Liepāja Symphony Orchestra
• Founded 1883
The Liepaja (LEE-a-pie) Symphony Orchestra, founded in the early 1880s, is the oldest orchestra not only in Latvia, but in the Baltic region. Since 1986, when it achieved full professional status, it has expanded its musical reach through recordings and international tours. The orchestra's website states that it was founded in 1881; the year 1883 has also been given. Its founder was conductor Hanss Hohapfel, and its 37 musicians found success playing to the crowds who frequented the seaside resort town of Liepaja in warmer months. Performances were suspended during World War II, but resumed in 1947 under the auspices of the Music School of Liepaja; the new conductor, Valdis Vikmanis, remained in the post until 1987. The full professionalization of the orchestra around that time -- it was only the second such orchestra in Latvia -- began a new period of growth. The conductors Laimonis Trubs (1986-1996) and Jekabs Ozolins (1987-2008), and artistic director Imants Resnis (1992-2009), led the orchestra on tours of Spain, Malaysia, Britain, Sweden (multiple times), Germany, Austria, and Poland. Resnis spearheaded the 2010 founding of the International Piano Stars Festival (later the Liepaja International Stars Festival), which brought world-class soloists to Liepaja to perform and raised the orchestra's profile. Atvars Lakstigala became chief conductor in 2010 and shepherded the orchestra into its new concert hall -- the so-called Great Amber. He was succeeded in 2017 by Lithuanian conductor Gintaras Rinkevicius. The orchestra's growing prominence has led to an increasingly busy recording schedule. After releasing the 2014 album Kurland Sounds, featuring Latvian orchestral works, the orchestra has recorded for the Toccata Classics and Wergo labels, focusing on little-known music by Josef Schelb, Peteris Vasks, Charles O'Brien, and Fridrich Bruk. In 2018, Toccata Classics issued an album of music by 20th century English composer William Wordsworth, conducted by John Gibbons.