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Pēteris Vasks
photo: Mélanie Gomez

Pēteris Vasks

Country of origin: Latvia
Birthday: April 16, 1946

Upcoming Performances

Musica serena
Musica serena
Conductor: Andris Poga
Orchestra: Latvijas Nacionālais simfoniskais orķestris
February 10, 2023 | Rīga (Latvia) , Lielā ģilde
Musica serena
Musica serena
Conductor: Andris Poga
Orchestra: Latvijas Nacionālais simfoniskais orķestris
February 22, 2023 | Aix-en-Provence (France) , Grand Théâtre de Provence

About Pēteris Vasks

Most people today no longer possess beliefs, love and ideals. The spiritual dimension has been lost. My intention is to provide food for the soul and this is what I preach in my works. (Pēteris Vasks)

Pēteris Vasks was born on 16 April 1946 in Aizpute in Latvia as the son of a Baptist pastor who was well-known in Latvia. Vasks began his musical education at the local music school in Aizpute. He subsequently produced his first compositions and also studied the double bass at the Emīls Dārziņš Music School in Riga (1959-64). Vasks continued his double bass studies with Vytautas Sereika at the Lithuanian Conservatory in Vilnius up to 1970 before his one year of military service in the Soviet Army. Vasks's orchestral career had already began as early as 1961 as a member of various symphony and chamber orchestras, including the Latvian Philharmonic Orchestra (1966 to 1969), Lithuanian Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra (1969 to 1970) and the Latvian Radio and Television Orchestra (1971 to 1974). From 1973 to 1978, Vasks additionally studied composition with Valentin Utkin at the Latvian Music Academy in Riga. During the following years, he was a music teacher in Salacgrīva, Zvejniekciems und Jelgava and has taught composition at the Emīls Dārziņš Music School in Riga since 1989. During the Soviet period, Vasks suffered under the repressions of Russian cultural doctrine due to his beliefs and artistic convictions, but the Latvian composer’s works have swiftly achieved widespread recognition during the past few years. Choral music of major importance within Vasks Œuvre. His instrumental works are performed around the world by renowned musicians and frequently used by choreographers.

Vasks's compositions incorporate archaic, folklore elements from Latvian music and place them within a dynamic and challenging relationship with the language of contemporary music. The works are frequently given programmatic titles based on natural processes. Vasks’ intentions are however not so much a purely poetic praise of nature or showy tone painting, but rather the pursuit of themes such as the complex interaction between man and nature and the beauty of life on the one hand but also the imminent ecological and moral destruction of the world which he expresses in musical language. Frequent reference is made to his personal biography and the recent history of suffering on the part of the Latvian people. At the early age of 10, Vasks had already composed a freedom-fighting choral song in reaction to the sufferings of those who had been expelled from their houses and sent to detention camps overnight. The brass quintet Music for Fleeting Birds composed in 1977 can be understood as the yearning hope for freedom of travel which at that time was not permitted by the Soviet occupation, whereas the Musica dolorosa for strings dating from the year 1983 describes the extremely personal and intense mourning on the death of his sister. Together with the Musica adventus (1996), Musica appassionata (2002) and Musica serena (2015) the four "Musicae" for string orchestra form a cycle.  

Vasks also views his three symphonies – the 1st Symphony for strings (“Voices”, 1991), the 2nd Symphony (1998/99) for large orchestra and the 3rd Symphony (2005) for large orchestra – as reflections of recent political events in the Baltic states and their effects on man and the environment. Cragged and disjointed clusters and aleatory sounds representing intimidation and destruction are contrasted with tender imitations of birdcalls in the wind section and simple melodies in a folksong style – frequently embedded in primarily minor harmonies – and mystically shimmering string textures. 

