Maestro Raimonds Pauls: I call on the government and most MPs not to participate in the Saeima elections – leave on your own with heads held high!

"But I will stay here. I've done as much as I could. And that is how this life of mine has gone by... At least I have a lot of decorations and medals - I can cover my whole jacket," laughs Raimonds Pauls self-ironically shortly before his 86th birthday. We don't care how many medals are on his jacket, what is more important is the knowledge that we live at the same time as the genius Latvian Raimonds Pauls, that we get to talk to him and listen to his everlasting music. Happy birthday, Maestro!
12.01.2022. Elita Veidemane
©Vladislavs PROŠKINS, F64 Photo Agency

Raimonds Pauls: There is nothing to talk about! There is nothing new. The main news is how many are sick and how many are dead.

That's what's new.

Of course. And it turns out that this Covid jab is no good either. But the government told me that I should, and I've got all three jabs. Some musicians have cancelled concerts because they haven't gotten vaccinated.

But what about democracy? If a person does not want to be vaccinated, why should he be forced to be vaccinated? That vaccination has turned into a huge source of profit. Vaccine manufacturers are making billions. But the lives of musicians are paralyzed, thanks to all the decisions about concerts. Musicians have suffered the most. I am closely connected with it, while I have little interest in politics.

Some concerts do take place.

Something takes place in half-empty halls, with people sitting in masks, their faces invisible. But we have gotten used to a lot of things... Now we're playing long-announced and sold-out concerts because we're afraid that everything might close again in February. It's a very unpleasant feeling.

For the musicians who used to support their families with the money from the concerts, the situation is catastrophic. And God forbid if someone says that they were paid in cash... But we have all been paid in cash at one time or another, playing at weddings, funerals and parties... Now, when you do a gig, you have to sign like five pieces of paper, and at the end, you have to sign a document saying that the work has been handed over and that the work has been accepted.

Those days of paperless freedom are long gone. Meanwhile, the public media are governed by different councils.

We have public radio and public television. They are seemingly independent institutions maintained by the state. Institutions whose task is to preserve Latvian culture and the Latvian language, Latvian music and theatre. And now, there is not one council ruling over these institutions, but two: the NEPLP and the SEPLP. What does NEPLP do? It closed the Russian channels? Well, excuse me, but that's just theatrics. Anyone can find all the Russian programs they want on the Internet. But have these councils done anything to improve the broadcasts on public television or radio? I'm not so sure...

I have worked for Latvian Radio for about sixty years. During that time there have been different bosses - there were normal people, there were also idiots. But anyway, there was a concentration of interesting people in Latvian Radio, some were very talented. One of them is still left...

Gunārs Jākobsons?

Yes. He has contributed a lot to the development of Latvian Radio.

And we can thank Latvian Radio in general for developing our musical taste.

As far as classical music is concerned, the results are very good. We have many good performers, but unfortunately many of them are looking for work abroad. But with the so-called light music... It's not so good here. I wonder what will happen with Eurovision... I don't blame anyone, but... For example, Samanta Tīna - a very talented singer, has a good voice, but she doesn't know how to connect with the listener. She tries to be modern, maybe even too modern, and the Latvian listener doesn't like that very much... I've seen it in my life: a mediocre singer, but he comes on stage and the audience is ecstatic.

And what about the Musical Bank? The songs there are mostly almost the same, maybe three or four of them are different.

We judge a song by whether it sticks with us or not. In a good way. That's the main function of a schlager, even though a schlager is something that many people think of as demeaning. Think of Rozenštrauhs: how did the public react to his songs? I suppose there was something in those melodies...? And we have lived on "Mežrozīte" and similar songs for a long time. Also in the New Year's broadcast, everybody tried to present the old tunes, even if in a different way, in a new way. Unfortunately, the melodiousness has disappeared in the new music. And not only in Latvia. The performers, too - as they are now...

But you still make something new. At Christmas, the audience was treated to a wonderful treat: a Christmas program of your music and Jānis Peters' poetry, "Mierinājums", performed by you, the young singer Paula Saija, the actor Gundars Grasbergs, the vocal group Insomnia...

I tried to see how would it turn out... A musical girl. And Peters' words were brilliant. People need to find solace after the turmoil that surrounds them every day. But speaking of young singers... Tell me, have you seen that after the singing competition, after the X Factor, those winners still appear somewhere? They don't understand that after winning a competition they have to start working and somebody must help them. So, I help them sometimes... In two months, I want to do a program with that girl... I tell her: change the order in your name, it will sound nicer... Saija Paula. (Laughs.) What's next - I don't know. I should slow down a bit.

You are working non-stop.

Am I really working that much? I have been working at this pace and intensity all my life. I can only thank God that I still know how to move towards the piano, how to find where the Do note is on the keys, and then how to walk away with my head held high. At my age, it already seems like the limit of my capabilities... On January 12, my birthday, the Small Hall of Dzintari will hear a new variation of an old piece of mine - "Spēļu nakts Duntes krogā". My big band and I will play, Framest will sing. We should play it in the real Duntes pub in the summer...

What did you think was the most brilliant event last year?

It was good that we were able to play a concert with Elīna Garanča. She is a classical opera singer, a star, she knows what she is doing. Elīna sang beautifully in our concert. In a way, it was a tribute to her mother, Anita Garanča. The concert was quite a labor-intensive event and required quite a lot of money. Now you have to pay for each spotlight... In the past, did anyone ever ask for anything in the countryside? Just come and play... Now the most important factor everywhere is just money. Only money.

And where does that leave human relationships?

