Gidon KREMER And Kremerata Baltica

Toronto Centre for the Arts, George Weston Recital Hall


10TH Anniversary North American Tour

“They animate everything their bows touch” – Los Angeles Times

Show One Productions presents a night of electrifying music-making, when internationally acclaimed violinist Gidon Kremer leads the Grammy Award-winning Kremerata Baltica on its long-awaited return to Toronto.

The chamber orchestra is making a 10-performance spring tour of the U.S. and Canada as part of its 10th anniversary international tour. In its first Toronto visit since its debut in 1999, it returns to the George Weston Recital Hall, Toronto Centre for the Arts, 5040 Yonge Street (North York City Centre Subway), on Wednesday, April 18, 2007, 8 p.m. Tickets, $48, $68 and $88, are available from Ticketmaster, 416-872-1111 or For more information, visit

The program reflects the eclectic tastes and versatility of the orchestra and its founder. It includes Beethoven’s introspective Grosse Fuge in B flat major, Op. 113, and Schumann’s lyrical Cello Concerto in A minor, Op. 29, transcribed for violin. Kremer is featured soloist in the Schumann and in Three Pieces for Violin and Vibraphone by Astor Piazzolla.

Kremer also performs Sempre Primavera, a suite of short works inspired by the spring season, mostly as soloist or in a duo with Andrei Pushkarev, vibraphone. The works are of his own choosing, and range from the traditional to controversial, and poetic to dance-like, all bound by the idea of renewal after the thaw. Among the featured composers are Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, Piazzolla and contemporary composers from Eastern Europe.

Comprising 27 of the finest young musicians from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the Kremerata Baltica has become one of the most prominent international ensembles in Europe and beyond, and high-profile cultural ambassadors for the Baltic States. It has earned a reputation for its commanding artistry and polished execution. Its highly original programs reflect its extensive repertoire and a refreshing juxtaposition of composers and styles. Kremerata Baltica’s impressive discography includes the Grammy Award-winning After Mozart (2002), Grammy-nominated George Enescu, Happy Birthday and Russian Seasons (both 2003) for Nonesuch; and the Deutsche Grammophon release, Kremerland.

Latvian-born violinist Gidon Kremer formed the chamber orchestra in 1997 as a 50th “birthday present to myself.” He saw it as a medium to share his rich artistic experience with the new generation, while simultaneously promoting and inspiring the musical and cultural life of the Baltics.

Over his illustrious 30-year career, Gidon Kremer has established a worldwide reputation as one of the most innovative and compelling artists of his generation. He has appeared on virtually every major concert stage, with the most celebrated orchestras, and with today’s foremost conductors and instrumentalists. He is also highly respected for his unusually vast repertoire, which encompasses the entire standard violin works, as well as music by 20th century masters. He has also championed important new compositions, notably by Russian and Eastern European composers. Some have been dedicated to him.

More information on Gidon Kremer and the Kremerata Baltica is available at



Gidon Kremer in conversation with Pamela Margles

It’s November of last year, and a small group is gathered upstairs at a Toronto music shop for a remarkable event. Violinist Gidon Kremer is rehearsing his trio for a concert at the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo the next evening, and we have been invited to sit in. Kremer is returning to Toronto with his chamber orchestra, Kremerata Baltica, for a concert on April 18, and the presenter, Svetlana Dvoretskaia, has arranged this open rehearsal at Remenyi’s.

Squeezed into the small space is a concert grand and a vibraphone. Kremer slips into the room with no formalities. He addresses us directly, and introduces his colleagues, pianist Andrius Zlabys and percussionist Andrei Pushkarev. They are all dressed casually. Kremer explains that they will likely speak Russian to each other while they are rehearsing. ‘Despite the fact that we come from three different countries – Andrei is from Ukraine, Andrius is from Lithuania, and I myself am from Latvia – our common language is Russian because we are all children of the former Soviet Union.’

