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They gave me the wings

They gave me the wings

By Ainars Pudans on Mar 17, 2023

Dita Krenberga is the most acclaimed Latvian flutist so far: laureate of the Concertino Praga (1980) competition, Grand Prix at the 34th Maria Canals competition in Barcelona (1988), and the laureate of the Prague Spring (1991) competition where she split the 3rd prize with Emily Beynon. Studied at the legendary Emīls Dārziņš School of Music (school or Mariss Jansons, Gidon Kremer, etc.) she had an opportunity to participate in masterclasses with Sir James Galway, Aurelé Nicolet, and Alain Marion. Besides Andris Nelsons, she is the only Latvian who has been repeatedly invited to participate in the Tanglewood Music Festival by special recommendation of Sir James Galway where she had an opportunity to play under the button of Leonard Bernstein.

We met with Dita in her native Riga where she teaches at the Emīls Dārziņš School of Music in addition to her regular solo and chamber music performances.  

Can you name the top three most important encounters in your life that made a long-lasting impression on your life and career?

Well, there have been more than just three. For a person who was born in the Soviet Union, you needed a miracle to get abroad in the first place, winning some competition came rather as a bonus.
I vividly remember the recording session of the F. Poulenc Sonata I made for the Concertino Praga competition. I was only 11 and the professional radio studio of Latvian Radio made a lasting impression on me. It was so exciting to know that my recording is going to be sent abroad and that someone would really listen to it. Of course, the announcement of becoming a laureate was a surprise since I was the youngest contestant then, but it definitely gave me additional confidence.
Two years later I won the regional woodwinds competition organized for then Republics of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. There again I was the youngest winner. Without these two achievements, I don’t know if I would be able to win the preliminary Soviet Union competition held for the selection of two candidate spots to be sent to represent the Soviet Union at the Barcelona competition.  
So, naturally, the next mind-blowing experience was winning the Maria Canals competition. It was in 1988 when any move abroad was supervised by the KGB agent who responded to any advances of any impresarios’ proposals with an abrupt phrase: “She’s busy”.  Still, somehow I met a wonderful person: flutist and manager Barbara Oehninger from Zurich who arranged for me a private lesson with Sir James Galway at his house in Lucerne. I’m very grateful for everything she has done for me, including giving me one of her Haynes flutes after discovering my more than modest flute situation at that time.

Naturally, the next pivoting point in my life was meeting my idol, Sir James Galway. It was so emotional moment for me that I couldn’t help but start crying, and it took some time and help from his wife Jeanne to actually start playing for him. We started with some simple sonorité exercises by Moyse while I regain my confidence.  It was really a great and very inspiring experience and I appreciate his faith in me. Especially considering his personal recommendation by which I was invited to take part in Tanglewood Music Festival in 1989.
Another truly amazing experience was my participation in the Alain Marion masterclasses in Bilbao arranged by my guardian angel Barbara, and the tremendous efforts of my mom trying to obtain all permissions from the soviet bureaucrats once again.
Then, of course, the Prague Spring competition which was the toughest contest ever. With Aurelé Nicolet, András Adorján and Maxence Larrieu in the jury. Even though I didn’t have a chance to talk to any of them at that time, I met Aurelé Nicolet later, in Helsinki, at his masterclass and he remembered me from that Prague competition and offered to take some more masterclasses with him in Switzerland. I went there several times and later he invited me to Music Academy of Villecroze in France. All this was from the outer world and I’m very grateful for that experience.

Do you remember your first impression of Leonard Bernstein? How was it?

It’s impossible to talk about him without getting emotional. The enormous personality, charisma, and love he had for everyone around him were phenomenal. I vividly remember that first rehearsal at Tanglewood when he entered the room, greeted musicians around him, and then turned to everyone and asked: “Where’s that girl from the Baltics?” So, I had to get up and blushed, of course, but he was very kind and welcoming, and I still remember how he conducted the 4th symphony by P. Tchaikovsky, it was unforgettable.  He conducted the following year as well, but his illness was already obvious, and he passed away soon after I returned home.
I had a chance, and some offers to pursue my career in the United States, but I was young and inexperienced and wanted to go home, to independent Latvia, to my family, and friends. I have had a great career here but sometimes I wonder what it would be if I’d stayed overseas a bit longer…

Which do you consider the most important teachers in your life?

No doubt, the most important teacher in my life was Imants Sneibis. He started to teach at Emīls Dārziņš School of Music in the same year when I started to study, so he was passionate and dedicated, trying to achieve the ideal sound which at that time was the sound of Sir James Galway. I remember him saying – if you want to see the world, play the flute! And I did! He certainly gave me the wings.
Then, of course, my idol Sir James Galway, his sound, encouragement, and recommendations gave me a lot. And the third most important teacher was Aurelé Nicolet who was a fantastic musician. He taught me a lot about music. So, all these teachers made me the musician I am now.

You are known as an interpreter of Pēteris Vasks music. “Landscapes with birds”, Flute Concerto, and other compositions. Can you tell us a little bit more about this cooperation?

It all started with my teacher Imants Sneibis to whom “Landscapes with birds” was dedicated. I remember he played it quite often and when I asked him that I want to play it as well, he replied “you are not ready yet”. Later, when I matured as a musician and gained some recognition, I started to play it and met with Pēteris Vasks. I remember he was rather explicit about the images he had in mind. When you are a young person, living in a country that tries to regain its independence, the idea of a bird that tries to break free really resonates with you.
What’s important is that Pēteris Vasks was present at that concert when we made a live recording of it in 2006. This added needed momentum to that performance. Even though later Schott made a second edition of this piece I still prefer the first one, perhaps I am too emotionally attached to it.

How do you motivate your students now when the whole world is more accessible than ever?

Well yes, now it’s not a problem to go abroad, to see the world, to participate in masterclasses. However,  I believe that the same urge to perform and to be acknowledged is still present. Young musicians want to compete and achieve top positions at major orchestras or even pursue a solo career. So, everything boils down to how badly you want music to be a major part of your life. Are you willing to give up some other activities to become more than an amateur? If you don’t have that urge, it’s simply not worth it then.

What inspires you personally?

Good music!  It is the basis of everything. If there is a piece that somehow moves me, it also inspires me. I could say that I'm inspired by nature, the sea, and summer, it's always like that, but at the core, it's still music. It's also my therapy to some extent – when I play flute it gives me inner peace. And I am definitely inspired by beautiful music and the challenges that come along with it, like new pieces I have to learn: concertos by Jolivet or Rodrigo, or some difficult piece I need to premiere. Yes, that’s what really inspires me now.

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