In recent years, Vasks has favoured concertos for solo string instruments and works for string orchestra ar string Ensemble, working closely with renowned soloists. In his violin concerto Distant Light, premiered in 1997 by Gidon Kremer, the possibility of a better “ideal world” is never absent: a hint of musically accentuated hope which occasionally grows into something more. In 2006, he also dedicated his work Lonely Angel ("Meditation") to Kremer. The Piece for violin and string orchestra reflects Vasks' Vision of an angel gazing down on the world, concerned and hopeful at the same time. The seemingly infinite melody of the solo violin, climbing to extreme heights in wide arcs, is carried by the buzzing soundscapes of the string orchestra. As with his cello concerto Klātbūtne ("Presence"), which was composed for Sol Gabetta in 2012, it has seen numerous performances around the world. In 2016 Vasks composed the Concerto per viola ed orchestra d'archi, followed by a Concerto for oboe and orchestra for Albrecht Mayer. 25 years after Distant light Vasks composed his second violin concerto In Evening Light, premiered in 2022 by Hugo Ticiati and  O/Modernt in Stockholm. The piece reflects on evening light as a metaphor for the twilight years of human beings.

As well as his instrumental music, his vocal works possess narrative characteristics. They convey messages and call for resistance against inhuman acts in the world. Zemgale (1989) for mixed choir, a dramatic poem, refers to a region in Latvia that became a symbol of the deportation of Latvian people. Vasks also deals with Soviet foreign rule in Litene (1993) for mixed choir. This choral ballad commemorates the murder of Latvian officers after the invasion of the Red Army in 1941: Extremely high and low pitches in the vocal lines depict riot, fright and screams through music. Today Pater noster (2000), Missa (2000) and Prayer "Lord, open our eyes" (2012), The Fruit of Silence (2014) and Da Pacem, Domine (2016) belong to Vasks' most popular pieces for mixed choir and orchestra.

Pēteris Vasks was appointed as the Main Composer of the Stockholm New Music Festival in 1996. The same year, he was awarded the Herder Prize from the Alfred Toepfer Foundation and the Baltic Assembly Prize. Vasks received the Latvian Great Music Award on three occasions: for Litene in 1993, for Distant Light in 1998 and for the 2nd Symphony in 2000. Vasks was created as an honorary member of the Latvian Academy of Sciences in 1994 and a member of the Royal Swedish Music Academy in Stockholm in 2001. In 2002, the composer became an honorary senator of the Latvian Cultural Academy in Riga. In 2005, he received the Cannes Classical Award for recordings of the violin concerto Distant Light and the 2nd Symphony. In 2021, he received the Grand Music Award of Latvia for his String Quartet No. 6. Vasks was Composer in Residence at the Presteigne Festival (2006) and Vale of Glamorgan Festival (2006, 2016), the Usedom Music Festival (2010), the Zurich Chamber Orchestra (2011/12) and the Canberra Music Festival (2012). In 2016 Vasks received the State Cultural Award of the Republic of Latvia and in 2019 the Honorary Diploma of the Latvian President. In 2022 Vasks has been awarded the Preis der Europäischen Kirchenmusik [European Church Music Prize] as well as the Opus Klassik as Composer of the Year. A complete recording of the piano cycle "The Seasons", begun in 1980 and finished in 2009, was released on the Wergo Label in 2010.

