Standing ovations, long minutes of enduring applause and numerous bravos for a splendid musical performance: it was an impressive debut for Jörg Widmann as the new artistic partner of Sinfonietta Rīga. The acclaimed German clarinettist, conductor and composer and the Latvian orchestra were acclaimed by the audience after their concert on February 3 at the Great Guild Hall in Riga (which you can hear below in full). The same thing also happened the day before when he performed together with the ensemble in the Great Amber concert hall in Liepāja.
The two inauguration concerts, both of which were quickly sold out, marked the start of a long-term collaboration between Widmann and Sinfonietta Riga that is about to last for three years.
”To be honest, I really could not have imagined a better debut in this special city, in this special country”, Widmann excitedly told LSM backstage after the almost two-hour long trailblazing concert in Riga, recapitulating the well-received performance of himself and his ensemble.
“I am very, very touched because the people here in Latvia and especially in Riga have such a tremendous musical tradition.”
Sinfonietta Rīga has long been established as one of the most intriguing orchestras in Latvia. Established in 2006 and led by chief conductor Normunds Šnē, the ensemble has displayed its musical proficiency not only in its home country but throughout the Baltic states and also at various festivals abroad. Its repertoire consists of music from the Baroque, Classical and Romantic eras as well as the 20th and 21st centuries, including much Latvian music and many experimental, non-traditional performances.
The renowned ensemble has received the Latvian Great Music Award five times, and also won a Grammy award for its participation of Adam’s Lament by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt.
Marking a new beginning Continuing a longstanding musical collaboration between Sinfonietta Riga and Widmann that first started in 2014, the new artistic partnership is supposed to put the cooperation on a new level and further strengten the bond and synergies.
“Mutual affection and respect are the foundations of the collaboration between Sinfonietta and Jörg Widmann. We wish to develop these ties further and together enjoy inspirational moments on stages in Latvia and throughout Europe”, Šnē emphasised when announcing the partnership, expressing his hope that it will contribute to the orchestra’s artistic growth.
The first concert left hardly any doubt that this aim might be achieved. Widmann impressively mastered the art of conveying his passion for music to the orchestra and the audience. "I have to say it was actually something really gratifying. Something like this happens very rarely”, Widmann, who considers composing and performing with the baton or on his clarinet merely different modes of musicianship, said about the interactions on stage with the other musicians.
“I am so happy about that because, as you could feel, they were really sitting on the edge of their seats. So it was anything but routine.”
Born in Munich and at home at the most important stages of the world, the multi-faceted musician has the entire tradition of classical music at his fingertips and is one of the most versatile and prolific artists of current times. The 50-year-old is equally highly regarded as a world-class clarinetist who has inspired numerous new compositions, as a brilliant conductor of prestigious international orchestras and as one the most performed living contemporary composers.
No less important and recognised is his academic work as lecturer and mentor of young musicians at various cultural institutions. Given his enormous talent and virtuosity, Widmann is one of the much-sought-after musicians that could have taken easily over the podiums and stages of any prestigious orchestras and concert venues worldwide. But he decided to come back to Latvia to reconnect and spend time with Sinfonietta Riga that will have his musical versatility and expertise at its disposal for three years.
“When the orchestra then approached me and asked whether I could imagine working together long-term for several years, I did not have to think twice”, Widmann said, explaining that the ensemble’s spirit left mark on him when they met for the first time.
“I actually believe that the cooperation between Jörg Widmann and the Sinfonietta Riga is something very special, because he explicitly chose this orchestra to work together with”, Goethe-Institut Riga director Ulrike Würz told LSM, adding that she considers it to be “a wonderful collaboration and can only be good for the German-Latvian cooperation and friendship.”
The inaugural concert in Riga saw Widmann appearing in all aspects of his musical activities that were on virtuosic display. “He is not just someone who is good in one specialty, but he is an excellent instrumentalist, conductor and composer. This combination is very successful, and in all of them he is simply a great master. And we could see also during this concert “, musicologist and director of the Latvijas Radio 3 classical program, Gunda Vaivode, told LSM.
“All three directions align greatly together. And what characterises him, of course, is the unique energy that he is able to convey to the musicians and through the musicians to the listeners."
The program featured original works of the well-established classical music repertoire from Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) in a mix with Widmann’s own composition that resonated well with the audience.
“I am a clarinet player myself and due to this know the clarinet actually very well. But he really expands this instrument, its possibilities and what the clarinet can give, all the time more and more. This is why I am very happy that we have the chance to listen it now“, the Latvian clarinetist and former Minister of Culture Ints Dālderis told LSM, adding that he was really surprised about the lightness and at the same time depth of the musical program.
Other visitors were similarly impressed and surprised at what one man could get out of the instrument musically, but at the same time were also very enthusiastic about the singer Inga Kalna. Known as an outstanding interpreter of baroque, classical and also romantic repertoire, the Latvian enriched the instrumental playing with her engaging and expressive voice – and also received long and loud applause.
“We are completely thrilled. Not only by Jörg Widmann, but also by our Latvian soprano Inga Kalna. This literally blows your brain away. It is incredible, so fascinating”, the long standing German resident of Latvia, Jonas Büchel, told LSM after attending the concert together with his wife.
Calling it a “real amazing piece of music”, Kalna herself also visibly enjoyed being on stage and was full of praise for Widmann’s composition that she performed.
“This is an incredibly complicated piece because it is so full of ideas and I think Jörg has the same demands for others as he does for himself. That means the maximum of ability and knowledge”, Kalna said, adding that she believes that Latvia and the Sinfonietta Rīga can look forward to a collaboration that “is going to be very colourful, very unexpected and incredibly musical.“
More concerts to come
Following the two inaugural concerts, Widmann will return to Latvia several times this year for rehearsals and more concerts. In August he will perform at the "Summer night chamber music" concert series at Zuseum art centre and in November he will present a special program dedicated to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
“I think that it will again be very interesting in its own way, to see how one conductor of our time, who is a composer himself, looks at his genius predecessor. I assume that it will once more be a completely new interpretation, similar as we heard it with Mendelssohn tonight“, Vaivode said.
Asked whether she thinks that the Latvian audience will be ready for this, she joyfully answered with a smile: "The Latvian audience has shown already tonight that it simply grabs him with both hands and is ready to kiss him right after the first concert.”