Vilnius Festival, Vilnius, Lithuania <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

In Vilnius's old town, the bright new paint masks the darkest of ghosts. The Lithuanian capital was "the Jerusalem of Lithuania", a vital centre for Jewish culture and learning, until the Nazis murdered 90 per cent of its Jewish population.

Six decades of grey, demoralised Soviet life followed. But now Lithuania is part of the EU and World Heritage Fund money is transforming its capital.

Held every May and June, the Vilnius Festival sees concerts spread across a month, with several per week rather than per day. But with the ambitious thinking of its artistic director Gintautas Kevisas (director of the Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatre) and the involvement of international sponsors, its potential is vast.

This year's concerts each had something different to offer. Visitors to the beautiful Filharmonija Hall included classical luminaries such as the tenor Marcelo Alvarez, violinist Sarah Chang and cellist Mischa Maisky, as well as big names from world music and jazz like the pianist Chick Corea, fado star Misia and sarod player Wajahat Khan.

Facing the city's ghosts, the music acquires extra significance, whether one is watching Khan joining forces with Lithuania's Ciurlionis Quartet or Maisky leading the outstanding Vilnius Festival Orchestra from his cello in an overwhelming rendition of Bruch's Kol Nidrei.

The festival opened with a new ballet, Desdemona, with music by Anatolijus Senderovas, one of the country's most fascinating composers. An annual commission from a Lithuanian composer is a vital festival feature and plans are afoot to celebrate 2006's 10th anniversary by reviving all the commissions to date.

There is no official festival fringe – yet in one day, by complete coincidence, one could catch a Norwegian choir in the cathedral, a free concert by the Christopher Chamber Orchestra and then Khan and the Ciurlionis Quartet.

Vilnius is to be European City of Culture in 2009. By then, its festival will have made ample input into the revival and renewal of Lithuania's cultural identity. It could become a must for music lovers.

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