“Mirga Gražintyė-Tyla controlled the orchestra effortlessly … [The] unified and tightly knit CBSO [worked] closely with the baton of … a conductor who knew exactly what she wanted from Bruckner and how to get it.” Bachtrack on Mirga Gražintyė-Tyla’s final UK concert with the CBSO as Music Director, May 2022
Lithuanian conductor Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla became Principal Guest Conductor of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) at the start of the 2022–23 season, having previously served as the orchestra’s Music Director since 2016. Her dedicated contribution to live classical music-making in the UK was recognised in 2019 when she won the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Conductor Award. The jury’s citation summed up her commitment to her work in Birmingham: “[She brings] her own vision [while] shaping a respectful, mutually fruitful partnership with the players…; plunging bravely and energetically into a vast and distinctive repertory; and captivating the city’s imagination beyond the concert hall.”
It was also in 2019 that Gražinytė-Tyla signed an exclusive relationship with Deutsche Grammophon. Her debut album for the label featured Polish composer Mieczysław Weinberg’s Symphony No. 2 for string orchestra and Symphony No. 21 “Kaddish”. It was recorded with Gidon Kremer, the CBSO and Kremerata Baltica and released in May 2019 to coincide with the composer’s centenary year. Greeted with widespread public and critical acclaim, the album won the Gramophone recording of the year and was nominated for a Grammy, as well as earning Gražinytė-Tyla the Opus Klassik Conductor of the Year award.
For her second album, she teamed up again with Kremerata Baltica to record her compatriot Raminta Šerkšnytė’s Midsummer Song and De profundis. Paired with a DVD presenting Going for the Impossible, a documentary portrait of Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, the album was released in November 2019.
Next came The British Project, a series of recordings of works by British composers made with the CBSO as part of the orchestra’s centenary celebrations. Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem and the Symphonic Suite from Walton’s Troilus and Cressida were released digitally in October 2020 and March 2021 respectively. The full album, on which these two works were framed by Elgar’s Sospiri and Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, was then issued digitally and on CD in July 2021.
For her most recent album, released in September 2022, Gražinytė-Tyla has returned to her mission to broaden awareness of the music of Weinberg. On Weinberg: Symphonies Nos. 3 & 7 and Flute Concerto No. 1 she is joined by The Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen and soloist Kirill Gerstein (harpsichord) for Symphony No. 7, and by the CBSO for the Flute Concerto – with soloist Marie-Christine Zupancic – and Symphony No. 3.
Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla was born in Vilnius into a family of musicians. Her father, a choral conductor, and her mother, a pianist, encouraged her instinctive desire to perform. Mirga’s talent was nurtured and developed with childhood music lessons and she studied choral conducting and visual arts at the prestigious National M.K. Čiurlionis School of Art in Vilnius, giving her debut concert with choir at the age of sixteen.
A move to Austria and a place at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Graz opened Gražinytė-Tyla’s mind to the possibility of broadening her musical horizons. She embraced the prospect of conducting orchestras and progressed to study at the Bologna Conservatory, Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy Music Conservatory in Leipzig and Zurich University of the Arts, and was discovered by the German Conducting Forum in April 2009. Having been appointed Second Kapellmeister at the Theater Heidelberg in 2011, she then made her international breakthrough in 2012 when she won the prestigious Salzburg Young Conductors Award and went on to give her Salzburg Festival debut with the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester. The following year she was appointed First Kapellmeister at Bern Opera, and from 2015 to 2017 was Music Director of the Salzburg Landestheater. A Gustavo Dudamel Fellow of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in the 2012–13 season, she subsequently served as the orchestra’s Assistant Conductor for two seasons and as its Associate Conductor in 2016–17.
At their first concert together the CBSO musicians were quick to recognise Mirga’s exceptional talent. She was immediately invited to return, and was offered the post of Music Director, in succession to Sir Simon Rattle, Sakari Oramo and Andris Nelsons. She launched her tenure in September 2016. Innovative programming and intense, often revelatory performances became the hallmarks of her CBSO seasons, in repertoire spanning everything from Haydn and Mozart to Debussy, Mahler and Shostakovich, as well as new works by, among others, Hans Abrahamsen, Jörg Widmann and Raminta Šerkšnytė.
Although many of the CBSO’s centenary plans had to be cancelled because of the pandemic, Gražinytė-Tyla led a number of concerts in early 2020, including two sell-out performances of Mahler’s “Symphony of a Thousand”, as well as working with her players to create online content. In the summer of 2021 they made a triumphant fourth visit together to the BBC Proms with a programme that included the London premiere of Thomas Adès’s Exterminating Angel Symphony, one of several CBSO centenary commissions.
Other recent highlights include Britten’s War Requiem with the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester and Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra to open the 2021 Salzburg Festival; a performance of Fauré’s Requiem dedicated to the victims of Covid; concert performances of Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen with the CBSO in Birmingham, Dortmund, Hamburg and Paris, leading to Mirga’s much-anticipated and acclaimed house debut at the Bayerische Staatsoper conducting a new production of the same work; and European tours with the CBSO and soloists including Patricia Kopatchinskaja and Gabriela Montero.
The music of Weinberg features prominently in the conductor’s 2022–23 season. She returns to Birmingham to conduct the first public performance of the composer’s Jewish Rhapsody (28 September) and for a concert featuring the Flute Concerto No. 1 (6 October). She then leads the orchestra and Sheku Kanneh-Mason on an eight-date US tour, culminating at Carnegie Hall on 22 October. The first two US concerts will feature the Jewish Rhapsody. In December Gražinytė-Tyla makes her debut with the Münchner Philharmoniker in a programme which will include Weinberg’s Third Symphony and Šerkšnytė’s De profundis (1–3 December).