic leader we can have. 

How many concerts do you have in a season? Which are the countries you are visiting?
One season has seven programs and special events. In each season there are two concerts, sometimes three. Normally we are performing two concerts in Riga and one in other Latvian cities, such as Ventspils. At the beginning of this season we are going to visit Germany, France and Austria. In February we are visiting Japan and in May we will go to Estonia.

I have heard LNSO has many awards, some from last season…
Yes, LNSO received two awards last March. The main one was the Latvian Great Music Award, the highest prize given by the Latvian State in the field of music. The orchestra got the award for an outstanding performance and we are very proud because the LNSO received the prize after a more than ten year break. The same day we received a special award by the ceremony’s general sponsor JSC Cesu alus.

The orchestra has worked with great singers and conductors during the last decades. Who would you emphasize?
We have a great list of very fantastic artists. We have collaborated with great conductors such as Leo Blench, Mariss Jansons, Kiril Kondrashin, Andris Nelsons, Leonard Slatkin or Igor Stravinsky. And, we have worked with fantastic soloists also, among them Elina Garanca, Maija Kovalevska, Sergey Nakariakov, David Oistrach, Kristine Opolais, Vadim Repin, Egils Silins, Baiba Skride… In fact, the LNSO has performed in really huge and important places such as the Berliner Philharmonie, the Tokyo Metropolitan Hall, the Oslo Concert Hall, the Stockholm Concert Hall, the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic Hall, the Greater Hall of the Moscow Conservatory, etc. 

Are people from the Baltic countries interested in classical music? Does LNSO have much public support here?
Yes, I think people here are interested. Latvia is really small and our experience is that there is a part of the society really interested in classical music, but it is always the same people, especially in Riga. I wish we would have more new people, but we have a regular and permanent public.

Has it been easy to study music as a professional here in Latvia, from when you were a child? It is said that classical music does not have a very young audience. Is this true? How can you change that?
To study music here is easy, absolutely. We have really wonderful and world famous musicians here. For us, music is one of the things we are most proud of. You can find children’s musical schools in Latvia everywhere, in every small town and, of course, there are a lot of people who are making music at a good level. And, it is true that our audience is not young, but this problem is everywhere. We are trying to change that with special programs for children. We are making at least four programs in a season especially for kids. We also made a program with a DJ, performing with electronic music, because young people are so interesting in that kind of music. We are working on that and we are trying to make our product more attractive for young people.

Tell me about the new season. When do you start? What are the first concerts?
We will start the new season with the European Tour in September, and that means for our audience here we will start quite late. On October 22-23, we will have the season’s opening concert. During this season we will celebrate, in November, our Day of Independence, and together we will celebrate ten years’ collaboration between Chichon and LNSO, because the first time he conducted our orchestra was ten years ago. I want to say that it will be a very beautiful program with the best of these ten years of Mark Chichon. Like always, people will be able to attend our concerts for Christmas and New Years Eve. But because of our world tour we are going to be abroad for more than 2 months and are not going to perform as many concerts as we usually do. This new season, as always, we will try to offer to our audience really new things.