Last year, the British press was greatly intrigued by the first public appearances of Mirga Gražinytè-Tyla (29) as newly appointed chief conductor of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. In Britain this is not just a bigtime job like any other, it is one of the most prestigious musical posts the country has to offer. Two of its last incumbents were Simon Rattle and Andris Nelsons. And now this slender young woman with the unpronounceable name.
Her career started in Heidelberg
Her personality is intriguing enough in itself. Her uproarious laugh, loud enough to stop people in their tracks, was something all the reporters noted. Then there was her remarkable temperament, an almost armour-clad aura, her immense dynamism (as a person and as a musician), her steel-blue eyes. All this cast something of a spell on people meeting her for the first time. In Heidelberg she is already a well-known figure: in the 2011/12 season Mirga was second-in-command at the municipal theatre here.
That post was just the beginning of a truly meteoric career. From there she moved on to conduct at the concert theatre in Berne, the state theatre in Salzburg, to an assistantship with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and finally to Birmingham. Not bad going for someone still the right side of 30.
This is her second appearance at Heidelberger Frühling, where she conducted a concert with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen in 2016. But that was opportunity enough to see what makes Mirga (as everyone calls her for simplicity’s sake) so special. Energy in the round, you might call it. When Mirga conducts, the orchestra and the audience are equally galvanised. No one is left cold. Even just watching from the stalls, it is crystal clear that the orchestra knows precisely who’s the boss.
»It feels like a big family. Everyone carries responsibility«
The last time the CBSO was here was in 2014 for a memorable concert with Andris Nelsons and Hélène Grimaud. And here they are back again with two concerts directed by Mirga. It will be exciting to see how the orchestra has developed under its new director. Mirga herself is full of praise for her players. In an interview for the Guardian, she said: “You feel the pride of the musicians. They shine not just at concerts or rehearsals but the whole time. It feels like a big family. Everyone carries responsibility. All the things a conductor can dream of.”
But there is something else she appears to dream of, at least occasionally: “tyla”. She has added this Lithuanian word to her name, it means something like “quiet”. On times, a conductor’s rostrum must be one of the loudest workplaces on this planet, so this dream is understandable. And it says much about an artist who is acutely sensitive to the tension between calm and tumult, career and seclusion, noise and quiet. (7 April & 8 April)