SUWO Latvia Tour (9th – 16th June 2013) Best Ever!
Our happy party of 43 returned triumphant back to Sheffield via Vilnius, in Lithuania, and Doncaster airports from Riga last Sunday after SUWO’s most successful and ambitious of concert tours.
Very few of us had travelled to any of the Baltic States before making the trip a true adventure for us all.
The long five-hour delay on the outward flight meant that we arrived at our destination in Riga in the middle of the night, which in retrospect justified the scheduled concert free Monday. It gave the opportunity for a leisurely day to recover and orient ourselves to our hostel right on the bank of the massive river Daugava in the heart of Riga and acclimatize to the warm temperatures (±25° all week) and 22 hours of daylight as well as take in a visit to the Riga Music Academy, a guided tour of the picturesque Riga Old Town, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and have a boat trip, welcomed as much for the opportunity for a peaceful sit-down as for the sights it gave us of the grand buildings as we wound slowly through the City!
Three of our concerts were in contrasting outdoor venues – Tuesday in one of the wonderful squares in Old Riga full of tourists and activity, Thursday in Sigulda, the ‘Switzerland’ of Latvia an hour and a half’s drive from Riga in a restaurant’s garden in the middle of a lovely spaciously laid-out spa town amid trees and forested hills. The diners were well entertained and our music attracted many passers-by but we suffered in the heat of the sun, still dazzling and brilliant in the early evening, we were very grateful for the generous free meal they rewarded us with. In the morning we visited the local Arts and Music School, a facility newly built in the shape of a grand piano, which is used by all the children from the age of 1 – 18 for classes, lessons and performances. We also took in the bobsleigh run and the Medieval Castle, climbing up its ancient fortified tower for a wonderful view of the surrounding countryside.
Saturday, the final day found us on the Baltic coast at the resort of Jurmula, on the beach from before midday to late afternoon. Then our late evening concert found us outside the Arts Centre amid lovely gardens entertaining our last Latvian audience on yet another lovely warm evening still lit with that blazing sun!
However our grandest concert of the week was on Wednesday in the wonderful Grand Hall of the University in central Riga. We had the honour of sharing the stage at this prestigious venue with the Riga University Band and Professor Janis Purins, our host for the week.
Our programme included a piece specially commissioned by our guest solist, Tim Watson, for the Tour from John Holland – A Latvian Folk Song Suite for Alto Saxophone and Band. This along with Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue played by Hannah Donkin were the highlights of an amazing concert shared with our new Latvian friends – both those on the stage (we joined forces in the two final items) and those in the audience.
A great week of music and camaraderie from which we gained a wonderful introduction to Latvia, its people, we found out about its horrific recent history, experienced something of its vibrant culture and got to know the amazing city of Riga. All this was made possible through the warm and generous hospitality of Janis and his unstinting cooperation and work on our behalf over several months to help put everything in place for our visit. Many thanks to him and his Band for giving us such a wonderful week in their wonderful country – the memories will stay with us.