‘Before a tour we need to refresh. So we are here to work, and you are very welcome to attend. We will play some pieces through, and with some we will stop in the middle to work on details. Afterwards, we will be happy to answer your questions. We can have some nice conversation, I hope – not just a monologue, but a dialogue.’

As the three musicians play through their program, Kremer introduces each piece. Kremer’s geniality offsets his intensity. His sense of humour is unexpected, and we are thoroughly charmed. He is tall and lanky, and he moves with elegance, like a dancer. After a recent concert in London’s Wigmore Hall, a British reviewer called him ‘the greatest fiddler alive’, though the writer did add the qualifier ‘arguably’, before going on to also call Kremer a ‘genius’. A New York Times reviewer was more sober, if also more cryptic, calling him ‘perhaps music’s most original violinist’. I was unable to find a bad review of his playing. He seems not to care much about such matters, in any case.

But audiences are clearly another matter for him altogether, and his unmistakable desire to communicate draws us in immediately. He is generous, witty and passionate. He talks about the unorthodox combination of instruments in this trio. ‘This ensemble just happened. We are not a permanent trio. Andrius and Andrei play with Kremerata Baltica, and Andrei will be involved when I come back here with my orchestra in April. I had played recitals with each of them separately, and we play often together in different combinations, so I got this idea for a tour of South America two years ago. This is the start of our second tour. Maybe we will get together like this some day again, but now we exist just for these next two weeks.’

‘It’s not the sounds of the instruments that drew us together. I would explain it as a similar approach to the music. We have similar interests – we share the ideas, the curiosity.’
Kremer’s programs are invariably unusual. Sometimes he will concentrate on the music of one composer in depth, like his recent recital of the three Brahms Sonatas for violin and piano. ‘It’s like walking into one composer’s house,’ he tells me when we talk later.

On the other hand, his programs can be eclectic, like this one, called After Bach. All the works centre around Bach, either in arrangements of original works by Bach, or contemporary works influenced by Bach. Kremer, with Zlabys on piano, plays one of his signature pieces, Arvo Pärt’s iconic Fratres, which the composer dedicated to Kremer in 1980. Then, with both Zlabys and Pushkarev, there are works by a composer Kremer has long championed, Astor Piazzola, ‘a composer for whom Bach was God, although he himself composed only tangos.’

Zlabys plays his transcription of a Bach chorale. Then Pushkarev plays some of his own arrangements for vibraphone of Bach Inventions, prepared in the styles of various jazz pianists. ‘I always adored all the great jazz pianists,’ says Kremer. ‘I have a weakness for this type of music. I did try to play jazz on a couple of occasions. I am not a great improvisor, but it inspires me because I find the freedom of jazz musicans amazing.’

To end the rehearsal, Kremer plays a movement from Bartók’s Sonata for Solo Violin. He is a remarkably natural player. When he plays, it’s as though he is talking. Or singing. I thought of how Stanislavsky apparently told actors that their bodies were their instruments, and how Kremer shows that the converse is also true: his violin seems to be part of his body. It’s apparent right from the way he picks up his instrument from its case. He can fill a hall with a subdued whisper of the sweetest sound imaginable, then roughly attack a phrase. The expressive momentum he creates is thrilling.

He tells us about his violin, which he has had for less than a year. ‘I was playing a Guarneri del Jesu, and then this instrument came into my hands. I played it for a couple of hours, and I couldn’t part from it any more. It’s a Niccolò Amati from 1641. I knew that Amati violins had a rich sound, but I never could imagine that an Amati could have such a big sound. It’s the oldest instrument I ever have played. Now I understand why Amati was not only a good violin maker but a good teacher, because the violin makers whose names are most familiar were pupils of Amati – he was the father of them all.’

Kremer comes out of the great Russian school of virtuoso violin-playing. When he was eighteen, in 1965, he left Riga and went to Moscow to study with the legendary David Oistrakh. But Kremer is very much a modern virtuoso, at a time when it’s just not enough for a musician to dazzle audiences with splendid performances. So Kremer runs his own music festival in Lockenhaus, Austria, he leads his own orchestra, the Kremerata Baltica, he commissions and premieres important new works, records prodigiously, wins numerous awards, and performs chamber music with dynamic soloists like Martha Argerich and Krystian Zimerman. Kremer has even written several books, for the most part autobiographical. Unfortunately they haven’t been translated in to English yet.

When someone from the audience asks him how he started playing the violin, he says, ‘This is a simple story, because it started before I was born. Everybody in my family was a violinist – my grandfather, my mother, my father – so I had to take up the violin. Actually, they say I wanted to play. I have my doubts. But I wanted to be loved, and it seemed that when I was practising well I was loved more – it’s as simple as that. Later I had to make a conscious decision to become a professional violinist. When I was about sixteen, I wanted to be involved with film and theatre. But I questioned myself about doing these other things, and decided first I should concentrate on what I already could do.’

He is asked about the upcoming concert he is giving in Toronto this month with Kremerata Baltica, the chamber orchestra he started in 1997 as a present to himself for his fiftieth birthday. The twenty-seven young musicians all come from the formerly Soviet Baltic states, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Most of the works they will be performing, like Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge, and Schumann’s Cello Concerto, are arrangements, partly because the existing repertoire for chamber orchestra is limited, and partly because Kremer is always seeking to extend his own repertoire and try new things. In the case of the Schumann, he explains, the solo violin part was authorized by Schumann himself. ‘This was a piece that was very much welcomed among us. I always loved it on the cello, and I still love it on the cello. But it is good as well for violin. The arrangement is great, so I took the chance to play it.’

Kremer’s intentions involve illuminating the past, not trying to replicate it. To that end he performs Robert Levin’s historically informed cadenzas to Mozart violin concertos, written in Mozart’s musical language, but he also performs Schnittke’s distinctively contemporary cadenzas for the Brahms violin concerto.
Kremer has made over 100 recordings, which in themselves tell the story of his career. They are always imaginative, often daring, and sometimes simply outrageous. There are the collections of Schubert’s complete violin music, the standard concertos with top conductors, chamber music with leading soloists, and two recordings of Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas. But there are also the collections built around a theme. For the most part these involve Kremerata Baltica, like the Grammy-winning After Mozart which contains takes on Mozart by contemporary composers, but also includes the ultra-familiar Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, played in a way you’ve never heard, with extravagant percussion and imaginative cadenzas. One of his recent recordings is actually called Kremerland, so the autobiographical element is inescapable. It contains a piece called The Unanswered Call by Alexander Bakshi, written for solo violin, strings and mobile phones.

Although Kremer’s non-stop schedule rarely allows for interviews, I was able to talk to him briefly after the rehearsal. I asked him about his approach to recording. ‘For all my recordings I am always looking for a concept. There should be some thought behind it, not just the sound of pieces of music.’ Even recordings like Happy Birthday, which provide irresistible entertainment, are passionately serious.

Russia and the countries it controlled in the Soviet era continue to affect his life. ‘Even though I’m not Russian, Russian is the language I used in my life the most. None of us lives in Russia – Andrei lives at home in Ukraine. Andrius’s parents are still in Lithuania, but he is comfortable in the United States, so he lives there.’

‘But I do not live any place. On paper my residence is in Switzerland, but in fact I move all over the place. I never stop packing my suitcase.’

Kremer has consistently worked with composers who are creating works of lasting value. These include John Adams, Philip Glass, Hans Werner Henze, Kaija Saariaho, and the late Toru Takemitsu and Luigi Nono. But many are former Soviets, like Arvo Pärt, Sofia Gubaidulina, Giya Kancheli, Alfred Schnittke, Peteris Vasks, Leonid Desyatnikov, and the ineffable Valentin Silvestrov. ‘I would not say we concentrate specifically on Eastern European music, but we play a lot of composers from the former Soviet Union because we were born there, and it’s part of our homeland.’ He says that for him they do tend to be ‘the most interesting personalities of their time.’

