The State Choir Latvija - the largest professional choir in Latvia - was founded in 1942. The chorus gained the title of the State Choir in 1947 and since early 1990’s its name includes Latvija. The State Choir Latvija received the Latvian Grand Music Award in 1998, 2000 and 2002, and the Prize of the Cabinet of Ministers of Latvia in 2003.
The founder and first conductor of the State Choir Latvija was Janis Ozolins followed by Jānis Dūmiņš and Daumants Gailis. In 1969 the leadership of the choir was taken over by Imants Cepitis who together with Ausma Derkevica have been polishing the choir’s mastery for almost a quarter of a century. Since 1997, the artistic director and principal conductor of the choir is Māris Sirmais and the general manager - Māris Ošlejs.
The cornerstones of the choir’s repertoire are large-scale compositions – oratorios, cantatas, masses, requiems, symphonies and concert performances of operas. Their repertoire also encompasses extensive a cappella programs as well as compositions for chorus and organ. This covers music from early Renaissance to the present day (Messiaen, Benjamin Britten, Arthur Honegger, Vasks, Arvo Pärt, Kancheli among others), and recently with a special emphasis on Latvian composers.
The State Choir Latvija has developed a creative co-operation with leading symphony orchestras in Latvia, Israel, Germany, Estonia, Lithuania, Spain, Moscow, St Petersburg, and successfully collaborated with many conductors - Mariss Jansons, Neeme Järvi, Mstislav Rostropovich, Valerij Gergiyev, Gintaras Rinkevicius, Andres Mustonen, Kristjan Järvi, Zubin Mehta, Vladimir Fedoseyev, Risto Joost, Tõnu Kaljuste et al.
Most significant recent achievements include the debut in Lucerne festival (Mar 2009, Chapter Eight by Alexander Knaifel), the debut in Finlandia Hall (Sep 2008), the world première of Deer’s Cry by Arvo Pärt (2008, Ireland), world première of Russian Requiem by Lera Auerbach (Sep 2007, Bremen Music Festival), performance of Mass by Leonard Bernstein (2007, the 10th International Sacred Music Festival), the performance of Arnold Schönberg’s opera Moses and Aaron (Graz), etc.
Latvija has participated in recording the soundtrack for the film Perfume (Das Parfum; directed by Tom Tykwer). In September 2006, this music was also released as a CD by EMI Classics under the title “Perfume” (Original Soundtrack). Other participants of the recording were the Berliner Philharmoniker and conductor Sir Simon Rattle. The Choir has also taken part in records of such recording companies as Warner Classics as well as in CDs of many Latvian, German and countless foreign producers and labels.
Māris Sirmais (1969) graduated from the choral conducting class at the Latvian Academy of Music in 1992. Soon after, he continued his studies at the Academy, where he acquired his Master’s degree in Prof I Kokars’ class in 1996. Māris Sirmais continued to study orchestral conducting at the University of Music and Drama in Graz, Austria in the class of Prof Sieghart. Already in 1990, before completing his studies, Māris Sirmais founded the Youth Choir Kamēr (‘While’). From 1992 until 1997, Māris Sirmais was also the conductor for Female Choir Dzintars. Since then, the quality performances of this outstanding choir have merited honorary awards in more than 43 choir competitions such as: Rigas Zile Youth Choir Competition (1992), The National Choir Competition of the XXI Latvian Song and Dance Festival (1993), C A Seghizzi (Italy, 1996), International Choir Competition (Spain, 1996), International Choir Competition (Debrecen, 1996), Torrevieja-Certamen Internacional de Habaneras y Polifonia (Spain, 1997), International Choir Competition (Switzerland, 1997), Let the People Sing (Belgium, 1997), International Choir Competition (Ireland, 1998), International Choir Competition (Poland), Spittal an der Drau (Austria, 1999). In 1999, Māris Sirmais and Kamēr participated in the world renowned Chamber Choir Competition in Marktobersdorf and received awards for the Best Choir, the Best 20th Century Music Interpreter and the Best Renaissance Music Performer. In the same year, the choir participated in the festival Harmonia ’99 (Germany) and came in first place in the Mixed Choir, Female Chamber Choir and Mixed Chamber Choir categories, as well as received the Grand Prix.