Maggie Hamilton - EditorFrom the current issue of Choir & Organ
Where were you when the Berlin Wall came down? I was in a garage having a tyre changed, and heard it on the radio. I’d returned the previous day from a four-month overseas visit where I’d had virtually no access to international news. I thought I was listening to a radio play, until the mechanic put me straight. Even now I can remember my sense of awe.
Many of the current members of the Latvian youth choir Kamer… had not even been born by the time the Soviet Union imploded. Yet they share in the musical heritage of the Baltic States, where singing has traditionally been a mode of non-violent resistance to political oppression as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have been occupied by first one country, then another over the centuries. The Singing Revolution of the late 1980s included a chain of people stretching from Tallinn through Riga to Vilnius, with linked arms and open mouths, daring to express themselves in patriotic song. The importance of song as an expression of national identity remains to this day.
It was in this context that Kamer… came into being; and it is this history that the present singers are learning about – and communicating to audiences – through a tranche of their repertoire, as they told me when I met them in Oxford during their debut tour to the UK in March. Their concert programme included Ziles zina (‘The Tomtit’s Message’), a dramatic – almost violent – setting by Peteris Vasks of a poem by the contemporary Latvian poet Uldis Berzinš; my companion remarked that it was the first time he’d been scared by a piece of choral music. One singer commented that music like this helps them not only to understand something of the sheer horror of life under Soviet domination, it also resonates with fresh anxieties they have about Russia’s intentions in the light of recent events in Ukraine.
So these intelligent young people not only sing like nightingales, with perfect tuning, clear, strong voices, tight ensemble and balance; they also bring a depth of knowledge and understanding that lends gravitas to their performances, without which music is merely cosmetic. Congratulations to them as they celebrate the choir’s 25th anniversary this year – and if you missed their UK tour, why not enter the draw for one of their CDs.