Kremer has been instrumental in introducing many of these composers, like Gubaidulina, to the West. ‘Gubaidulina is a wonderful composer – one of the most original voices in Soviet and post-Soviet time.’ In fact New Music Concerts put on a program of her music in Toronto a few months ago. In 1981 she wrote Offertorium for Kremer. It’s a work he has performed all over the world, most recently with the Berlin Philharmonic under Simon Rattle. ‘It’s still a miracle what a piece that is. She’s a great composer, and she’s a generous person. But she’s not wasting her time socializing. She now no longer lives in the former Soviet Union – she lives in Germany. She works in quietness, and she needs peace of mind. That inspires her.’

Kremer points out that he has a lot of respect for many composers that he doesn’t play, like Elliott Carter. But he says, ‘I did my share of exploring the new complexity, but I’m a little bit scared, as Mauricio Kagel says, by music that is written by composers for composers. It’s kind of a ghetto which you don’t get out of, even if it is sophisticated and intellectually challenging – and brilliant.’

He loves to collaborate with composers. ‘These days I’m working a lot with Desyatnikov, who’s from St. Petersburg. He is a great friend of mine.’ Desyatnikov wrote The Russian Seasons for Kremerata Baltica, which is featured on one of their most intriguing recordings. His opera, Children of Rosenthal, created a huge uproar when it was premiered at the Bolshoi two years ago.

‘I have played some music of György Kurtág and it’s fascinating. For me he belongs with Eastern European composers. I don’t know why, but music from Hungary sounds to me part of Eastern Europe.’

I wonder whether it could be the influence of folk music. ‘I don’t know – French and Spanish composers also had folk influences. At school we learned a funny saying which I don’t stick to, but when you speak about folk influences it comes to my mind. Apparently Glinka said that music is composed by the folks, and composers just write it down. In any case, this was the Soviet ideology.’

‘I think the most interesting music is written by great personalities – by composers you can recognize from their signatures, not by composers you recognize from belonging to a certain school. Be it Shostakovich, be it Bartók, be it Piazzolla, be it any great composer, it doesn’t matter – with these composers you immediately recognize whose music it is.’

Is it, I ask, still trying to pin down Kremer’s thoughts on the distinctive character of Eastern European music, the apparently simpler harmonies? ‘They are not always so simple. Silvestrov, for example, is very complex. So is Schnittke. But you have something to hold on to, and that helps.’

Is it, then, I ask, that these composers all have a decidedly spiritual outlook? ‘Yes, there is some message there, I think – their music is not written for entertainment. Their music is an expression of their soul. For me, it is important there is a message in the music, that this is music that you can understand with your heart and not just with your mind.’

Gidon Kremer and the Kremerata Baltica are performing in Toronto on Wednesday April 18 at 8.00 pm in the George Weston Recital Hall, Toronto Centre for the Arts. For tickets, contact Ticketmaster at 416-872-1111 or Further information is available at

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Bach: The Sonatas and Partitas for Violin Solo – ECM
Brahms: Klavierquartett; Schumann: Fantasiestücke, with Argerich, Bashmet, Maisky – DG
Gubaidulina: Offertorium; with Boston Symphony under Dutoit – DG
Kancheli: In l’istesso tempo – ECM
Pärt: Tabula Rasa; Fratres, with Keith Jarrett, piano – ECM
Saariaho: Graal Théâtre, BBC Symphony under Salonen – Sony Classical
Schubert: Works for Violin and Piano, with Valery Afanassiev – DG

With Kremerata Baltica:
After Mozart – Nonesuch
Enescu – Octet; Quintet – Nonesuch
Happy Birthday – Nonesuch
Kremerland – DG
The Russian Seasons – Nonesuch
Shostakovich: Violin Sonata DG