Riga, Latvia: A Festival of Music
If you have a song in your heart, Riga may just be the place to let it out. Every year from June to the end of August over 30,000 singers and 15,000 dancers from the Baltic states (think Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, Finland, Sweden, and Norway), compete in national costume for a festival of folk life and academic music held at various venues around the city that comes to a grand finale with a parade of all the participants heading to the grand open-air stage in Mezzapark. Held only every 4 years the next time the Quadrennial Song and Dance Festival will occur will be in 2016.
Music is enormously important to the city and a number of festivals celebrate a wide variety of styles: Beginning in February with the International Bach Chamber Music Festival, June is the time for the Opera Festival of Riga, followed in July by the Early Music Festival and the Sigulda Opera Festival, September is the time for the International Organ Music Festival with October playing host to the International Chamber Music Festival. Even the Riga Christmas Market in December plays host to performers in this recently reestablished festival in 2001 after years of Soviet Suppression.
But that’s only one good reason to visit Lativa. Another is the incredible architecture. Riga is filled with buildings constructed in the Art Deco style so popular during the 1920’s and 1930’s. Riga is, in fact, a treasure chest of design from the sumptuousness of Nordic Gothic to the Spartan sterility of the time of Soviet Occupation. Riga’s collection of architectural styles is so significant that the historic center of Riga’s old town was added to the UNESCO world heritage list in 1997.
Riga’s cosmopolitan community is an added bonus. This is truly a city of two cultures, those of Latvian descent and those of Russian descent. The two cultures appear to lead quit separate lives with different newspapers, radio and television stations catering to each. Happily for the visitor both English and German are widely spoken.
Some will tell you that Riga is a little bit Paris, a little bit Berlin and quite a lot like Prague. I think Riga is all Riga filled with a stalwart people who have endured incredible hardships and have emerged with a style that is all their own and a very artistic and cultured one it is, too.
Riga is truly a part of the “New Europe” as defined by Michael Palin in his book and it is filled with treasures for the traveller. Take time to buy yourself some Latvian linen, at prices lower than in most of Europe, or some Baltic amber and Laima chocolate. The major shopping area is still the old Town, as it was during the days of the Hanseatic League when Riga was a major center of commerce.
Riga is music to a travellers’ ears.