On 20th January, 1919, two art universities were founded at the same time. At the Cabinet sitting, President Kārlis Ulmanis appointed Professor Jāzeps Vītols as the director of the Conservatory of Latvia and academic Vilhelm Purvītis as the director of the Art Academy of Latvia. The images of these universities soon became conjoined with its founders – authorities in the life of art. Since its inception, the Conservatory of Latvia has not only developed the professional higher education system in Latvia, but also a whole era (for a century!) in the cultural history of Latvia.
By happy coincidence the Conservatory of Latvia acquired the premises of Rīga’s Alexander Boys Gymnasium at No.1 Suvorova Street (now Krišjāņa Barona Street). Jāzeps Vitols recalls that, for practical reasons, a great deal of reconstruction and repair work was needed and, to the sounds of hammering, wall demolition and floorboard reconstruction, the Conservatory’s Council of Pedagogues started to build the concept of the Conservatory. At the end of 1919, having suffered under attack of the Bermondt troops, the Conservatory of Latvia was founded and its building christened under the fires of war.
A strong international pool of musicians developed during the first years of the conservatory, which helped provide the new educational establishment with a level of professional activity that met the needs of the 20th century. Jāzeps Vītols later wrote that it had been harder “to convince stronger talents of the need for a more well-rounded education”. In November 1919, after the attacks by Bermondt troops, the Conservatory commenced its activities and opened five faculties: Composition, Theory and Organ, Singing, Piano, String Instruments and Wind and Rhythm Instruments. By the end of the first academic year, the university had 34 teachers and 367 students. Over twenty years, among the graduates were many stars of the stage and talents who also initiated a music life in other cities of Latvia, founded music schools and folk conservatories.
After the Second World War, the Conservatory of Latvia was integrated into the Soviet music education system, with its losses and gains. New divisions were established – Choir Conducting (1944), Musicology (1947), Music Teaching (1966) and Choreography (1977). For a long time the Department of Theatre and the Department of Culture Employees were also active, and, periodically, classes in Stadium Orchestra Leader and Military Orchestra Conducting.
On 20th May, 1958, the Ministers’ Council of the Latvian SSR, at the initiative of the Latvian SSR Culture Ministry, issued a decision to grant the name of Jāzeps Vītols to the Conservatory of the State of Latvia, thereby renaming it the Jāzeps Vītols Conservatory of the State of Latvia. The name of the university was in fact amended in official documents several times and in 1964, the name of the institution was for a short time the Jāzeps Vītols Art Institute of the State of Latvia.
From the 1960s, under the influence of political changes, opportunities arose for employees and students to perform concerts, take part in festivals and musical competitions abroad. They often returned with awards and the world got to hear about the music culture of Latvia and its bearers.
In 1991, the Conservatory was renamed the Jāzeps Vītols Latvian Academy of Music (JVLMA) and, following the restoration of independence, students not only got to study abroad more intensively but foreign students increasingly came to JVLMA and teachers took part in experience exchanges. Participation in international competitions, festivals, master classes, conferences and cooperation projects has facilitated mutual contacts.
In recent decades, the Department of Orchestra Conducting has been firmly established, and the Departments of Jazz Music, Early Music, Music Technology and the Scientific Research Centre have all worked energetically.
A lot has changed over the last century, but the loyalty to the objectives set out by Jāzeps Vītols has remained unchanged: the role of the university is, on the one hand, to cultivate the soil of e music education for the whole of society and honour its traditions and, on the other hand, to create conditions for raising the brightest talents to artistic and professional excellence.