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Pazaislis Festival All Summer Long

On June 1st, in a tranquil monastery courtyard, the annual Pazaislis Music Festival kicked off with a concert of music by Pink Floyd and Carl Orff played by the Lithuanian State Symphony Orchestra. The festival, running from June through August in various locations near Pazaislis, is a favorite for classical music lovers. Most of the year, Pazaislis, near Kaunas, is home to the nuns of the beautiful, Pazaislis monastery.

However, since 1996, the nuns graciously open their doors during the summer, and allow music lovers to flock to their musical Mecca. Certainly the tranquil location of this music festival amplifies the performances, as most concerts are held outdoors near architectural masterpieces in Pazaislis and neighboring areas. Still, the true glory of the festival is the music. Some of the world's most celebrated artists, such as Lord Yehudi Menuhin and Yuri Bashmet, claim the Pazaislis Music Festival to be one of the best European music events.

It is clear that many feel the same, as last year approximately 60,000 people attended the festival's various concerts throughout the summer. In the past, the festival featured outstanding symphony orchestras, including the Philharmonie der Nationen and the BBC Philharmonic, but this year the organizers are focusing on the sounds of Lithuanian musicians. On Friday, July 4th, at 9.30 pm, will be a presentation in the 14th century Kaunas Castle, of Kazimieras Sapiega, an historically themed musical performance.

The list of performers says a lot about this picturesque performance: the Kaunas State Choir, the Lithuanian Ninjutsu Association (ninjutsu is the unconventional warfare practiced by Japanese ninjas), the cavalry, the Banchetto Musicale ensemble of Renaissance music and dance, and the Blikas Pyrotechnics Company. The Kazimieras Sapiega performance is dedicated to the Lithuanian state holiday of July 6th, when Lithuania marks its first king's coronation in 1253. On Saturday, July 12th, at 7 pm, in the Pazaislis monastery, the concert 'On the Road' will be held.

The Hortus Musicus, a vocal and instrumental Estonian group, will sing and play their favorite world sacred music. The Estonian Hortus Musicus, founded in Tallinn in 1972, was the first ensemble in the Soviet Union to introduce audiences to Middle Ages and Renaissance music. Their repertoire includes music from the 8th to the 21st century: Gregorian chants, Jewish and Armenian songs, music of India, Arab melodies, Italian madrigals, French chansons, and 20th – 21st century compositions written specially for the group. Hortus Musicus is currently comprised of ten performers, led by the violinist Andres Mustonen.

The Pazaislis Festival will also host fado musicians from Portugal whose performance will take place on Sunday, July 20th, at 7 pm in the Zemaitkiemis Mansion, in the village of Zemaitkiemis near Kaunas. The fado genre became popular in the 12th century when the Portuguese state was created. Fado is a ballad, performed by a soloist female singer, and accompanied by guitar players. These traditional Portuguese songs have a doleful mood, and their tunes are influenced by Arab music. 26 year-old Joana Amendoeira, the most popular fado singer among the younger generation in Portugal, will sing these fado songs, accompanied by a small Portuguese instrumental ensemble.

On Saturday, July 26th, at 5 pm, those who wish to experience more intimate musical moments can attend the concert called Love Dreams which will consist of music by Mendelssohn, Brahms, Wolf, Mahler, Debussy, and Ravel. Gintare Skeryte (soprano), Dainius Puisys (baritone), Lina Krepstaite (piano), Grazina Urbonaite (narrator) will perform in the concert. The Love Dreams performance will be held in St. John the Baptist's Church of the small town of Zapyskis. This place is worth the visit. This Gothic-style church, Lithuania's oldest, build in 1530, is in the middle of nowhere. It stands in an empty field close to the town of Zapyskis, about 20 kilometers west of Kaunas.

The explanation of this mystery is as follows: because of frequent floods from the nearby Nemunas River, the village gradually moved further away from the river. The church was abandoned in 1902 and a new church was built in the town center. Surprisingly, the surroundings of this most ancient Lithuanian church also have something to do with Frank Zappa, the legendary rock idol. Sometimes Zappa fans, the same people who built the world's only monument of Zappa in Vilnius, organize their gatherings near the church because of similarities of the names Zapyskis and Zappa.

Those who want to have a real religious experience should go to the Pazaislis monastery on Friday, August 15th, the Assumption Day, an official holiday in Lithuania. At 3 pm, Archbishop Metropolitan Sigitas Tamkevicius will celebrate Holy Mass while the Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra and the Kaunas State Choir perform Gioachino Rossini's Stabat Mater. The closing concert will be held on Sunday, August 31st, at 6 pm in the courtyard of the Pazaislis monastery. The Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra and the Kaunas State Choir will perform a concert version of Pietro Mascagni's opera Cavalleria Rusticana. Soloists Elena Lo Forte (soprano, Italy), Ieva Prudnikovaite (mezzo-soprano), Laima Jonutyte (mezzo-soprano), Badri Maisuradze (tenor, Georgia), Vytautas Juozapaitis (baritone) will bring you love passions of 19th century's Sicilian village, maybe, inspiring you to sing "Gli aranci olezzano sui verdi margini" ("The air is sweet with orange blossoms").

In this work, emotional arias are interspersed with remarkable choral and orchestral pieces. Since its premiere in 1890, Cavalleria Rusticana has been the jewel in the crown of every opera theater in the world. Let's hope there will be no rain. For more information about the festival go to: www.pazaislis.lt