Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Music & Food in Boston

Boston is an iconic American city, and one that I enjoy greatly. With having family there and with the availability of relatively inexpensive and short flights from the DC area, I visit quite frequently. My most recent trip coincided with a Latvian concert I wanted to attend. It ended up being a low-key, relaxing weekend, with a heavy emphasis on good food.

Arriving mid-day on a Thursday, I took the T into the city (great travel tip: taking the Silver Line from the airport to any end-point in the T system is free!), and met a friend of a friend. Carla and I had been Twitter friends for a while; a friend and colleague of mine knew Carla from college and had mentioned Carla's love and study of chocolate.. Being a chocoholic, I was intrigued, so I looked her up and we began following one another on Twitter. Naturally, I brought her a few local DC area chocolates, Undone (my absolute favorite - the sea salt bar is amazingly good) and Salazon, to sample. She had plans to take me to a chocolate cafe, but it was lunchtime, and before we could enjoy chocolate, I needed savory sustenance, for which Carla chosen a wonderful little place called Sofra. The day's special was a chili with coffee and chocolate--clearly that had my name written all over it. The chili was flavorful, and the salad I ordered was incredibly fresh. 

Then we proceeded to L.A. Burdick, which is best known for its adorable chocolate mice and penguins, but it also has a small cafe. There we each sipped a decadent hot chocolate or mocha and a piece of cake (they only had one option that was relatively gluten-free, and it was average - the other desserts looked far more decadent). Much of the cafe had a European feel to it, but I found the uncomfortable seats to be a bit disappointing, although it might be their way of discouraging long-term sitting. On our way out, I picked up a few small truffles to take with me. We still had time to check out Harvard Coop, which is one of the more attractive American bookstores I've visited. Naturally, I found a book to purchase, but also nicer than average postcards to send to a Twitter friend and my youngest niece and nephew, who probably receive more postcards in a year than many people do in a lifetime. During our entire visit Carla and I were so busy chatting that I ended up not taking any photos. However - if you've never been to Cambridge and Harvard Square particularly, I can assure you it's a fun and rather photogenic part of Boston, and one I am always happy to re-visit. Carla and I eventally parted ways, but before getting back on the T, I stopped in at the very entertaining Curious George Store.

In the evening, I joined my family members in heading to the Latvian Lutheran church, which is located in a lovely part of Brookline. The Boston Latvian Choir has recently been an ad hoc group, under the leadership of the supremely talented Krissy Skare. A group of singer and musicians had come together late last fall, and held a Christmas concert to rave reviews. I only saw short video clips, but was duly impressed. Earlier this year, I received an email asking what Latvian songs about the sun I know. I shared a fair amount of information, and thus found out that the choir was planning a spring concert, and promptly booked a flight (yay for frequent flyer miles!).
The concert was titled "Lec, Saulīte!" or "Rise, Sun!", and featured a variety of sun and summer solstice-themed pieces, performed by the choir and ensembles/soloists/instrumentalists in varying combinations. The program was  entertaining, moving, and certainly one of the most fun Latvian choir concerts I've ever attended. I will mention just some of the highlights.
"Ģērbies, saule, sudrabota," a folksong arranged for mixed choir by Anita Kupriss, is a much-loved piece often heard at concerts and festivals, including the final concert of the Latvian National Song Festival in 2008. Anita lives in the Boston area, and sings with the choir, thus it was particularly touching to hear this song performed by a choir of which she is a part.

A performance that surprised me with its beauty was a viola solo by Silvija Kristapsone - it was a medley of summer solstice songs, arranged by her father, Māris Kristapsons. When one is accustomed to singing these songs or hearing them sung, an instrumental performance can show the melodies in a different light. Another lovely  solo, this one vocal, was Krissy Skare's interpretation of the well-known folksong "Saulīt' vēlu vakarā."
Krissy preparing to sing - accompanied by pianist Bret Silverman
The Latgallian folk song "Aizalaida sauļeite" as arranged by Iļģi but interpreted by the choir, was perfomed by the women, with instrumentals by several performers, was a huge hit. Anita Kupriss played the trompet, and while that's an instrument one doesn't typically associate with Latvian music, it worked incredibly well. I managed to record about a minute and a half of the song, and you can view that here. You'll notice how much fun the performers are having!

The biggest hit of the night was "Lec, saulīte!" by Raimonds Tiguls and Rasa Bugavičute. I wish I'd been able to record some of it, but I was too busy listening to and appreciating the gorgeous music. The audience loved the song so much that there were very Latvian requests of "Atkārtot!" (Repeat!) coming from the row behind me. Because the song is a bit lengthy, Krissy had the choir repeat only the second part. However, this song is so beautiful, and it was so movingly performed that the American woman who doesn't understand a word of Latvian sitting next to me - who doesn't understand a word of Latvian - was wiping away tears. For a version of the song as performed by a much larger group, you can check out this video of the grand finale of a 2014 summer solstice dance and music performance in Riga. (The composer Tiguls is the same one whom I saw in New York City when he performed with the choir Latvija. In the previous video he can be seen with a plaid scarf around his neck, and flowers in his hands. If you'd like to learn the words to "Lec, saulīte!" see this karaoke-style video.)

For the final piece, the choir had chosen a folksong called "Noriet saule vakarā," as arranged by Folkvakars. We were asked to sing and even dance along. I'm hoping no one has a photo of me singing and dancing in the aisle, but - boy - that was enjoyable!
Like I said - a fun concert!
The next couple of days were spent relaxing and eating. I had the chance to try out the Roslindale restaurant Redd's in Rozzie, the amazing Jamaica Plains dessert heaven FoMu, as well as Inna's Kitchen in Newton, all of which I would return to in a heartbeat! The paella at Redd's, the purple mu ice cream and mini gluten-free sandwich cookies at FoMu, and the buckwheat blintzes, iced coffee, and freshly squeeze orange juice at Inna's were - essentially - perfect. Also, service in all three spots was friendly and helpful (something which all to frequently cannot be found at DC area dining establishments).

My flight back to the DC area was on Saturday evening, as I wanted to be at the DC Latvian school's graduation on Sunday (the students graduating had been my students a number of years ago). And because clearly I'd not eaten enough during my visit, I made time to enjoy a crabmeat roll (on gluten-free bun!) at the airport's Legal Sea Foods before getting on the plane.

It might be a while before I get back to Boston, and I'm grateful I had this opportunity to visit - to spend time with family, and experience that fantastic concert!


  1. There's a Curious George store?! The concert embodies the things I miss most living in SC... How wonderful that in addition to the usual sightseeing and good food you were able to fit in some Latvian culture!

    1. Yes! It has lots of great toys, books, and games that are not CG-related, but does contain many George-related items. I completely understand what you're saying - I'm not sure I could ever live someplace where there are few Latvians and almost no events!


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