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Local Choir Delights Latvia

by Gerry Lynch last modified 11 Sep, 2018 05:16 PM

Wiltshire Choir with big youth membership performs in Cesis and Riga

The new academic year has begun on a high note for the choir of St John’s, Devizes, as they spent the last week of their summer holiday on tour in Latvia. It is almost a year since the choir’s twenty-two children and nineteen adults were asked to represent the Diocese of Salisbury to help strengthen its links with the Lutheran Church in the Baltic country. 

The choir sang Evensong in the historic town of Cesis, considered to be Latvia’s most beautiful, as well as a concert in the mighty Riga Dome Cathedral, mother church of Latvia. There was also a bit of time left for sightseeing, socialising, eating and learning something of the fascinating history of this country. 

Chris Totney, Director of Music at St John’s, said of the experience, “Every step of the way, it’s been amazing to witness the team spirit that has been so much in evidence within the local community over the past year. After such a mighty effort from everyone involved, we thank God that those who were fortunate enough to participate in the tour itself arrived back home safely, exhausted but exhilarated after an experience that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.” 

Canon Paul Richardson, Rector of St John with St Mary, Devizes, added, “To dream of getting the choir there is one thing, but to actually manage it is a great achievement. It’s clear, particularly from talking to the youngsters, that everyone had an incredible time.” 

After all the hard work of planning and fundraising, sixty excited members of the choir and church community finally set off from Gatwick Airport to Riga early on the morning of Tuesday 28 August. After settling into their hotel and experiencing a traditional Latvian meal – complete with folk dancing! – they were up bright and early on Wednesday, the Feast of the Beheading of John the Baptist, to travel to the beautiful town of Cesis to sing Evensong at St John’s Church. 

In between the rehearsal and the service, the choir was given a tour of the town by a mother and her young daughter from the congregation. After wandering through beautiful streets and seeing a diverse range of buildings, an old castle and some parks, it was time to head back to St John’s Church to sing Evensong.  

St John's Devizes Cesis Evensong.JPGThe service was led by Didzis Kreicbergs, Vicar of Cesis, and began with an organ prelude by Bach played by RSCM Pipeline Organ Scholar, Anna Hallett. Choral highlights included Victoria’s O quam gloriosum, Nicolson’s Cantate Domino and Stanford’s Beati quorum via. The choir also had to deal with the tricky task of negotiating the large distance between the choir stalls and the organ – mounted high on the west gallery – during the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis, sung to the setting composed by Herbert Howells for St John’s College, Cambridge.  

St John's Devizes Latvia Sightseeing.jpgA day off followed on Thursday with a trip to Sigulda to discover the beautiful Gauja National Park, an amazing landscape of gardens, sculptures, forests, monuments and lakes. Latvia may be a relatively small country but the picturesque landscape provided a perfect oasis of calm ahead of the big concert in Riga Cathedral the following day. 

Friday began with a walking tour of Riga, which further underlined the incredible variety in architectural styles and the passing of time and history in this much storied city. 

St John's Devizes Riga Concert Poster.jpegAfter a spot of retail therapy, it was time to head to the cathedral for the evening concert. With the choir performing from the west organ gallery, their sound echoed around the huge building, with highlights including Bob Chilcott’s Even such is time, Eric Whitacre’s This marriage, Parry’s My soul, there is a country and Thomas Tallis’s mighty seven-part motet Loquebantur variis linguis. Director of Music, Chris Totney, also got the chance to play the cathedral’s enormous organ, interspersing solos by Bach, Rheinberger and Boëllmann. At the conclusion of the final choral item, the response was staggering, as the choir waved from the gallery to the rapturous applause of hundreds of smiling faces in the audience.  

Over some refreshments after the concert, the choir was introduced to the Dean of Riga, Elijs Godins, and presentations were made both to him and to the tour guides, as the final evening arrived all too soon. 

During the early flight home on Saturday, the choir even sang Batten’s O sing joyfully at 36,000 feet as a special treat for the passengers and crew on the plane!   

Over the last 12 months, various members of the choir and their families have helped organise 15 different fundraising events to raise awareness of our Latvian link and to make the tour possible. These included various Cake Sales and Tombola Stalls, a Hymnathon, Carol Singing in various town centre venues at Christmas, a Talent Show, an Organ Recital, a Concert by music teachers from the local community, a Swimathon, two Song Recitals, and a Grand Concert in memory of two giants of musical education in Wiltshire who recently passed away, Stephen Brazier and Michael Oliver.

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