Latvian choir rescues BBC's War and Peace soundtrack

Latvian Television is about to start broadcasting the miniseries "War and Peace" by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), partially filmed in Latvia. Now news have surfaced about the series' soundtrack, which it turns out was rescued by the choir "Latvia" at the very last moment, reported Latvian Radio's Māra Rozenberga Friday.

The British and Lithuanian co-production, adapted for television from Lev Tolstoy's eponymous novel by screenwriter Andrew Davies and directed by Tom Harper, was mainly shot in Russia and Lithuania, but parts of it were also filmed at the impressive Rundāle palace in Latvia.

A lesser-known fact is that the choral voices in the series' soundtrack are sung by the State Academic Choir "Latvia".

The choir's director Māris Ošlejs told Latvian Radio that the cooperation sprung as he's acquainted with Simon Phipps, the brother of the author of the film's score Martin Phipps.

As co-op with Russian choirs fell through, the Latvian choir came to the rescue at the very last moment.

Ošlejs said that the choir artists had recorded all the choral parts last fall and had to assure producers that their Russian diction does not sound strange. 

The recording was made a few months ago at the studio of Latvian Radio 1, supervised by a British conductor and composer, as well as sound engineer Varis Kurmiņš. 

"We have some experience - in 2002 we cooperated with British composer Richard Harvey, back then we wrote the soundtrack to a film about Martin Luther. [..] In the case of the BBC series "War and Peace" the accompaniment was recorded by the Welsh BBC orchestra, and we recorded the choral part here," Kurmiņš said.

The final recordings were carried out in January 2016, said Kurmiņš. 

According to Kurmiņš, both Latvian choirs and Latvian Radio's sound wizards have a lot of experience working with movie professionals. Perhaps the best-known recording of the "Latvia" Academic Choir is for the Tom Tykwer movie "Perfume".

"At first English producers came here with some doubts, they had their own wires and microphones in suitcases. Then they realized everything's here already. They are attracted by our choirs too - they are world-class, working very flexibly during the recordings, which is important for the movie industry..." said Kurmiņš.

While Ošlejs said that recording film scores requires a lot of flexibility on the part of musicians.

"They have filmed and edited it, the symphony orchestra has made the recording, and music is overlaid. That's why there's a composer and a producer [present], which feel [the music]. He has written something and hears it - no, I need something else here! Then he rewrites the score right there on the spot and we go and sing something else."

Even though partaking in foreign film projects has not become a business niche for Latvian musicians quite yet, it has made Latvian choirs and recording technicians famous in the industry.

While the Rundāle palace, in which parts of the project were filmed, has been included in a travel guide for the show's fans. The luxurious place is described as a hidden gem of Latvia. 

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