Misery in Latvia as Soviet system returns

Misery in Latvia as Soviet system returns


norman lebrecht

March 21, 2016

Message from a concerned Latvian musician, who requests anonymity:

I am writing about the monopolisation of Latvian concerts… there is just one company running them.

Concerts with distinguished musicians are being cancelled for no apparent reason. A leading cellist is being summoned to court for telling the truth on the national radio.

The boss of Latvian Concerts, Guntars Kirsis earned 46,393 euros in 2014. An orchestra musician in Sinfonietta Riga makes 5,000 euros. Mr Ķirsis is very good friends with the Cultural Minister Dace Melbārde and with many of the ministers in the Latvian government.

Musicians are afraid to speak out …especially those in Sinfonietta Riga whose work depends on ‘Latvian Concerts organisation.

Leading musicians are seldom seen in Latvia because of the post-Soviet system: Kristine Blaumane, Vineta Sareika, Baiba Skride, Linda Skride, Lauma Skride, Elina Garanca, Andris Nelsons, Mariss Jansons, Kristine Opolais.

latvia landscape
The matters raised by our correspondent are of global concern since Latvia is one of the most productive sources of high-grade musical talent.


  • Leo says:

    I think the problem is that leading latvian musicians tend to perform more outside Latvia because they get paid too much. I think there should be an earnings cap on all leading conductors/soloists because they get far too much money compared with the rank and file orchestra player or chorus member as an inevitable part of the money pot, and quite often a considerable part, for concerts, operas etc are funded by the tax payer.

  • David Nice says:

    The title is misleading. There may be parallels with Gosconcert, but this is NOT the return of the Soviet system.

  • Egils Sefers says:

    Both the title and content are misleading. Some facts are true, some are wild interpretations, some are false. I am a member of Carion Quintet, whose concert was canceled after negotiations were concluded and agreement was reached in written communication. Absolutely true and quite a scandalous case.

    Other statements – famous Latvian musicians do perform in Latvia, some more frequent, some less, for various reasons. Facts about pay are true, how does that relate to the story? Unclear. Leading cellist was not summoned to court, he got a letter demanding to recall his statement in the radio, claiming he had made false statements. He shared critical remarks about the way concerts are organized in Latvia, as did several other musicians, including myself (I didn’t get such letter, yet ) But cellist didn’t recall it, on the contrary – he appeared on the radio again saying he maintains his position. I don’t think he will be sued though. What is scandalous is that such a letter was sent at all to the musician. Not the best way to communicate.

    Friends with ministers, I can’t comment that, don’t know. But it is a small country and having friends in government is not necessarily always bad.

    Musicians are afraid to speak out, this is true. They are afraid from repercussions. The letter cellist received is proof of that.

    Dear author, thank you for bringing attention to this issue. But please do you research a bit better next time.


    • Egils Sefers says:

      Ah, yes – one more. Latvian Concerts is not the only organization organizing concerts in Latvia, but it gets substantial state subsidy. Other operators get it as well, some private ones don’t get it at all. There is no open contest how this state support money is distributed though, so you could say that some parts of it are a remnant from archaic Goskoncert system, and because of the state subsidy LK are in a more favorable situation than independent concert organizers.

      But the main problem, I believe, is the built in conflict between various functions of LK – it is torn between it’s many functions – agent for artists, producer of it’s own concerts and distributor of state money in form of subsidized concerts to regional partners.

  • Eddie Mars says:

    Things are certainly going from bad to worse in Latvia. This week saw yet another march commemorating Hitler’s Waffen-SS through the centre of Riga.


    The Waffen-SS in WW2 Latvia was called the “Latvian Legion”. They were responsible for Holocaust atrocities Riga’s Jews before and during WW2 – including the notorious incident of burning the High Synagogue to the ground, with its congregation bolted and barred inside.

    It’s astonishing that the perpetrators of WW2 Nazi atrocities can be celebrated by an official parade through the centre of an EU-nation capital – and yet, it can. Allegedly in the name of “freedom of speech”.

    Some foreign journalists who tried to interview the ringleaders of the parade were arrested by the Latvian police, had their cameras smashed, and were forcibly held in a police station until the march had broken up. They were told they were “not arrested”, while they were locked in police cells.

    It all drags the reputation of Latvia – as a democratic country supporting European values – through the mud.


  • Greg from SF says:

    C’mon, all you commenters….
    Surely you can find a way to blame the US for this situation!