Lithuanian conductor Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, Music Director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO), describes her profession as being “a combination of music and communication with musicians”. One of the defining qualities of her work is the ability to project strong and clear musical ideas for performers and audiences alike. She was recently characterised by online review site the Arts Desk as “communication incarnate”, while the Observer (London) has described her as an “unstoppable and mesmerising” force. Gražinytė-Tyla’s dynamic artistry, powered by her unshakeable focus and expressive gestures, is complemented by her imaginative programming and readiness to take risks. “We all need risks!” she exclaims. “Maybe by taking away the rules, you discover something completely new.”
Exploring the limits of convention is certainly high on Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s list of motivations. She’s set to launch her new exclusive relationship with Deutsche Grammophon with an album featuring the Polish composer Mieczysław Weinberg’s Symphony No.2 for string orchestra and Symphony No.21 “Kaddish”, recorded with Gidon Kremer, the CBSO and Kremerata Baltica, and scheduled for release in May 2019 to coincide with celebrations of the composer’s centenary. Gražinytė-Tyla will go on to present music by her compatriot Raminta Šerkšnytė with the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra, Vilnius Municipal Choir and Kremerata Baltica, a project she will follow up with an album of works by British composers with the CBSO as the orchestra celebrates its centenary in 2020. “Deutsche Grammophon was part of my musical upbringing,” she observes. “It’s a genuine honour to join the Yellow Label and to record works that will be new to so many listeners.”
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. “I spent my childhood in music-making,” she told the BBC in 2016. “When I was eleven, I said I can’t imagine any other profession than music. I got nervous that if I don’t start really learning things now, it will be too late.” Mirga’s precocious talent was nurtured and developed with childhood music lessons. 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 Mirga’s exceptional talent was instantly recognised by the musicians of the CBSO. 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, prompting the Telegraph (London) to greet her as “a compelling force on the podium” in its five-star review of her London debut at the BBC Proms. Innovative programming and intense, often revelatory performances have become the hallmarks of her CBSO seasons, in repertoire spanning everything from the music of Haydn and Mozart and symphonic scores by Debussy, Mahler and Shostakovich to new works by, among others, Hans Abrahamsen, Jörg Widmann and Raminta Šerkšnytė. In May 2018 it was announced that she had extended her contract with the CBSO for a further two years, until summer 2021, and would play a leading role in the special projects and tours planned to mark the orchestra’s centenary.
Gražinytė-Tyla led the CBSO on major European tours in 2018, including dates at the Liszt Academy in Budapest, Vienna’s Musikverein and the Berlin Philharmonie. Her 2017–18 season also featured debut performances with the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia; her first appearance at New York’s Carnegie Hall, with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra; Weinberg’s Violin Concerto in Los Angeles with Gidon Kremer; and a compelling Debussy festival with the CBSO.
Within three days in November 2018 she conducted the CBSO in the UK premieres of Roxanna Panufnik’s Faithful Journey – A Mass for Poland and Weinberg’s Symphony No.21. Other recent and forthcoming highlights of her 2018–19 schedule include her debut with the NDR Elbphilharmonie; a 12‑concert tour to Germany, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Switzerland with the CBSO; the UK premieres of Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis’ symphonic poem The Sea and Weinberg’s ballet The Golden Key; the world premiere of a new work by Unsuk Chin for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra; and a performance of Tippett’s A Child of Our Time with the Orchestre National de France.
Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla is clear about the nature of her role: “Conducting is about sharing music.”