This week BBC Radio 3 broadcasts a series of programmes titled Shostakovich in Context, which means devoting yet more airtime to an already over-exposed composer. The saturation coverage of the Shostakovich centenary has meant the exclusion from concert and broadcast schedules of many other deserving composers with anniversaries this year. There is a particularly bitter irony in this cultural hegemony by a Russian composer for Peteris Vasks (left) who celebrates his 60th birthday in 2006. For Vasks is a Latvian, a country whose very culture was under threat for more than fifty years from Russian ideologies and military power.
Latvia is one of the so called A8 countries from central and eastern Europe which joined the EU in 2004, the others are Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Lithuania, Estonia and Slovenia. The A8 countries should be joined by Bulgaria and Romania in January 2007, although Bulgaria has a few money laundering and related problems to sort first - it has been said that Bulgaria isn't a country that has a mafia, but a mafia that has a country. Latvia is located on the Baltic between Estonia and Lithuania, and shares eastern borders with Russia and Belarus. The USSR annexed Latvia in 1940, and the country only regained its independence following the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991. The last Russian troops left in 1994, and ten years later Latvia joined both the EU and NATO. The official language is Latvian, but 38% of the population speak Russian, and the ethnic and cultural diversity is shown by the mix of Lutheran, Roman Catholic, and Russian Orthodox among the countries religions. Latvia’s turbulent past and current EU membership have created an extensive diaspora, and there is a large migrant Latvian community working in agriculture here in East Anglia where I write this article.
Peteris Vasks was born in western Latvia in 1946. His father was a minister of the Church, and the religious intolerance of the occupying Soviets forced the family to move south to Lithuania where he attended the musical academy in Vilnius. He returned to his country of birth to play in Latvian orchestras, and then took up a teaching career in the Latvian capital, Riga, which continues today. His musical vocabulary is influenced by Witold Lutoslawski, Krzysztof Penderecki and George Crumb, and his unique style incorporates aleatoric techniques. Vasks is an important modern composer as he is one of the select group of eastern European composers who have successfully developed a nationalist style without compromising their contemporary vocabulary; others include Arvo Pärt (Estonia), Giya Kancheli (Georgia), Gyorgy Kurtag (Hungary) and Henryk Górecki (Poland), and interestingly four out of those five come from the A8 countries.
Not a single note of Vask’s music was included in the 2006 BBC Proms season. Rectify this by listening to four minutes of Anthony Marwood and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields playing Peter Vasks: Concerto for Violin and String Orchestra ('Distant Light') - Mosso - Cadenza II -
* As I upload this article the news breaks that BBC Chairman of two years Michael Grade is unexpectedly leaving to move to commercial rival ITV. As Grade has presided over a wholesale lowering of programme standards at the BBC, and is going to troubled ITV, where the programme standards are already the subject of universal derision, it is difficult to know what to think. Perhaps the rumoured £2m ($3.8m) salary renders thought superfluous?
Now read about the Roma - the forgotten Holocaust victims
Any copyrighted material on these pages is included for "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk