The idea to organise a Vilnius summer music festival was conceived in 1995 after a concert tour abroad by Donatas Katkus, the artistic director of the then recently established St. Christopher Chamber Orchestra. The concept was very simple - back then, the prevailing belief in Lithuania was that no cultural life could exist during summer in the city - only in the resort towns, and this was a belief that demanded to be refuted! The Maestro had seen many successful examples of an unexpectedly large amount of excellent classical music festivals occuring during summer in Western Europe - often in castles beyond the urban fringe, but in the larger cities as well.
The beginnings of the Vilnius Summer Music Festival (yes, that's exactly what it was called earlier) were rather modest- in the first year, there were only around ten concerts. And the festival itself lasted not for two months, as it does nowadays, but just for three weeks in July. The Maestro recalls that one of the break-throughs fifteen years ago was the "Gates of Jerusalem" cycle by composer Bronius Kutavičius, performed in midsummer. A full house gathered at the Philharmonic Hall not only for this concert, but at all the performances the first year of the festival. Imagine Vilnius on a hot Sunday afternoon... If not for the wandering tourists, most would say the city would be deserted... Yet in the packed St. Casimir's Church, a crowd of music lovers was huddled together, closely listening to a concert of the summer festival. Clearly, this time the sceptics were left to merely wring their hands, while the organisers were left convinced that this was a project well worth continuing!
Remembering the first festivals, Donatas Katkus says that he acted as the artistic director, and the administrator, as well as the distributing and displaying the festival posters himself, and would run around "wherever was necessary" to get the job done... The Christopher Summer Festival grew and became well-established around four or five years after its conception. Its duration stretched out to last one and a half months, the number of concerts increased, chamber operas started to be staged, and more and more new performers were invited to appear. By this stage, the festival already had its own emblem, a red-headed blue-coloured woman-bird design created by graphic artist, Petras Repšys. From the very beginnings of the summer festival, Maestro Donatas Katkus placed much significance on the fact that the concerts should aim to cover as many venues in Vilnius, and would be accessible to as large an audience as possible. Loyal fans of the festival would no doubt recall the concerts of the Christopher Summer Festival that took place at the Philharmonic Hall, St. Casimir's Church, the Chodkevich Palace, and in Vilnius University's Grand Courtyard and S. Daukantas Square. On a few occasions, even street music concerts were held under the banner of the festival. That's right - the first attempts at filling the streets of Vilnius with music took place around twelve or thirteen years ago, but of course now this has taken off in a completely different direction. Back then there was first a competition, and a commission would select the best street musicians and award them with prizes. Nowadays, the Christopher Summer Festival cannot be imagined without picnics at the Šešuolėliai (Širvintai District) and Bistrampolis manors (Panevėžys District).
We should add that performers from abroad have been appearing at the summer music festival from the very beginning. This year, the Christopher Summer Festival will also feature a sizeable crowd of guests from abroad, with some of the stand-out performers being the a cappella choir Voices Unlimited from Austria, delighting audiences with their generous dose of humour, acting abilities, and recognition as the best male vocal ensemble in the world; Poland's pride, now residing in Great Britain, the Royal String Quartet; the frenetic cello trio from Latvia, Melo-M; the Portico Quartet from London - a quartet of musicians who have charmed the world with their meditative jazz; plus many more.
We're very happy that the festival's concerts draw large and colourful audiences, especially as the number of faces we see each year keeps growing, which means that the circle of loyal followers is certainly increasing... We thank you for being here, together with Christopher's summer, and genuinely wish a happy festival mood upon all, with many great concert experiences!
- Vilnius St. Catherine's Church (30 Vilniaus St)
- Vilnius St. Casimir's Church (34 Didžioji St)
- Vilnius Teachers‘ House courtyard (39 Vilnius St)
- Lithuanian Theatre, Music and Film Museum courtyard (41 Vilniaus St)
- Šešuolėliai Manor Estate (Ist village of Šešuolėliai, Širvintos district)
- Bistrampolis Manor Estate (14 km from Panevėžys, near Uliūnai village, 700 m off the Via Baltica highway)
- Church of St. Peter and St. Paul the Apostles (1 Vilniaus St, Molėtai)
- Mažeikiai Church of St. Francis of Assisi (13 Naftininkų St, Mažeikiai)