Great Amber concert hall celebrates five years amidst pandemic downturn

Built as part of a culture boom that saw concert halls rise in towns across Latvia, the Lielais dzintars (Great Amber) concert hall in Liepāja, western Latvia, is celebrating its fifth anniversary. 

On the occasion, creative director Baiba Bartkeviča and board chairman Timurs Tomsons spoke to Latvian Radio's Kultūras Rondo broadcast. 

Lielais dzintars' fifth anniversary in late October was planned to be different, says Tomsons. "We had planned a massive celebration, but part of it has been rescheduled for next year. We're celebrating next year, but we're trying to build up a festive feeling this year too."

An anniversary concert featuring the Liepāja Symphony will look back at the history of Liepāja's music. Due to the virus regulations, two concerts will be held on October 30 and 31.  

Limitations, audiences and the work of a regional concert hall

The Covid-19 pandemic has hit regional concert halls very hard. Timurs Tomsons stresses that, as municipal enterprises, these concert halls could not apply for state support and furlough benefits. In July, however, €400,000 was allotted to concert halls and other institutions from the State Culture Capital Foundation. 

"We have a regional culture program set up with regional concert halls in mind. Within this program, we were able to receive extra funding [...] and survive to the present moment and, I hope, will be able until next year too."

Bartkeviča meanwhile said that the program planned previously at the institution was changed right through year-end. Most concerts were postponed with just a couple cancellations. "Of course, we want to give [the artists] the opportunity, these were great and beautiful ideas. We want them to come to fruition, so we expect many plans to be fulfilled next year." Bartkeviča likewise said more foreign artists could be invited for next summer, though the first half of 2021 would mostly feature local artists.

Distancing rules have encouraged testing the full capacity of the hall, Tomsons said. The most recent concerts have been "Covid-19 sold out", as only up to 400 people can be hosted in the main hall. The institution likewise uses the choir balcony where people can watch concerts from the back. "They can either face the conductor or gaze into the back of a soloist and sing along," said Tomsons.

Bartkeviča thinks that the audience is understanding and thankful that concerts are still being held though at a limited capacity. 

The average concert-goer

In tandem with researchers and students at Liepāja University, the concert hall has also ascertained who are the actual concert-goers and what they think of the place. The average statistical concert-goer is a woman aged 45 to 50, either a curious business owner or an employee at a municipal or state institution.

Bartkeviča also points out a popular initiative by the concert hall, namely the Personīgi (Personally) series of chamber music performances with chats organized after. "This chamber hall series is one of the most beloved series we have. It's a personal meeting with the musicians and artists in discussion following the concert. I think this has created a group of active listeners, fans who attend all concerts and buy subscriptions," said Bartkeviča. 

The aforementioned research likewise concludes that people come to the concert hall from about 100-km area around Liepāja.

"Regional concert halls were built with the idea that they serve the region as opposed to a single municipality," said Tomsons. He also speculated that the concert hall has been instrumental to developing nearby businesses. "We've got out own restaurant, Čello, another one, Piano, across the street, and the new Maestro hotel on the corner. This is the most evident influence we've had."

"If we aren't protected, if we are closed, these organizations will likewise have less money," said Tomsons.

"We have a feeling that we are a part of state-wide goals that these concert halls should fulfil. These halls are strategically significant. When the situation is such as it is, are we really just part of the municipality with no ties to the central government?"

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