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Latvians kick off culture capital year

  • People inside the new National Library of Latvia pass books by hand from the historic building during "Chain of Book Lovers" in Riga January 18, 2014. (Reuters/Ints Kalnins)

  • An artist performs during the World Championship of Fire Sculptures in Riga January 18, 2014. (Reuters/Ints Kalnins)

RIGA: Latvians of all ages formed a human chain in the freezing cold this weekend to pass books from the old national library to a new one 2 km away as part of festivities to celebrate Riga as Europe’s culture capital for 2014.

Some 14,000 people, including children and the elderly, stood in temperatures of minus 12 degrees Saturday passing some 2,000 books hand-to-hand to a new library designed by Latvian-born U.S. architect Gunnar Birkerts.

The remainder of the library’s more than 4 million books and printed items will be moved by motorized transport.

The concrete building, clad with glass panels and stainless-steel plates, sits on a bank of the Daugava River near the capital’s Old Town and has been dubbed the Castle of Light.

Formerly a medieval outpost of the Hanseatic League of trading nations, Riga’s art nouveau buildings have earned its historical center a place on the UNESCO list of world heritage sites.

As Europe’s rotating culture capital this year, in conjunction with Umea in northern Sweden, Riga will host more than 200 concerts, exhibitions, festivals, conferences and performances.

The number of tourists to the city is expected to rise by 25 percent from 2013 to 2.1 million people, mayor Nils Usakovs said.

The arts program kicked off Friday with the Latvian National Opera’s production of Richard Wagner’s early opera “Rienzi.” Wagner once lived in Riga, to escape his creditors back in Germany.

In July, a series of concerts, “Born in Riga,” will bring together world-renowned Latvian performers, including violinist Gidon Kremer and opera singers Maija Kovalevska, Inese Galante and Aleksandrs Antonenko.

The same month the “world choir games” will bring around 20,000 singers from 70 countries to Latvia, which is famous for its choral-singing tradition.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 20, 2014, on page 16.
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