The XXVII General Latvian Song and XVII Dance Festival “Dziesmu un Deju svētki” was held in Riga, Latvia

Parade of participants “Viewing the lands”. Photo by R. Olynsh

“Kopā būt. Kopā just.” (eng. to be together, to feel together) is a slogan of this year’s jubilee (150th anniversary) Nationwide Latvian song and dance festival “DZIESMU UN DEJU SVĒTKI”, which took place in the Latvia’s capital Riga from June 30 to July 9. 

The slogan is eloquent, but true, considering Latvia’s enormous support for Ukraine. The festival is not an exclusion. For the first time in its history, one of the major concerts featured a work not by a Latvian composer (the Anthem of Ukraine), and the Lviv Dudaryk Choir joined the united Latvian choir. The team of conductors of the church choir of 250 singers includes Ukrainian (Mathis Tuchs, Guntars Pranis, Linda Naudynia, and Oksana Nikitiuk). The youth choir “Sōla” (conducted by Kaspars Adamsons) came to the final of the choir competition with yellow and blue ribbons. And at the final concert, the 16,000-strong choir dedicated the performance of Peteris Plakidis’ “Ar dziesmu dzīvība” to Ukraine’s victory, which was announced on stage in Latvian and Ukrainian. 

Youth choir of the Latvian University “Juventus”, conductor Valdis Tomsons (1st prize winners). Photo by A. Nikitiuk

The festival is ambitious, long-awaited, and included by UNESCO in the list of masterpieces of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity. The first thing that attracts the guest’s attention is the strategic and creative work of the art management team. As a result, tickets to all the choral concerts were sold out within 15 minutes of the start of the sale. 

Oksana Nikitiuk. Photo by A. Nikitiuk

This year’s “SVĒTKI” had about 40 thousand participants, of whom 18 thousand were choir singers: 271 mixed youth choirs, 35 mixed senior choirs, 80 women’s choirs, 23 men’s choirs, and 36 children’s choirs. 

The festival has several directions, but we are talking about the choral one, which is the brightest and the largest. There were several choral events: The big opening concert of the festival, the final of the amateur choir competition “Koru kari” (eng. choral wars), the concert of the Choir of Conductors “Diriģents”, the concert of vocal and symphonic music “Šūpulis” (eng. cradle), “Svētku dievkalpojums” (eng. festive worship) and large four-hour choral concerts (14-16 thousand singers) on the Mežapark stage: “Tīrums. Dziesmas ceļš” (eng. field, way of song”) and “Kopā augšup” (eng. together upwards). 

A 14,000 singers’ choir on the Mezhaparks big stage. Photo by A. Nikitiuk

The largest choral event of the festival, of course, was the closing concert of the united choir of 16,000 singers of amateur choirs “Kopā augšup” on a specially built concert stage with 31.5 thousand seats. By the way, the stage was built in a such way and in a such place that it does not require additional sound reinforcement for the choir in the open air.  A high podium was constructed for the 18 honorary conductors (Maris Sirmais, Lilija Zobens, Sigvards Kļava, Andris Weissmanis, Kaspars Adamsons, Jurgis Cabulis, etc.), which had its own special meaning in the scenography, this way the process of coordination between them and the singers was facilitated. Although it seems impossible to organise so many singers, the ensemble was flawless. I think it is not only the conducting technique and charisma of the leaders, but also the great love and dedication to choral singing of each of the amateur choristers. 

In addition to the choir of many thousands, there were dance groups, brass bands, a kokle ensemble (a traditional Latvian plucked instrument), ethnic vocal and instrumental groups on the stage at the same time. It seems that the whole Latvia was watching the concert: the lucky ones in the audience, those who couldn’t get a ticket, watching it backstage through monitors or on TV. As Ruta Karklina, a folklorist and researcher and director of the Krišjānis Barons Museum in Riga, told me: “Latvians can be divided into three groups: those who sing, those who dance, and those who applaud in the audience”.

Youth choir “Kamēr” of the Ave Sol concert organization (Grand Prix winners), conductor Jurģis Cabulis. Photo by A. Nikitiuk

The concert program included 50 pieces by contemporary Latvian composers and traditional Latvian choral works by respected Latvian composers E. Eshenvalds, R. Tiguls, J. Vitols and others, which are known to everyone without any exception.

Therefore, the audience sang along, and then both the choir and the audience asked to repeat the piece. And after four hours of the concert in the cool evening Baltic air, they wrapped themselves in blankets, drank tea, but did not leave, but sang and sang as a choir. 

The final Dziesmu un deju svētki concert of the 16,000 singers’ choir on the Mežaparks big stage. Photo by A. Nikitiuk

P.S. The city authorities extended the work of the transport for the whole night, especially for the participants and listeners of the choral concert. 

We should revive it. If we could do that. We should.


For the All-Ukrainian Choral Society named after M. Leontovych. 

Oksana Nikitiuk