Well, depends on the place... Those managers of cultural centers have to survive somehow. They don't get any big money. I can't complain, I'm still treated well, thank God... For example, Gors in Rēzekne. I'm keep getting invited there, but it's difficult - three hours on the road, three hours back... But it's one of the few places that all artists praise.

How are other concert halls doing? Not so brilliant. But everybody tries to figure out what to do and how to do it - Liepāja, Cēsis and Ventspils. Now it's getting more and more difficult to get people into concert halls. People are afraid, and there are fewer and fewer people.

But they are still going to build a concert hall in Riga.

Well, that topic can be taken out of circulation. For 30 years everyone has been talking about it, especially in the last few years: yes, we need a concert hall. But in the meantime, for example, a concert hall is being built in Ventspils. There are many who want to write off the success of Ventspils, but let us not be dishonest! Because the city has been created, the music school and the concert hall have been built. Therefore, we should not take this success away from Aivars Lembergs, who has achieved all this. His imprisonment is incomprehensible to me; he could have easily kept sitting by his lake and fishing. They found one to hang all the blame on, and now some people are happy...

It is very good that there are these concert halls. There will come a time when they will be one hundred percent full. What else can we be proud of but our artists? What else can we be so happy about?

But this joy needs funding. For example, a symphony orchestra has to be maintained by the state; it will never earn the money to maintain itself. Similarly, the opera and the theatre have to get money from somewhere. That is why there must be people in government who are enthusiastic about culture.

At the moment, the situation is such that there is no one to talk to about problems in culture. In Soviet times, there was Miervaldis Ramāns (Chairman of the State Plan Commission of the Latvian SSR, until 1990 Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Latvian SSR - E.V.), who gave us money so that we could buy musical instruments... He understood that we needed them.

There was also Vladimirs Kaupužs, the Minister of Culture. Whatever one may say about him, he managed to preserve the Latvian Song Festival through the Soviet years. But now we only know how to say that everybody "in those days" was a Chekist... But "in those times", for some reason, a number of great Latvian poets appeared - Imants Ziedonis, Ojārs Vācietis, Jānis Peters...

I recently listened to an interview with Imants Lancmanis. Here is a personality so brilliant that I would like to see him in some other post. Intelligence, knowledge, wisdom of the soul. We need many more people like that, but they are few and far between. When I meet young people - and I will always support them - I regret to see that many of them are completely ignorant of the history of Latvian culture. And it is not their fault, because nobody teaches them this cultural history. You talk to them and many of them don't even know who Rainis, Blaumanis, Pumpurs is...

Now it's only the phones that matter. I refused the newest phone because I have no desire to take pictures and send them. Now phones are like computers. But I just need to talk. Now every movement is replaced by a phone: we are getting further and further away from physical work, from human conversations. Everything is changing so much...

For example, Latvian Song Festivals. Last summer, there should have been a School Song Festival. What happened was, in my opinion, a caricature.

Well, on the one hand, I understand the organizers, for whom finances were an issue... They were trying to save something. But what did they save? It looked funny - those couples dancing alone, those few singers...

We need to think about how to shape the School Song and Dance Festival in the future, it should not be just a copy of the big Song Festival. Young people are in a completely different mood, both in terms of repertoire and organization. And more. The new Song Festival stage has been built at a huge cost. Has anyone thought about how to fill this stage in the periods between the Song Festivals?

What do you see as the future direction of culture and the arts in general?

It all depends on the personalities who are ready to do something. It doesn't matter if these people are theatre or film directors, singers or actors. But it won't be easy. Clearly, culture is being given some money now too. But where does it go? And that Culture Capital Foundation, whose oh-so-clever commissions decide things... It's natural that there will be many dissatisfied people: if they give me money and not you, we become enemies. All that project writing, followed by the standard reply, something like "We are not interested in your proposal at the moment..."

It's a pity that we have lost the big market to the east of us. It was mentally closer to us than the Western market. Nobody is waiting for us there. You know, I have the feeling that we have become a province - not only of the West, which goes without saying, but also of the East.

...So here we few are left, now let's turn to the subject of love: the love story of actress and poet Biruta Skujeniece and poet Jānis Sudrabkalns will be set to music. It is known that Skujeniece died in 1931.

Yes, on August 8, 1931, two trains collided in Jūrmala, at Pumpuri station, and only one person died - Biruta Skujeniece. Sudrabkalns did not go to Skujeniece's funeral. He rented a bed in the summer house of the writer Ādolfs Talcis, which was opposite the crash site, and looked at it for days...

The program could be finished by March or April... We'll try Elza Rozentāle, we'll have Grasbergs and Broka. Sudrabkalns has a collection of poems "Klodijai" - dedicated to Biruta Skujeniece. The young lady was very passionate and sharp, many people were in love with her. It is very difficult to imagine Sudrabkalns without his love for Skujeniece...

Let us return to the humble present. Please wish something for our government.

I have already said something similar on television... Not only to the government, but to the majority of our MPs: do not participate in the next Saeima elections, leave on your own with heads held high. Many Members have failed in such a way that it is impossible to fail any harder. Look at who is chairing every other Saeima committee - some convicted or accused individuals. Of course, no country loves its government...

But does not have to be loved either.

Now it is much more common to reprimand the first people, saying, you have missed the mark.

Sometimes it seems that the rulers live on another planet.

Well, some have lived across the ocean for a long time... But I will stay here. I've done as much as I could. And that is how this life of mine has gone by... At least I have a lot of decorations and medals - I can cover my whole jacket. (Laughs.)


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