Every five years, for one week. This is the time frame for THE main event in Latvian cultural life – the Nationwide Latvian Song and Dance Festival. It involves hundreds of choirs and folk dance groups, entrancing thousands in the audience. The Festival has earned high honour internationally, being included on the UNESCO Oral History and Non-material Cultural Heritage List.
The next Nationwide Latvian Song and Dance Festival will be held in 2018 from the 30th of June to the 8th of July, as a tribute to Latvia on its 100th birthday.
A Nation of Singers
Latvians proudly call themselves a “nation of singers” because of a solid choral music and folk dancing tradition that began way back in the mid-19th century. As the years have passed, it has evolved into something more than a mere “musical activity”; it is a manifestation of patriotism, an aid in consolidating the people.
30,000 is the grand total of amateur-level but supremely talented singers, dances, orchestra musicians, folklore collectives, amateur theater troupes, applied arts and fine arts studios and others, devoting themselves to ethnic traditions at the Festival.
The Major Festival Events
The Festival gets under way with widespread preview concerts in and around Riga and in regional centers, which is followed by a week-long singing, dancing and instrument-playing marathon, with individual collectives appearing in Riga’s parks, squares and other venues.
The magical Festival Opening Concert, held in the very same location as the 1st Nationwide Latvian Singing Festival in 1873 – Viesturdārzs Park in Riga.
In Daugava Stadium, mind-boggling choreography and seemingly effortless performance as thousands of dancers form ethnic signs or symbols on the pitch. Choirs meanwhile are busy battling it out for the title of the “best of the best” – the so-called Choir Wars.
A stupendous grand finale on the Festival’s last day, with all participants in colourful folk costume marching on parade through downtown Riga, with the best to come in the evening – the Festival Closing Concert with 13,000 choral singers united in one voice. Folk dancers, too, just as many.
It seems the Latvian choral song cannot die, and every five years its endurance surprises. The Closing Concert itself attests to this with superb direction and choreography combining ethnic tradition and contemporary trends.
Latvian School Youth Song and Dance Festival
Despite a much briefer history (est.1960), this is an eagerly-awaited and joyful happening where the younger generation gets the chance to shine – a step or two away from joining the ranks at the (adult) Nationwide Latvian Song and Dance Festival.
Held every five years, the next Latvian School Youth Song and Dance Festival will come in 2020.
Official website of the celebration.
More information here.