Worklist

Chronology

1946
Born in Aizpute (Latvia) on 16 April as son of a Baptist pastor
1953-59
Attended the school in Aizpute
1954
First piano and violin lessons at the local music school; first compositions
1959-64
Studied double bass at the Emīls Dārziņš Music School in Riga
1963-66
Played double bass at the Latvian National Opera in Riga
1964-70
Studied double bass at the Lithuanian Academy of Music in Vilna with Professor Sereika; got to know music of the Polish avant-garde
1966-69
Played double bass in the Lithuanian Philharmonic Orchestra
1969-70
Played double bass in the Latvian Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra
1970-71
Military service in the Soviet Army
1971
Married with Vija Bekere
1971
Birth of Son Matiss
1971-74
Played double bass in the Latvian Radio Symphony Orchestra in Riga
1972
Birth of daughter Laura
1973-78
Studied composition with Valentin Utkin at the Latvian Music Academy in Riga
1977
"Music for Fleeting Birds" for wind quintet; "1st String Quartet"; "In memoriam" for two pianos
1977
Birth of daughter Madara
1978
"The Book" for violoncello solo; "Concerto vocale" for mixed choir
1979
"Cantabile" for strings
1979
Birth of daughter Gundega
1982
"Message" for chamber orchestra; "In Memory of a Friend" for wind quintet
1982
Birth of son Paulis
1983
"Musica dolorosa" for strings
1984
"2nd String Quartet"
1985-88
Music teacher in Zvejniekciems and Salacgrīva (Latvia)
1985
"Episodi e Canto perpetuo" for piano trio
1986
"Lauda" for orchestra
1988
"Musica seria" for organ; music teacher in Jelgava (Latvia)
1989
Taught composition at the Em. Dārziņa music school in Riga; first trip to Western Europe (Germany, Schweden)
1990
"Concerto" for English horn and orchestra; "Jana Ivanova" Prize
1991
Barricades in Riga; Latvia reestablished its independence
1991
Symphony "Voices" for strings; "Te Deum" for organ
1992
"Fantasia – Landscapes of the Burnt-out Earth" for piano
1993
"Litene" for mixed choir; Great Latvian Music Award for "Litene"
1994
"Concerto" for violoncello and orchestra
1994
Honorary member of the Latvian Academy of Sciences
1995
"Three Poems by Czesław Milosz"
1996
"3rd String Quartet"; "Dona nobis pacem"
1996
Herder Prize of the Alfred Toepfer Foundation F.V.S. Hamburg; Baltic Assembly Prize for the Cello Concerto
1997
Concerto for violin and string orchestra "Distant Light"
1998
Great Latvian Music Award for the concerto for violin and string orchestra "Distant Light"
1999
"2nd Symphony"
2000
"4th String Quartet", "Missa" for mixed choir; Great Latvian Music Award for the "2nd Symphony"; Marriage with Dzintra Geka
2001
"Quartet" for violin, viola, violoncello and piano; "Viatore" for string orchestra
2001
Member of the Royal Swedish Music Academy
2002
"Musica appassionata" for string orchestra; "Plainscapes" for mixed choir, violin and violoncello
2002
Senator of Honor of the Latvian Academy of Culture Riga
2003
"Bass Trip" for double bass
2004
"5th String Quartet"
2005
"Canto di forza" for 12 violoncello players; "3rd Symphony"
2006
"Lonely Angel" for violin and string orchestra
2007
"Sala" for orchestra
2009
"Concerto" for flute and orchestra; "Vox amoris" for violin and strings; completition of the piano cycle "The Seasons"
2010
"Credo" for orchestra
2011
"Epifania" for string orchestra
2012
Concerto for violoncello and string orchestra "Klātbūtne"
2013
"Love Songs" for mixed choir
2014
"The Fruit of Silence" for mixed choir
2015
"Musica serena" per orchestra d‘archi
2016
State Culture Award of the Republic of Latvia
2016
"Concerto" for viola and string orchestra
2016
"Da pacem, Domine" for mixed choir and string orchestra
2016
"Laudate dominum" for choir and large orchestra
2018
"Concerto for oboe and orchestra"
2019
Honorary Diploma of the Latvian President
2019
"Veni domine" for mixed choir and organ
2019
"Hymnus" for organ
2021
Lifetime Achievement Award of the Istanbul Music Festival
2021
Grand Music Award of Latvia for String Quartet No. 6
2022

Preis der Europäischen Kirchenmusik

2022

Opus Klassik "Composer of the Year"

