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Ligo! Ligo!: The more than 15,000 singers on Riga’s Mezaparks open air stage on Sunday night closed out the grand, weeklong festival, with the choirs and the audience singing together until 6 a.m. the next morning.
RIGA - A glorious and sunny summer’s day welcomed the traditional procession of Song and Dance Festival participants, which got underway at 10:00 a.m. Sunday morning, marking the final day of the event. Starting at the Freedom Monument, the participants - folk singers, dancers, band members, of all ages - then proceeded along Brivibas Street to Riga’s Daile Theater, where they were greeted by folklore ensembles, chief conductors and state officials. The procession lasted till after 4 p.m., which left little time for the participants to hurry to Mezaparks for the finale.
The more than 15,000 singers on stage, along with the audience, on Sunday evening closed out this year’s song festival with a thrilling musical and visual performance, with the festivities lasting well into Monday morning. The 25th Latvian Song Festival and 15th Dance Festival closed with the ‘Ligo!’ concert at the Mezaparks open-air stage on July 7, as the choir singing continued until 6 a.m. in the morning, reported LETA.
There were around 15,400 singers participating in the concert - 240 mixed choirs, 79 women’s choirs, 28 men’s choirs, 42 senior choirs and 26 diaspora choirs, as well as about 700 dancers and a number of brass bands.
Several new compositions were performed at the closing concert, as well as the festival’s favorite choir songs. The festival’s oldest participant, the honorary chief conductor Roberts Zuiks who celebrated his 100th birthday earlier this year, took the baton when the Latvian anthem was performed at the beginning of the concert.
The first part of the concert featured a number of classic and popular choir songs, followed by a selection of ‘Ligo!’ songs.
The festival started in 1864 as a rare opportunity for Latvians to use their own language in public under Czarist Russian rule. It quickly turned into a showcase for ‘dainas,’ or generations of peasant songs passed down by word of mouth. After the communist revolution brought down the Czar, Latvia declared independence on Nov. 18, 1918, but the freedom was short-lived. Alongside Estonia and Lithuania, Latvia was reoccupied by the Soviet Union in 1940, seized by Nazi Germany in 1941 and again taken over by Moscow in 1944.
“In most places people associate choirs with something religious or old fashioned,” said Daina Rudusa, 26, a singer in the grand finale. “For us Latvians singing is cultural, historical, it is something we do on a daily basis,” she explained.
“It is also historically important: during the years of occupation choral music was a way to maintain a national identity, but also a means of creative resistance,” she said.
Under the Soviets, Latvians were allowed to sing in their native tongue, but under the banners of Marx and Lenin. The tone changed in June 1988 when the so-called ‘Singing Revolution’ began in Estonia, as tens of thousands raised their voices in anti-Soviet anthems in Tallinn.
The sound of freedom then rang out in Lithuania and Latvia, where long-banned national songs and flags reappeared in the 1990 festival as the Soviet Union crumbled.
The national love affair with the song festival has boomed ever since.
In this year’s closing concert, top state officials attended, including President Andris Berzins and visiting German President Joachim Gauck. The German president said before the concert that he was very much looking forward to attending the concert, emphasizing that the Song Festival had always been a testament to the Baltic nations’ identity and self-determination.
Chairwoman of UNESCO’s executive board Alissandra Cummins was also in the audience. The Song and Dance Festival is included on UNESCO’s list of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.