Latvia’s capital Riga will come alive from June 30 to July 9 to the sound of its unique Song and Dance Festival, which is in its 150th anniversary
Listed on UNESCO’s Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity list since 2003, the festival is an unforgettable event with a tradition going back one and a half centuries, celebrating the pride of Latvian people and their belief in their country through song, dance and music.
Latvian’s Song and Dance Festival is no ordinary cultural event – it is an essential part of the Latvian identity. It is the most epic event in the cultural life of Latvia, which takes place for one week every five years, attracting thousands of spectators and listeners. It has become a nationally and internationally significant event which unites Latvians worldwide, bringing together generations and all ethnics living in the country.
From the first festival in 1873 with 1,000 singers, the Song and Dance Festivalhas become an impressive performance with around 40,000 participants preparing to take part in the XXVII Nationwide Song and XVII Dance Festival.
More than 1,600 groups in Latvia are preparing for the event as well as 100 international groups.
Every five years, participants travel to Riga from Latvia’s regions and small towns, becoming Latvia’s most powerful folk movement. To ensure that choir singers and dancers, musicians, decorative folk art creators, folklore groups and amateur theatre participants can take part in the festival, a five year period gives enough time to rehearse and train, and for participants to be in constant preparation when it comes to repertoire, evaluations, competitions, exhibitions, seminars and concerts.
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. It has also been recognised at international level.
Visit the Song and Dance Festival in 2023
The XXVII Nationwide Song and XVII Dance Festival, which both mark the 150th year of the Song Festival tradition, will take place in Riga from the 30 June to 9 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 Song and XVI Dance Festival.
Over ten days, the 40,000 participants will take part in more than 60 events including choir, dance, wind band, kokle, folk music, vocal ensemble, folklore and other concerts. There is also Latvian folk costume and folk craft art exhibitions as well as at amateur theatre productions. Half a million visitors will be able to enjoy the range of events – some being free of charge.
This year’s Song and Dance Festival will take place throughout Riga with special settings, pop-up stages and large screens.
Spaces will be landscaped to allow visitors to enjoy the Festival in full. The main choir and dance events will take place in traditional Festival locations including the Silver Grove stage at Mežaparks and the Daugava Stadium, which have been renovated for the 2023 edition.
Latvia Tourism-Reinis Olins
The XXVII Nationwide Latvian Song and XVII Dance Festival will begin with the traditional raising of the Song and Dance Festival flag, honouring the Chief Conductors and Chief Dance Leaders, plus the Sacred Music Concert at Riga Cathedral.
Festival participants’ parade through the streets of Riga on 2 July. The several-hours-long parade of participants dressed in their bright folk costumes will end with a special opening event.
The Wind Band Concert, titled Laiks iet pāri – meaning Time Flows Over – will take place this year in Andrejosta. The event will delight listeners not just with its passionate playing, but also an 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 at the festival is the Dance Concert, which this year has the title Mūžīgais dzinējs, meaning Perpetual Motion. This 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. It will reflect the experiences and feelings of those who have travelled around Latvia.
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 – meaning The Field, The Road of Song – includes folk song arrangements and original pieces inspired by folk songs.
The culmination of the Festival week is the Grand Finale Concert, called Kopā Augšup, meaning 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, seniors’, 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 – will be performed in one breath. It will be an opportunity to enjoy the gems of Latvian choral music from many periods of history.
Celebrating the Festival’s values
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 Latvia 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 Latvian’s 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 live or even in front of their television. Dancers are happy to teach some steps to passers-by in parks. Children follow along with the adults. Everyone who loves the Song and Dance Festival participate in a way or another, helping their loved ones going to the Festival as well as supporting financially, materially and emotionally the events. The event turns into a powerful moment of shared communion throughout Latvia and beyond.
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, Latvia transitions to the cycle of awaiting the next Festival, recharged and inspired by the wonders of the ongoing Festival. When returning home, Latvians are given a parting gift: good advice on how to bring song and dance into our lives. We congratulate those who will continue what is happening now in 5… or even in 100 years.