Products

Performances

Set Descending Direction
  • Musica serena
    Musica serena
    Conductor: Andris Poga
    Orchestra: Latvijas Nacionālais simfoniskais orķestris
    February 10, 2023 | Rīga (Latvia) , Lielā ģilde
  • Musica serena
    Musica serena
    Conductor: Andris Poga
    Orchestra: Latvijas Nacionālais simfoniskais orķestris
    February 22, 2023 | Aix-en-Provence (France) , Grand Théâtre de Provence
  • Concerto no. 2
    Concerto no. 2
    Conductor: Juha Kangas
    Orchestra: Keski-Pohjanmaan Kamariorkesteri (Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra)
    February 24, 2023 | Kokkola (Finland) , Kirkko
  • Musica serena
    Musica serena
    Conductor: Andris Poga
    Orchestra: Latvijas Nacionālais simfoniskais orķestris
    February 25, 2023 | Metz (France) , Arsenal de Metz
  • The Fruit of Silence
    The Fruit of Silence
    Conductor: Hans Kielblock
    Orchestra: Mitglieder des Staatsorchester Wiesbaden
    February 25, 2023 | Wiesbaden (Germany) , Ringkirche
  • Vientuļais eņģelis
    Vientuļais eņģelis
    Conductor: Henning Kraggerud
    Orchestra: Arktisk Filharmoni
    February 25, 2023 | Longyearbyen (Norway) , Gruve 7 — National premiere
  • Musica serena
    Musica serena
    Conductor: Vadim Gluzman
    Orchestra: ProMusica Chamber Orchestra
    February 25, 2023 | Columbus, OH (United States of America) , Worthington United Methodist Church
  • Musica serena
    Musica serena
    Conductor: Orlando Jopling
    Orchestra: Crendon Chamber Orchestra
    February 25, 2023 | Thame (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) , St. Mary's Church
  • Musica serena
    Musica serena
    Conductor: Vadim Gluzman
    Orchestra: ProMusica Chamber Orchestra
    February 26, 2023 | Columbus, OH (United States of America) , Saint Mary Catholic Church
  • Vientuļais eņģelis
    Vientuļais eņģelis
    Conductor: Anna-Maria Helsing
    Orchestra: BBC Concert Orchestra
    February 26, 2023 | London (United Kingdom) , Queen Elizabeth Hall
  • Concerto no. 1
    Concerto no. 1
    Conductor: Santtu-Matias Rouvali
    Orchestra: Tampere Filharmonia
    March 2, 2023 | Tampere (Finland) , Tampere-talo, Iso sali
  • Concerto no. 1
    Concerto no. 1
    Conductor: Santtu-Matias Rouvali
    Orchestra: Tampere Filharmonia
    March 3, 2023 | Tampere (Finland) , Tampere-talo, Iso sali
  • Concerto no. 2
    Concerto no. 2
    Conductor: John Storgårds
    Orchestra: Svenska Kammarorkestern
    March 16, 2023 | Örebrö (Sweden) , Örebro konserthus
  • Vientuļais eņģelis
    Vientuļais eņģelis
    Conductor: Robin Ticciati
    Orchestra: Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin
    March 18, 2023 | Berlin (Germany) , Philharmonie Berlin
  • Concerto no. 1
    Concerto no. 1
    Conductor: Markus Huber
    Orchestra: Thüringen Philharmonie Gotha-Eisenach
    March 23, 2023 | Gotha (Germany) , Kulturhaus
  • Concerto no. 1
    Concerto no. 1
    Conductor: Markus Huber
    Orchestra: Thüringen Philharmonie Gotha-Eisenach
    March 24, 2023 | Eisenach (Germany) , Landestheater
  • Baltā ainava
    Baltā ainava
    March 25, 2023 | Kiel (Germany) , Theater — Premiere
  • Mein Herr und mein Gott
    Mein Herr und mein Gott
    Conductor: Susan Shoemaker
    March 28, 2023 | Macomb, IL (United States of America) — National premiere
  • Musica serena
    Musica serena
    Conductor: Andris Poga
    Orchestra: Aarhus Symfoniorkester
    March 30, 2023 | Aarhus C (Denmark) , Musikhuset Aarhus, Symfonisk Sal
  • Musica serena
    Musica serena
    Conductor: Andris Poga
    Orchestra: Aarhus Symfoniorkester
    March 31, 2023 | Aarhus C (Denmark) , Musikhuset Aarhus, Symfonisk Sal
  • Set Descending Direction