Special Reports

Where Are They Now?
Conductor Mirga Gražinyte-Tyla

June 5, 2018 | By Janelle Gelfand

New Artist of the Month: September 2015

Mirga Gražinyte-Tyla was just 29 when she became music director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in 2016, only the third woman appointed to a high-profile orchestral post in the U.K. Whatever her gender, she clearly possesses all of the gifts to follow in the footsteps of her Birmingham predecessors Simon Rattle, Sakari Oramo, and Andris Nelsons.

Now 31, the Lithuanian conductor’s rapt performances are being touted as “the Mirga effect.” Reviewers point to Gražinyte-Tyla’s boundless energy, creative mind, and endless imagination. At the Los Angeles Philharmonic, where she was a Dudamel Fellow in 2012-13 and rose through the ranks to associate conductor, she mesmerized audiences in repertoire such as Mahler’s Symphony No. 1. Her Birmingham appointment led LA Times critic Mark Swed to remark, “She is simply the most exciting young conductor to come along since Gustavo Dudamel.”

Born into a musical family in Vilnius, Lithuania, Gražinyte-Tyla took up musical study rather late, at age 11, and chose choral conducting as a starting point. After attending the Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy Conservatory in Leipzig and the University of Music and Fine Arts in Graz, she was discovered by the German Conducting Forum (Deutsches Dirigentenforum) in 2009, and three years later won the Nestlé and Salzburg Festival Young Conductors Award.

Already, Gražinyte-Tyla is making waves in Birmingham with innovative programs that include concert mountings of opera, which she has said she hopes to survey each season. In June, she will lead her first Pelléas et Mélisande, the climax of a Debussy festival featuring the composer’s orchestral repertoire paired with music that influenced or was influenced by his. In a recent interview with Hugh Canning of The Times, she observed, “Many conductors say the biggest challenge of all is to conduct an opera. If you are able to manage that, then you will be able to manage a good symphonic program.”

The U.S. got a taste of her gift for Debussy in May, when she made her debut with the Met Orchestra at Carnegie Hall leading Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, as well as Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 and Mussorgsky’s Songs and Dances of Death with mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili. She’s already made her debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra this season, delivering a distinctive reading of Mahler’s Fourth, paired with Mozart’s Piano Concerto in A Major with the 94-year-old pianist Menahem Pressler.

With women composers largely underrepresented on symphonic programs, Gražinyte-Tyla is doing her part, recently conducting concerts in Birmingham that paired Fauré’s Requiem with three radiant works by Lili Boulanger—a refreshing and thoughtful program by an equally refreshing and thoughtful talent.

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