Six UNO students, UNO Professor Madsen and Professor Darren Pettit traveled almost 5,000 miles to attend and perform at the Saulkrasti Jazz Festival in Latvia and the Kintai Arts Festival in Lithuania over the summer.
The UNO band has maintained strong bonds with universities in Latvia and Lithuania, which allowed them to attend the festivals. The band was awarded a grant in 2018 that funded a faculty exchange between Pete Madsen, a UNO professor and coordinator of jazz studies, and Indrikis Veitners, head of the jazz department at the Jāzeps Vītols Latvian Academy of Music (JVLMA), which paved the way for a student jazz combo exchange in February 2019, in Omaha. In July, it was UNO’s turn for a trip abroad.
Madsen has traveled to both Latvia and Lithuania six times thanks to exchange programs and support from music programs around the world.
“Because I now have good friends in both countries, it feels like a second home to me over there,” Madsen said.
This was the 10th international tour by a UNO jazz group since 2003. UNO musicians performed with Latvian students while attending the festival, playing music they performed together in the States as well as new music they had been practicing for months.
UNO student Jacob Phillips was among the group of young musicians traveling across the world. He plays guitar for UNO’s Jazz Ensemble I, which covers a range of styles including swing, Latin and contemporary arrangements created by UNO faculty and students.
Before their trip, the group of musicians packed in rehearsals two weeks before they left for Europe, as well as rehearsing twice a week during the school year. Although there were many spectators in the crowd, Phillips didn’t feel the stage fright that tends to come with performing in front of others.
“As an improvisor, I relish any opportunity to explore new musical spaces,” Phillips said. “To do so with the supportive attention of an audience with whom I can share the exploration is deeply rewarding. At its best, the audience, my bandmates and I all share in the exhilaration of spontaneous creation.”
During their downtime, the group toured Latvia’s capital, attended organ concerts in 500- year-old cathedrals and relaxed at the beach. They were also able to stop in Prague for several days to sightsee.
“It was a great opportunity for our students to see one of the ‘Crown Jewels of Europe,’” Madsen said.
The group was able to Mozart’s home in Prague and visit the graves of classical composers Dvořák and Smetana during the excursion.
“I would really like to go back,” Phillips said. “Performing at the Saulkrasti Jazz Festival was outstanding. The beauty of the Baltic and the Saulkrasti forest is breathtaking. And obviously I was very fond of Kintai. If there was some way we could exactly replicate this past trip next year before I graduate, I would be a happy camper.”