Living her musical passion

  • 2012-03-14
  • Interview by Antra Feldmane

Inese Zagorska, director of the Baltais Fligelis concert hall in Sigulda, has worked there for more than 17 years and admits that her passion for music is the strongest motivation for this job. “I am literally swimming in this field,” she says. 2012 marks an important stepping stone also for Kremerata Baltica chamber orchestra, which has had its home in Baltais Fligelis for 15 years. Zagorska speaks about the difficult start for Fligelis during the Soviet Union years, and illuminates a bit of her future plans as she speaks with The Baltic Times.

How was it to start work at Baltais Fligelis?
I could write a spacious history book about Fligelis. This story is 17 years old. We survived different economic and political systems during that time. Those were the first years for Latvia as an independent country. The project, in fact, was initiated during Soviet years, but there was no building work. We thought it would be only a music school for pupils in Sigulda and the region. By that time we had this school for 50 years already. But then we started to collect money in order to finish all the construction works. That is how we travelled with our music school orchestra to Scotland, singing on the streets, wearing folk costumes. People liked us. They donated money. This was during the project Peace Child, where we went to visit different Scottish cities and performed concerts. It was remarkable how people reacted and understood our mission. I think it was because of the common maritime traditions. Now and then Latvian sailors travelled to Scotland. I think that had something to do with this connection - sailing, the sea. At that time we collected 10,000 pounds. Together with interest [in the bank] it came to around 15,000 pounds. The money was invested into the building’s roof. So nothing was left but to finish the whole hall. You can imagine what a scandal it would be if the city spent the donation without investing the money in Fligelis. We got lucky. The city of Sigulda supported this completion idea politically. I can assure that it has been worth it. All those 10 years, from 2001, when Baltais Fligelis was founded. Today we are one of the few cultural education centers in [outlying] regions of Latvia.

How do you view the Rezekne Concert Hall project?
I think that Fligelis has been a good example for cultural decentralization in Latvia. In other words, it is a good impulse for other cities to open their halls or music schools. There has to be basic infrastructure if we want people to stay in the regions. They have to feel good in their home towns, to know that there are cultural events available for them, too. Cesis, for instance, has shown that bright contemporary art activities can be held in the regions, too. It is good that Liepaja will have a place in order to offer “shelter” to the orchestra and music school as well. I do not consider this as harmful competition for Fligelis.

How would you evaluate relationships with the local Sigulda government?
Certainly, they work well. After all, it was their decision to support the building. Soon after it was finished we fought for good instruments on stage. Finally, we had a chance to buy a Steinway grand piano, which we chose in Belgium. I think that a concert hall needs three preconditions in order to work effectively. [First] is decent acoustics, a good quality piano and a suitable hall layout: amphitheater type, in our case. So the city supports [our] financial needs, but we produce creative content. So far it has gone well. Original. By the way, we are located on one of the oldest streets of Sigulda - Sveices street. It was once home of the composer Alfreds Kalnins. He used to invite artists and mucisians, such as Emils Darzins, Julijs Madernieks and others. So I think we have had former traditions in daily life that were full of arts and music. I would like to think that Baltais Fligelis continues this kind of lifestyle, but in modern times. Maybe that is why we feel so organic here with what we do.

How often do  the residents of Sigulda attend your events?
First of all, it depends on a well thought out local cultural policy. But we cannot achieve this in one day. We now see that former students of Sigulda music school have grown up as music lovers. They present themselves as a part of a good quality society. By this I mean understanding art values, intelligence. No matter whether we make mistakes or not, it is extremely important to stay active. Citizens in Sigulda are active as listeners. But, of course, Sigulda is a small city, and I wish there were more concerts.

What are your marketing stretegies? How do you advertise your events to get people to come out?
I’ve heard from people that they think we have a large staff of workers. Here is the truth: I am the one, and only, employee here. Thus, I have to work with PR, programming, finances. Yet we do not have enough people resources. You see, a few years ago we had to reduce our staff. Just now I can think of needing new people working here, but we have to see. Anyway, the government is quite happy about the how many roles I play here (laughing). I think the city itself should think more about Sigulda’s promotion at an international level using the brands we have - Fligelis - and others. Fligelis often uses direct marketing techniques - sending newsletters, keeping in personal touch when people buy tickets at our box office. And yes, we still have a living box office person (laughs). Thus we can collect information from our visitors, call them if we see their tickets are reserved in advance. Of course, Kremerata Baltica demands no extra ads, as people arrive from all over the country, especially from Vidzeme: Cesis, Valmiera. In fact, many of them I recognize already. Our hall is well suited for chamber events, so musicians can play to a small size audience. Keeping a personal attitude. This could not be possible with, say, a 1,000 seat capacity hall. We have seating for only 300.

What is the story of Kremerata Baltica?
I met Gidons Kremers back in 2002. He performed at Fligelis at that time. After the concert we went to dinner and, step by step, learned that this could be a decent place for a chamber music-style festival. He had already run similar events in Austria, Lockenhaus. The fact that Kremerata represents Baltic musicians somehow worked in the direction of Baltic States. They appreciated the idea of playing at their homes. So in summer 2002 the orchestra had rehearsals in Fligelis, and this became a final concert. Of course, an important issue was that Kremers found Fligelis as a rather suitable place for such events. The acoustics, capacity, everything somehow found its place in his vision of the Kremerata Baltica festival. And I can say that such a range of events are mainly held in small-size cities with great tourism potential. You cannot only find a music hall; apart from Fligelis, there is plenty to see. It’s just a beautiful location. What’s most important is that musicians are the main value of any event. The real content. And in Kremerata we meet world scale artists.

What is the brightest moment for Baltais Fligelis in a European music context?
Last year was notable for us. Fligelis celebrated its first 10 years, so we did Euroradio concert translations with big names such as Egils Silins, Vestards Simkus, Baiba Skride and others. Technically, we recorded them on Latvian Radio. 

What is your answer to the fact that so many bright, world known musicians come from Latvia?
I cannot say that it is the climate (laughs). My answer is this: the level of professional education in music. Yes, we educate masses of students, but this means that some of them stand out as extremely talented young artists. We’ve seen it during the last years. But I also doubt if we will have such artists after 7-10 years. Music schools reduce their lesson offerings; programms get easier and more are available, remaining rather as centers of interest, not as professional music schools. We had our system, [encouraging] hard work, but I do not know if it will continue in the nearest future.

What would be the hardest issues for you in your daily work?
That’s not easy to say. Educating an audience. Defining good taste not only for music, but for a lifestyle itself. People rarely understand that quality is an issue, in every aspect. What are your values. They like to compare one event with another, so my mission here is to show a world-range of quality, and not only in classical repertory. I am gradually working on alternative projects. There will be new artists, such as Katrina Neiburga with video installations, and Andris Indans with music during Riga 2014. Fligelis is going to be a partner to Riga as the capital of culture at that time. Indeed, I have to invest all my time. I have to tell people what those events are, though there are some that require no advertising... people will come anyway. For not a moment can I relax in this work. But, of course, to feel the context of Europe is essential. You have to know what is going on out there, apart from the Sigulda concert life. After all, Fligelis is not the center of the world. But I love my work, I really do. After going to school and living in Sigulda all my life, I feel a duty to pay back what this place has given me.