Riga, January 7, 2015
[As prepared for delivery.]
Excellencies, guests, and friends — good evening and welcome. I’d like to offer everyone a Happy New Year! (Laimīgu Jauno Gadu!) and for those who are celebrating Christmas tonight, Merry Christmas (С Рождеством! / S Rozhdestvom!)
Before we get started tonight, I would like to state that the United States strongly condemn the horrific shooting at the offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris that has reportedly killed 12 people. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of this terrorist attack and the people of France at this difficult time. The U.S. government is in touch with French officials and President Obama has promised to provide any assistance needed to help bring these terrorists to justice. Turning our attention back to Riga, we have many reasons to celebrate tonight – a new year, the beginning of Latvia’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union, and a continuing deep friendship between the United States and Latvia as evidenced by Fulbright scholars such as musician Lynn Seaton, who will perform in a few minutes.
The EU Presidency offers a stage for Latvia to not only shine before the EU, but also before the world. As a partner, ally, and close friend, we are proud to support Latvia in this important role. We have seen Latvia succeed before – whether it be gaining membership into NATO, joining the EU, or adopting the euro, and we are confident that Latvia will again succeed in the challenge of leading the Council.
Like many in embassies, we have staff dedicated to covering and supporting Latvia’s EU Presidency. For us, that assignment falls to Miguel Diaz. Feel free to reach out to Miguel for any Presidency-related issues.
Since its independence in 1918, the United States has stood with Latvia. We have seen our relationship thrive based on mutual respect, values and cooperation. We see this in our close security and political relationship, where our soldiers stand side by side and our leaders meet regularly, we see it in our strong economic relationship where more than $760 million in bilateral trade occurs each year, but just as importantly we see it in the close people to people ties.
Lynn Seaton is living proof of such ties. An American Fulbright scholar who has been teaching at Jāzeps Vītols Latvian Academy of Music (JVLAM), Lynn has spent the last six months serving as an American cultural ambassador for jazz music in Latvia. As a professional jazz musician and professor with international touring and recording experience, he has not only shared his knowledge with Latvia but will take back what he has learned here to the United States.
This is just what the Fulbright program is meant to do. As the U.S Government’s flagship international exchange program, it is designed to increase mutual understanding. Through cooperation with the Latvian Ministry of Education and Science, the United States has awarded Fulbright fellowships to 178 Latvians to study in the United States and to more than 150 U.S. Fulbright scholars and students to come to Latvia since 1991.
Tonight, as Mr. Seaton prepares to return to the United States, he will give a final performance in Latvia. He will be accompanied by Madars Kalnins a professional jazz pianist who teaches at the Latvian Academy of Music and Indrikis Veitners a jazz saxophonist and clarinetist who heads the jazz department at Riga Dom Choir school. This group is a wonderful example of how the Fulbright program brings people together to exchange ideas, share and explore their love of music, and promote the development of culture in a global community.
Tonight, you will hear a selection of songs by some of America’s greatest jazz musicians. This quintessentially American genre of music originated in African-American communities during the late 19th century and combines elements of improvisation, polyrhythms, and syncopation, as well as aspects of European harmony, American popular music, the brass band tradition, and African musical elements.
One typical musical composition of jazz is a contrafact. A contrafact is built using a pre-existing chord progression while introducing a new melody. It stems from a desire to create something new, a creative inclination to take a different approach within an existing framework. For the greatest improvisers, the contrafact is a way to explore a new harmonic, melodic, or rhythmic concept – to simultaneously stick with tradition and to move it forward.
I can think of no better way to describe Latvia’s EU Presidency. Latvia will step into the role of President as many countries have done before but will lead the other 27 member states in its own unique way, leaving its mark upon the Council through its achievements.
With that in mind, I would like to raise a toast to the New Year, to Latvia’s EU Presidency, and to future achievements.