Boasting no less than 27000 participants of 460 choirs from 74 countries, the World Choir Games is an eleven-day event promising to go down in history as one of Riga’s most memorable international gatherings ever.
Today visiting choirs performed free afternoon concerts at downtown Riga’s Vermane Gardens and Esplanade parks. Tonight Latvia’s president Andris Berzins and Riga mayor Nils Usakovs addressed the opening ceremony and fanfare concert at the town’s largest venue Arena Riga, which was rebroadcast by Latvian Public Television.
Riga mayor Usakovs called the World Choir Games the "main event" of Riga's host year as the European Capital of Culture. He said that not since the 1991 song festival has Riga seen this many international visitors arrive for a single event and congratulated Latvia on showing the world that the country is "a choral superpower."
President Berzins on his part told the crowd of choirs that "the song has power."
"The song has great powers. It has the power to unite people speaking different languages and living in different corners of the world... This is a great opportunity to make our singing Latvia even more tuneful and full of colour," he said before ceremoniously declaring the Games open.
As Latvia's head-of-state also proudly pointed out in his speech, each day hence there will be a wealth of friendship concerts, workshops, contests in various genre categories and close to thirty-thousand visiting singers enjoying Latvia and Riga’s intensified hospitality as a European Capital of Culture.
Artistic director Romans Vanags agrees the massive event is unprecedented for Latvia. “So many concerts and contests in just ten days – Latvia has never seen something so big. I just met with our jury members – there alone we have 80 people. We’re used to having between 5 to 10 people on juries. Plus, they come from all five continents,” he told the press this morning.
Christian Ljunggren, artistic co-director of the Games, said that it was a “great honor” for choir singers from other countries to take part here. “Here it’s not just another art form like elsewhere, like the arts of dance or popular music. In Latvia choir music is right at the center… That’s definitely the difference that will set these Games apart,” he said.
Gunter Titsch, president of the company Interkultur, which has run the World Choir Games since 2000, told LSM Tuesday that Latvia was selected to host the event this year precisely for its deeply rooted traditions of choir music and singing. “Choirs here are at such a high-level, they’re so very well prepared,” Titsch said. “Of course the modes of choral singing differ from those in South Africa, and that’s the main thing – to hear so many other choral singing traditions here in Latvia,” Titsch enthused.
While he did not have a total figure of the cost of this year’s event, Titsch estimated that the previous event in Cincinatti, USA, which attracted 15,000 participants, had cost around €12 million euros. “But in Cincinatti and in Graz in 2008, the World Choir Games brought around four to five dollars into the local economy for every dollar spent when you consider accommodation, travel and other costs,” Titsch said.