A Jazzy Orchestra

"Our doors are open to all composers", - is how the St. Christopher Chamber Orchestra is introduced by its founder, prof. Donatas Katkus. It's not an exaggeration, and no other professional ensemble in Lithuania has amassed such a diverse concert repertoire, one in which the names of the very youngest composers consistently figure alongside ones that are well known and established. With a weighty motive backing his repertoire strategy, i.e., that "music exists in a culture only when it can be heard", the maestro had once offered to record every single piece (!) of Lithuanian music.

photo: Gediminas Žilinskas

Constantly surprising audiences with his maximalist scope, conductor, violist, musicologist, pedagogue, once-upon-a-time film actor Donatas Katkus guaranteed his orchestra a reputation as a hyperactive and universal ensemble. At the present time, the St. Christopher Orchestra devotes all of its energy to Katkus' initiated festival, "St. Christopher Summer Music", as well as to an intense series of concerts, recordings, and presentation of Lithuanian music abroad. Last December, along with the works of other authors, the orchestra premiered Vidmantas Bartulis' I Like H. Berlioz, in Grenoble. The ensemble plans to present a broader panorama of Lithuanian music at the "Europamusicale" festival in Germany, which has extended an invitation to the newest members joining the European Union. Four concerts of Lithuanian music are to be held at prestigious halls in Wiesbaden (Kurhaus, Thiersch-Saal), Munich (Prinzregententheater), Berlin (Konzerthaus, Kleiner Saal), and Leipzig (Gewandhaus, Mendelssohn-Saal). Plans for festival tours include Avignon this summer, and the Münster Contemporary Music Festival next year, with the Orchestra performing Bronius Kutavičius' monumental cycle, The Gates of Jerusalem. A truly 'Baltic' concert programme, including opuses by Lithuanian, Latvian, and Estonian composers, is to be exported to the NordTöne – Neue Musik aus dem Baltikum festival in Osnabrück, in July 2004.

....The St. Christopher Chamber Orchestra's concert aspires to one of the highest levels when describing the events of the Dalarma music year. Professionalism! Generosity! Virtuosity!
FIC, 2003

The orchestra which prof. Donatas Katkus initiated in 1994 was not established as just 'one more' municipal ensemble, but as one with a clear vision – 'to become the best'. And the artistic director of the orchestra certainly has sufficient influence and fire to persuade its musicians, that such is its inescapable future. As well, its present and future projects are not ones which only the artistic director envisages, but which the entire orchestra considers and approves.

From its very beginning, the St. Christopher Chamber Orchestra was more sensitive than others to different musical styles, when performing works from various epochs – baroque, classical, contemporary. The orchestra is dynamically and technically flexible, its interpretations are always referred to as detailed, accurate and tasteful. And its musicians know how to play jazz - virtuosically, easily, and with bravura.

During its ten years in existence, the orchestra has recorded more than 20 CDs. Soon it will release Requiem in memoriam Stasys Lozoraitis by Osvaldas Balakauskas, and a new recording of works by Feliksas Bajoras. As well, Donatas Katkus wishes to revive the 'museum' treasures of Lithuanian music - works by exile Lithuanian composers.

Donatas Katkus' quixotic schemes with the orchestra are often accompanied by success, - sometimes serious, sometimes light-hearted, but always original and professionally prepared projects. Concerts with jazz, rock, and pop music performers have become commonplace for the orchestra, and bear witness to their stylistic versatility.

© Eglė Grigaliūnaitė

Lithuanian Music Link No. 8