In early October, a group called The Riga Project Choir gave three performances in Latvia of “The Arc in the Sky,” composer Kile Smith’s choral cycle based on Robert Lax’s poetry. According to the RPC website, “The choir is comprised of former members of Latvia’s top professional and amateur choirs, who now work primarily in other fields.” Smith reports that this was the choir’s first performance of a substantial American composition and the first presentation of his choral cycle in Europe.
Two of the concerts took place at the National Library of Latvia in Riga, while the third was performed at the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Daugavpils, in a heavily Russian ethnic area near the Belarus border. It soothes the soul to think of Lax’s poetry being sung so close to a war zone.
The concerts, sponsored in part by the US embassy in Latvia, were scheduled before Covid hit, which means before the war in Ukraine began. In another example of Laxian fortuity, they were postponed twice, allowing them to take place when the area most needed a Lax-like vision of peace.
Kile Smith speaks to the choir during a rehearsal for his Lax-based work.
The choir’s director, Christopher Walsh Sinka, studied choral conducting under Donald Nally, the director of The Crossing, who commissioned Smith’s piece. Sinka lives in Riga now with his Latvian wife. Smith and his wife Jackie were able to attend two of the performances.