Andris Dzenītis Latvian Cookbook (2011/12) for Ensemble

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Orchestration: flute (also piccolo), oboe, clarinet (bass clarinet too), bassoon – trumpet, trombone – percussion, piano – 2 violins, viola, violoncello

The question of what is actually there in the eternal values and the holy traditions of a nation can be also answered with humour and irony. Since when is the potato a Latvian national dish? Probably only since its introduction in Europe and its domestication in the northern countries, therefore at the earliest since the 17th century. Latvian national cuisine contains many dishes that have their origin outside Latvia, Andris Dzenītis explains in an irritated way. The majority of dishes, as Dzenītis continues to present his gloomy thoughts, exist only in order to serve the tourists something typical. And the tourists would believe then as well that by eating a potato cake they would come closer to the Latvian national soul in a profound way. In order to get to the bottom of this issue, Dzenītis composed a cycle about Latvian national dishes now. For what could be that, a genuine Latvian dish?

Of course that Dzenītis cooperated with a Latvian gourmet chef on this project. The particular dishes were selected and drafted in cooperation with Mārtiņš Rītiņš, this is what it proudly says in the preface to the score. Here, dishes were selected, that actually were prepared in grandmother´s kitchen at home, namely a rural cuisine, which does not follow the fashions of the capital. “Blood pudding”, “peas and beans” – from the wonderful treats of the Baltic cuisine they turn into sound dishes now. Dzenītis assumes a certain synaesthesia between the tone and the taste: music and food are both very sensual, yet very ephemeral forms of art. It is certain that one can taste tones and hear dishes: sour tones, bitter tones. The sounds are mixed like ingredients, tones are heated, fried, boiled, cooked, mashed…

In addition to the conventional instruments, Dzenītis also uses various kitchen appliances in order to evoke the acoustic ambience of the culinary art. At the same time, however, the occasions at which a dish is served, the moods and the social contexts should flow into the piece. There are also often somewhat enigmatic subtitles of the movements that are hinted at, which are similar to proverbs and convey something of the worldly wisdom of the good food. At the beginning there is spring water, not only a source of all dishes, but also the origin of all being. “The creation of the world” – that is Dzenītis´ subtitle of this first movement, and in its first minutes it splashes and flourishes tremendously.

What follows are six dishes, each of its own particular taste. It almost goes without saying that the peaceful home in the third movement starts as sognante (dreamy) and dolce (soft), that the harvest festival in autumn should be played as gioioso (happy) and brioso (playful), the hell of the funeral of a pig has yet to sound disperatamente (desperate) and nero (black). But who would have thought that the cornucopia in the sixth movement, which is announced as a richly laid table and a dinner with many friends, is played by the trombone on its own? The cornucopia and the trombone have definitely something to do with each other. However, Dzenītis´ point is not the obvious and standing to reason anyway. His work lives mostly from the fact that culinary subtleties meet dramaturgical concepts and that the pieces unfold themselves as a synthesis of both of these design levels. Therefore, from the Latvian cookbook there is a collection of curios in the end which reaches from heaven to hell and which reflects many facets of human existence.

Andris Dzenītis was born in 1978 in Riga and already at the age of 16 years he received the Chamber Music Prize of the Latvian Composers´ Union for his Sonata for Violin and Piano Pamestie.

As a Herder beneficiary he studied composition in 1996-1997 at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna with Kurt Schwertsik. He continued his studies at the Latvian Academy of Music with Pēteris Plakidis (1997-1999) and at the Music and Theatre Academy of Latvia with Osvaldas Balakauskas (1999-2003).

He received various prizes for his works which were many times performed and recorded on CD, such as the Great Music Award, which is valued highly in Latvia. In addition to his work as a music journalist, music organizer and composition teacher, Dzenītis is a co-founder of the Woodpecker project, a group for electronic music. Since 2004, Dzenītis has also been a board member of the Latvian Composers´ Union.
Björn Gottstein
works as a freelance journalist about contemporary and electronic music. He lives in Berlin.

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