With the classical music industry at risk of saturation by recordings of standard Western repertoire, there is a real thirst for music by composers whose work is yet to be discovered by the mainstream. The classical music of Latvia has been an untapped resource for too long, a state of affairs fast being rectified by the devoted work of the Liepāja Symphony Orchestra, as represented by their exciting new Odradek Records release, Kurland Sounds.
Liepāja is situated in the Kurland region of Western Latvia, on the shores of the Baltic Sea, where its striking coastline is punctuated by haunting birdsong and the stunning Northern lights. The Liepāja Symphony Orchestra was founded there in 1881, the first philharmonic orchestra in the Baltic States. Since then, it has cemented its reputation as one of the foremost orchestras of the region, performing at prestigious cultural events such as the opening of Latvia’s beautiful National Library – the ‘Castle of Light’ – and representing the country during a busy international touring schedule.
Kurland Sounds brings together works by Latvia’s most prominent contemporary composers. Pēteris Vasks, whose style has drawn comparisons with Arvo Pärt, was commissioned to write his Symphony No.2 by the BBC and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, and the work was premiered at the BBC Proms. Vilnis Šmīdbergs paints musical pictures reflecting the fascinating shifts in Latvia’s recent history, and Ēriks Ešenvalds was a recent composer-in-residence at Trinity College, Cambridge, where his visits to the university observatory inspired music of celestial beauty.
The Liepāja Symphony Orchestra is joined by clarinettist Ints Dālderis, one of the country’s most celebrated musicians, leader of the Nordic Symphony Orchestra’s clarinet section, and the official cultural advisor to Latvia’s Prime Minister. The orchestra is conducted by Atvars Lakstīgala, whose interpretations of symphonic and operatic repertoire have earned him considerable critical acclaim.