Sure, Minnesota is known as "the land of 10,000 choirs," but has our singing tradition brought down an empire?
The singers of Latvia did.
Song and dance festivals in that northern European nation and its Baltic neighbors, Estonia and Lithuania, were instrumental in rallying those countries to declare their independence from the Soviet Union, which Latvia did in 1990. The "singing revolution" concluded with the collapse of the Soviet Union the following year.
Now one of those festivals is coming to St. Paul. About 8,000 Latvian Americans are expected to converge on the city for the 15th Latvian Song and Dance Festival USA.
"Many of the [Minneapolis-St. Paul festival] organizers had attended the 14th Latvian Song Festival in 2017 in Baltimore and concluded that Minnesota would be a perfect place for a Song Festival because of our strong choral tradition," festival organizing committee chair Ansis Viksnins said.
The event happens every five years and will feature concerts by musicians of Latvian heritage and others — ranging from choral to orchestral to Latvian rock and hip-hop — and colorfully festooned dancers celebrating the country's culture. Film, theater, visual art, literary events and children's activities also are on tap.
It all begins Wednesday and runs through July 4th, and should be a rewarding experience, even for those with no Latvian ancestry. Some highlights:
Welcome concert: One of Latvia's most celebrated contemporary composers is Ēriks Ešenvalds. He'll be present for a concert full of his work, performed by two choirs, Anima from Saulkrasti, Latvia, and Magnum Chorum, an excellent choir based in Bloomington. Anima also presents a concert of its own at the Ordway Music Theater on Friday. (7:30 p.m. Wed., Cathedral of St. Paul, 239 Selby Av., St. Paul; $29-$49, ages 10 and under free.)
Opening ceremony: In addition to dignitaries from here and over there, this gathering will feature plenty of traditional song and dance from choirs, folk ensembles and dance groups. (1:30 p.m. Thu., Great River Ballroom, Intercontinental Hotel, 11 E. Kellogg Blvd., St. Paul; $19-$30, ages 10 and under free.)
Chamber and orchestral music: The Minneapolis-based Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra will be joined by soloists and chamber ensembles for a concert full of Latvian music of the past century. (1 p.m. Fri., Ordway Concert Hall, 345 Washington St., St. Paul; $25-$40.)
Grand Folk Dance Performance: For pure spectacle and energy, this is the festival's main event. The floor of our foremost hockey arena will be filled with dancers from throughout North America and Europe, showcasing movement both traditional and contemporary. (4 p.m. Sat., Xcel Energy Center, 199 W. Kellogg Blvd., St. Paul; $10-$55.)
Latvian rock: Akacis created quite a following among their fellow young Latvian-Americans in the 1980s with a sound that combined the two cultures to fine effect. They'll reunite for a show that also features one of Latvia's current popular rock outfits, Astro'n'out, and Latvian DJ Aiva, who blends some hip-hop into the mix. (9 p.m., Sat., Palace Theater, 17 W. 7th Place, St. Paul; $30-$60.)
Grand Choir Concert: At the festival's climactic event, you can get a small sense of what those massive choral gatherings in Latvia are like. Several choirs will come together to perform Latvian music with an orchestra, including folk songs, fare both classical and contemporary, and some spine-tingling patriotic hymns. (3 p.m. Sun., Ordway Music Theater, 345 Washington St., St. Paul; $10-$55.)
Tickets and more details can be found at latviansongfest2022.org.
Rob Hubbard is a Twin Cities classical music writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.