Mission — pursuing matters of the heart
Liepāja’s most dynamic duo on relentless work, endless ideas, transformations, and dreams that, on Pegasus wings, soar ever higher
A couple of years ago, before I became part of Liepāja’s music workforce, I met Irita Kalēja and Jānis Ivuškāns to discuss two delightful events that greatly inspired me — the Melngailis Big Band and Jazz Week. It seems that in such a small town (compared to Riga), starting and maintaining something like that would be almost impossible, but this duo had done it successfully. It was a very inspiring conversation! Nearly five years have passed, Irita and Jānis are involved in something else, something I often dreamed about but certainly wouldn’t take on myself… They have created a new concert venue in the center of Liepāja — «Pegaza Viesistaba.» «Pagalms» hosted concerts last summer, but «Viesistaba» opened its doors only in February. After almost half a year of different work, we can already look at what has been done, and a lot has been accomplished — the place is genuinely charming: brick walls, wooden tables, a cast-iron stove, a stage, lights, a bar… This place became the realization of dreams, which doesn’t mean it was easy and fun — about all those unusual works and plans, I talked with Irita and Jānis in the «Pegaza» office, anticipating another jazz music concert!
Well, we last met in such a company about four or five years ago! Glad to see you again and with such news, although you always have something new on your mind, many ideas, right?
Jānis: A bit! [laughs]
Irita: Everything has changed…
And now we are in the «Pegaza Pagalma Viesistaba,» which has been operating for a whole year now?
Irita: Last summer, «Pagalms» had about seven events — from August 13th to the end of September, and then we closed and worked differently on renovating the space. On February 3rd of this year, we opened the hall named «Viesistaba.»
How did this idea come to you at all? It’s pretty bold to open a concert venue in Latvia…
Irita: Nothing came to my mind; Jānis came up with it! [laughs]
Jānis: Well, every jazz musician has been dreaming of having their own jazz club since the moment they realize that this is their path and they like it [jazz music].
And that there is no club anywhere else!
Jānis: Yes, and no other options! But essentially, when Irita and I the work at school, it was a cool moment — sitting, thinking, dreaming, planning, and then it’s just the right time to start looking! Then we intensively searched for the right place for a while and found it!
What kind of place is it anyway?
Irita: We started with that building [next door], it used to be an art school. At that time, Atis Deksnis [said], «Go and take this,» but there’s such a cold school aura and so student-like and correct, so no. Then Jānis walked around, looking for all sorts of abandoned old places, I don’t know how many we looked at; in the end, Deksnis himself, the deputy chairman of Liepāja City Council, said, «Well, let’s go to the same first house, we’ll go down to the basement, there used to be a students’ club.» We went down to the basement, and there was just a horror alley [laughs], but then Jānis saw one corner. He said, «But where does that lead?» «Oh no, there’s a courtyard, there are garages, there’s nothing…» But we decided to take a look!
Jānis: The first time we started looking for a place, we were already here; they just brought us in one way and lead us out the same way. And that last time when we gave up hope, then we were brought into the courtyard. Then the question was — what is all this? They said — oh, these are all garages. But can we look at this? They unlocked it, showed us — yes! This is the right place!
It’s tricky when someone supposedly knows what you’re looking for and what to offer you, but at the same time doesn’t know and doesn’t realize the actual needs.
Jānis: Yes, one sees how everything has overgrown; the other considers that right place.
It is a kind of art — to see the potential of a space. Did you have to adapt yourselves to the place?
Jānis: Basically, the clear vision of how it could be was already there. Okay, of course, you imagine something similar to «M/Darbnīca,» similar to American jazz clubs, stylish places in Europe, some kind of picture is already in your head, but then, when you come and see that place, everything comes together. But we also had help in visual design — designer Madara Pilipa Matisone helped us, and she still helps us now. She looks at and monitors every nuance and detail, suggesting something. Of course, she offers one thing, and we do it differently, and then she adds something to make it closer to her truth. [laughs] But yes, somehow, the result is slowly emerging! This is just the beginning — there is an office here, there is a «Viesistaba,» this year will be the first summer season when concerts will really take place every week, slowly, food will be added to the bar, we will gradually add something else.
And how was that first summer? The first concerts in a new place are always the most vivid, aren’t they?
Irita: I’m always afraid of everything; I’m very cautious, but the first event was a concert by the «DivDiv» group. I thought — who will come then? But we gathered quite a normal audience! I think the first summer was relatively successful because people like new places, they like to go and see, but a proper concept for the place will only be developed after this summer — what works, what doesn’t, what needs more work because, with jazz alone, we definitely won’t survive in Liepāja…
That was my next question… [laughs]
Irita: But we won’t organize events that we would be ashamed of ourselves… Jazz will be here, but not every day. [laughs]
And what about «Lake Music»? I remember those cool concerts with a stage on rafts!
Irita: You have to leave the stage with dry feet! [laughs] Now we’ll raft through the courtyard! The stage stayed with us.
Really — the courtyard stage is the same!
Irita: Nothing has disappeared.
Jānis: Just transformed.
Irita: We also have an award from the Liepāja Business Incubator — Transformation of the Year 2023.
Congratulations! That’s wonderful!
Jānis: We still have the «School Bag» project.
Irita: With which we now live — Veidenbaums and Elsbergs, videos that are still being bought, so the content we’ve produced is extensive, broad, and diverse; we just need to maintain, sell, and direct it all.
Has this teamwork stayed the same — Jānis generates musical ideas, and Irita takes care of everything else?
Jānis: Now it’s a mix.
Irita: I will never learn to do exactly what he does, and he will never learn to do exactly what I do, but many new things have come in — the bar and everything else we have.
By the way, I’ve never seen you, Jānis, in the role of a bartender!
Jānis: I’ve never been a bartender before; this is my first job!
Have you already learned to make cocktails?
Jānis: Something good is starting to come together slowly! In fact, I’m working on a cocktail menu for the summer!
Irita: That’s the only thing I won’t do! In the bar, I can only go in when absolutely no one is there, make coffee with non-frothy milk, pour a beer…
Jānis: With froth!
So, Irita never goes to the bar, but what will you never do?
Jānis: I definitely won’t write a grant application! That’s a separate art…
By the way! Liepāja will be the European Capital of Culture! Will you prepare something special too?
Irita: If we’re invited, then we will. I don’t aim to squeeze into any project artificially. Mine and Jānis’s mission is to do what our hearts desire. It’s difficult, yes, but we don’t strive for other goals. We will simply contribute to the European Capitals of Culture with our work.
What was the highlight of these premises since the opening?
Irita: From jazz music, I definitely want to highlight the concert with Kenneth Dahl Knudsen; that was unbelievably cool. I’m not a fan of double bassists, but that time, I was a fan!
Jānis: The opening concert, of course.
Irita: Everything was sold out within a week; it was overcrowded here…
Great! So, the traditional question — future plans?
Irita: This summer, as Jānis mentioned, every weekend, there will be larger or smaller events, but there are three significant events for which we will dedicate all our efforts — we have taken on pretty large challenges! On June 16th, there will be «Keksi» with rock’n’roll, then in midsummer, July 15th, Šipsi, and August 11th, Aija Andrejeva with a lineup. Also, Valters Pūce and Dainis Tenis on June 30th. The following year will also show who our actual target audience is because we are very, very sensitive to which style and which event will work best. It may be that we can reach several target audiences.
Jānis: And let it not go too far from what we want to see here and what brings its aura here. The audience can be pretty unifying; for example, stylish pop music and good jazz music are very close, even though many would say no, but they are close. So, the average arithmetic is to be sought.