Sunday, 14 July 2013

Ciurlionis Ensemble in Germany

The Čiurlionis Lithuanian Art Ensemble was an internationally known group of entertainers formed in 1940 in Vilnius, Lithuania, by Alfonsas Mikulskis. It was organised to keep the nationalist spirit alive in the people despite Soviet and Nazi domination.

The Čiurlionis, named after the noted Lithuanian composer Mikalojus K. Ciurlionis, featured Lithuanian dance, music, and song, performed in traditional costumes.

Following the second invasion of Lithuania by the Soviets in 1944, the ensemble escaped to Vienna, Austria, where they re-established and began touring Austria and Germany.  Mikulskis, founder of the Čiurlionis Art Ensemble and its director until his death, studied at the Klaipeda and Kaunas conservatories and at the Stuttgart Academy of Music. A former director of the Lithuanian Philharmonic Chorus and Symphony Orchestra, he was also a member of the Lithuanian underground during occupation. He was aided by his wife, Ona, who also studied music and directed the Lithuanian Kankles (a mandolin-like instrument) National Ensemble.

At the close of World War II, the Ensemble found its way to the West. In Western Germany the Ensemble gave more than 300 concerts in Western Europe appearing in the concert halls of Vienna, Berlin, Stuttgart, Munich, Bayreuth, Frankfurt, Hamburg and many other cities where they were enthusiastically received by American, French, Swiss, and German music critics. 

In the fall of 1949, through the generosity of many friends, the Ensemble was able to settle in Cleveland.  After settling in Cleveland, the Čiurlionis gave its first concert in 1950. It appeared at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall and toured extensively throughout the U.S., Canada, and South America.  From about 40 members in 1949, the number had grown to nearly 70 in the 1980s.  The ageing of the membership along with the difficulty of finding a director prompted the disbanding of the group in 1992, two years after it had experienced the fulfilment of a final tour back to a free Lithuania.

Several of the Ensembles members immigrated to Australia, and in the Archives are a collection of posters, programmes and tickets of the groups concerts around Germany in the years 1944-47.

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