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Christmas in Leipzig and Riga

12 December, 2016

After a very brief visit home, twelve weary travellers yet again set off at the crack of dawn last Thursday. Our spirits were kept high, however, by the prospect of our upcoming performances: the celebrated Leipzig Gewandhaus followed by our Latvian debut! Luckily, neither of these was a disappointment. Like all Renaissance vocal ensembles, we approach concert halls with a certain amount of trepidation, but the acoustic of the Leipzig Gewandhaus was beautifully warm and generous.

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The same could be said of our audience, who demanded yet another return to the stage even after we’d performed two encores! Our only regret for this trip was its brevity: we glanced longingly at the Christmas market from our hotel rooms, but had no time to sample its delights.

All that changed once we arrived in Riga. We had a clear 24 hours for sight-seeing, during which time I really fell in love with Latvia’s capital city. It has a beautiful mix of architecture, from medieval to art nouveau, a fantastic vegan restaurant which even the committed carnivores enjoyed (thank you Fat Pumpkin!), and a vibrant Christmas spirit. Our concert was in the Dome cathedral, and the surrounding square had been filled with all manner of street stalls along with cauldrons of Gluhwein bubbling away over open fires.

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On Saturday morning I took a brief break from the festivities in order to visit the old KGB prison. This was an incredible, if harrowing, experience. Hearing about the conditions in which detainees were kept, interrogated and executed, and contemplating how recently Latvia regained its independence, I felt a fresh surge of admiration for this city and its strong and lively character.

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This strong and lively character translated into a huge and appreciative audience at our concert that night, packed into the cavernous cathedral which boasts both a ten-second echo and the second largest organ in Europe (sadly under scaffolding, so we couldn’t take a proper look). Afterwards, we were treated to a delicious Latvian meal, and I would happily have spent the rest of the night soaking up the atmosphere, but sadly it was not to be. Four of us had opted for a 6am flight back to the UK the following morning, so regretfully we took our leave and had a quick nap before awakening bleary-eyed and lethargic bright-eyed and full of enthusiasm for the day of carol services ahead!