Today is a big day for song… We will hear fanfares and fly the 1873 and 2023 Song Festival flags. They are separated and united by 150 years. But the feelings remain unchanged: pride in our people, country, traditions. Joy that — through the complicated twists and turns of our history — song, dance and music have been the things that have united and bonded our people. The Song and Dance Festival is an unforgettable amateur art phenomenon with one and a half centuries of traditions!
The Song and Dance Festival phenomenon
The Song and Dance Festival is the uppermost cultural masterpiece of our people that has stood the test of time. It has become a nationally and internationally significant event which calls together and unites Latvians worldwide, bringing together generations and ethnicities.
From the first festival in 1873 with 1,000 singers, it has grown to a mighty movement: around 40,000 participants are preparing to take part in the XXVII Nationwide Latvian Song and XVII Dance Festival. More than 1,600 groups in Latvia and more than 100 elsewhere are preparing for the event.
To ensure that choir singers and dancers, musicians, decorative folk art creators, folklore groups and amateur theatre participants can take part in the Festival, there are five years of everyday, systematic work in the lead-up: rehearsals, constant preparation of repertoire, evaluations, competitions, exhibitions, seminars and concerts. And, every five years, they all flow from Latvia’s regions and small towns to Riga, becoming Latvia’s most powerful folk movement.
The Song and Dance Festival tradition has played a significant role in creating Latvia’s national identity and maintaining the idea of an independent nation through difficult periods of history. This has also been recognised at an international level: in 2003, the Song and Dance Festival was included on the UNESCO List of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
The XXVII Nationwide Latvian Song and XVII Dance Festival in 2023
The XXVII Nationwide Latvian Song and XVII Dance Festival, which marks the 150th year of the Song Festival tradition, will take place in Riga from the 30th June to the 9th July, 2023. The Festival week is the culmination for which the organisers — the Latvian National Centre for Culture — and amateur groups have been preparing since the end of the previous XXVI Nationwide Latvian Song and XVI Dance Festival.
During the week of the Festival, 40,000 participants from 43 Latvian administrative regions, as well as other countries where Latvians maintain and develop the Song and Dance Festival tradition, will come to Riga. Over ten days, they will take part in more than 60 events: choir, dance, wind band, kokle, folk music, vocal ensemble, folklore and other concerts; a Latvian folk costume exhibition; a folk craft art exhibition; and amateur theatre productions. Half a million visitors will be able to see the events in person (in free and ticketed events) — Latvia has a population of 1.96 million.
The Song and Dance Festival will take place throughout the territory of Riga. Special set designs will transform the event spaces; suitable stages will be built; big screens will be dotted throughout the city; spaces will be landscaped to allow visitors to enjoy the Festival in full. The main choir and dance events will take place in their historic Festival locations: the Silver Grove stage at Mežaparks and Daugava Stadium. Both locations have been renovated for the audiences and participants of the 2023 Song and Dance Festival.
The XXVII Nationwide Latvian Song and XVII Dance Festival will begin on the 30th June, 2023 with the traditional raising of the Song and Dance Festival flag, honouring the Chief Conductors and Chief Dance Leaders, and the Sacred Music Concert at Riga Cathedral.
The Festival Participants’ Parade through the streets of Riga will take place on the 2nd July. The several-hours-long parade of participants dressed in their bright folk costumes will end with a special Opening Event for the Song and Dance Festival participants.
The Wind Band Concert, titled Laiks iet pāri (Time Flows Over), which will take place this year in Andrejosta, will delight listeners not just with the passionate playing, but also the open-air party for all attendees. Meanwhile, the Kokle Concert, titled Laika upe (The River of Time) will take place in the Ķīpsala International Exhibition Centre.
One of the most anticipated events in the Festival is the Dance Concert, which this year has the title Mūžīgais dzinējs (Perpetual Motion) and will sparkle in the colours of the regions of Latvia. The concert is conceived as a dedication to curiosity and the eternal search for growth, and will reflect the experiences, feelings and conclusions of those who have travelled around Latvia in different eras.
The 150th anniversary of the Song Festival tradition brings back the opportunity for the massed choir to perform a separate a cappella concert at the Silver Grove stage, Mežaparks. The foundational concept of this concert, titled Tīrums. Dziesmas ceļš (The Field. The Road of Song), is folk song arrangements and original pieces inspired by folk songs.
The culmination of the Festival week is the Grand Finale Concert, called Kopā Augšup (Upward Together). It will be dedicated to 150 years of Song Festival tradition and will serve as a bridge to future Festivals. Mixed, women’s, men’s, senior, children’s and youth choirs, wind bands and kokle ensembles will resound at the Silver Grove stage, Mežaparks, under the leadership of experienced Chief Conductors and Honoured Chief Conductors, while dance groups will shimmer in the colours of Latvia’s regions. Over three hours, the 15 favourite choir songs as selected by the choristers themselves will be performed as if in one breath, and gems of Latvian choral music from many periods of history — from the classics to modern day — will sparkle.
Festival Values: Tradition, Collaboration, Continuation
Tradition balances the enduring and the changing, the familiar and the different, and creates a sense of security, continuation and belonging. Tradition weaves the experience of the past into the present, and helps us see into the future. Preparing for and venerating the 150th birthday of the Song and Dance Festival is a good reason to express the values of our culture and nation from today’s standpoint, which are born from the dialogue of legacy and new creation.
Collaboration involves the Festival audiences, calls the people to sing along to their television. Dancers are happy to teach some steps to passersby in the park. Children follow along with the adults. Everyone who loves the Song and Dance Festival does what they can, helping their loved ones reach the Festival and everyday processes, supporting financially, materially, emotionally. A network of collaboration weaves through Latvia between Festivals and during the Festival.
Continuation is a joy and an obligation, as the nation searches for its path in a complicated world. Having maintained the Song and Dance Festival together, we transition to the cycle of awaiting the next Festival, recharged and inspired by the wonders of the Festival. When we return home, we are given a parting gift: good advice on how to bring song and dance into our lives. We congratulate those who will continue what we are doing in 5 or 100 years!