Latvian violinist Gidon Kremer led a striking trend among classical string players when he diverged into the world of tango during the 1990s after more than two decades of international acclaim for his mastery of the violin. Kremer, regarded as one of the finest violinists in the world, drew the admiration of his fans as much for his unique persona as for his prowess on the instrument. Yet while his interpretation of the great classics might gratify many critics, there remain traditionalists who have balked at Kremer’s “audacity” in embellishing a revered classical score with the addition of an extra note or two. Indeed even his ardent admirers sometimes wince at his habitual insertion of a popular tune in the midst of a classical composition. Kremer, who often appeared wiry, almost disheveled, during his earliest concert appearances in the United States, rarely failed to redeem his reputation for making exquisite music. His recordings extend to a variety of composers, from the compulsory Bach sonatas and partitas to Vivaldi’s perennial Four Seasons. Among the many accolades bestowed on Kremer are the prestigious Grand Prix du Disque and a gold medal from Moscow’s International Tchaikovsky Competition.
Gidon Markovich Kremer was born on February 27, 1947, in Riga, Latvia, in the former Soviet Union. Both of his parents were professional violinists for the Riga Symphony Orchestra, and by the age of four, young Kremer was wielding a bow with flair. At age seven, Kremer’s parents enrolled him at the Riga School of Music, where his maternal grandfather—world-renowned violinist, Karl Bruckner—was an instructor. For Kremer, practicing his instrument came naturally, and the notion of a musical vocation was an obvious course to pursue, imbued as he was with the classics and the rubrics of music since early childhood. In his approach to music, Kremer harbored undertones of rebellion, and he despised the notion of musical competition with the work of one artist pitted against another.
Kremer nevertheless competed as necessary to achieve the stature of a professional. Beginning at age 16, he competed and won first place in a national competition of the Latvian Republic. Soon after, in 1965, Kremer enrolled at the Moscow State Conservatory. There he studied under David Oistrakh for nearly a decade. During that time he continued to place or win in international competition; he secured a bronze medal in the 1967 Queen Elizabeth Competition in Brussels, Belgium, and won a second place silver at the Montreal Music Competition the following year. He also won the gold medal at Genoa’s Paganini Competition that year. Two years later, in 1970, he earned the coveted prize of the gold medal at Moscow’s famed International Tchaikovsky Competition.
The Tchaikovsky Competition, the pinnacle of performance for young musicians, established Kremer as
For the Record…
Born Gidon Markovich Kremer on February 27, 1947, in Riga, Latvia, in the former Soviet Union; son of Marianne Bruckner and Markus Kremer; married Tatiana Grindenko (divorced); married Elena Bashkirova, 1977 (divorced); one daughter. Education: Riga School of Music, with V. Sturestep; P.I. Tchaikovsky (Moscow) State Conservatory, with David Oistrakh, 1965-73.
Performed limited tour of Eastern Europe, 1970; began regular tours of Europe, 1974; opening concert, Mozart Festival, Salzburg, 1976; U.S. tour, 1977; New York debut, Avery Fisher Hall, January 14, 1977; founded Kremerata Musica Festival, Lockenhaus, Austria, 1981; has performed and recorded with major orchestras worldwide including the Berlin Philharmonic, Vienna Philharmonic, London Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, and Los Angeles Philharmonic; toured with the ensemble Kremerata Musica, 1995.
Awards: First prize Latvian Republic, 1963; bronze medal, Queen Elizabeth Competition, Brussels, 1967; silver medal, Montreal Music Competition, 1968; gold medal, Paganini Competition, Genoa, 1968; gold medal, Fourth International Tchaikovsky Competition, Moscow, 1970; Grand Prix du Disque; Deutsche Schallplattenpreis.
perhaps the finest young violinist in the world. He received invitations to perform worldwide, although the socialist Russian Soviet government of that era restricted Kremer’s movements, limiting his out-of-country performances to a maximum of three months each year. In 1970 he performed in Budapest, Hungary, and in Vienna, Austria. Upon his return, Kremer was required to stay in the Soviet Union until 1978. Three years later, the restriction was rescinded, and he toured Western Europe repeatedly.
Kremer embarked on an American tour in 1977, debuting in New York City at the Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Music Hall on January 14. His program, which opened with a Stravinsky selection followed by a Bach partita and some Beethoven, included assorted contemporary works by composers such as Charles Ives, and Russia’s Alfred Schnittke. Critics praised Kremer’s flawless intonation, technique, and stylistic interpretation; his humility, lack of pomp, and comparatively scruffy appearance made headlines as well. Near the end of 1977, he toured West Germany and Austria, performing with the Vilna Chamber Orchestra.
During his early years in performance, Kremer’s instrument of choice was an eighteenth-century Guadagnini violin, given to Kremer by his grandfather as a sign of faith and encouragement. Kremer later purchased a Stradivarius model while on tour in the United States and used that instrument as well. Xenia Knorre accompanied Kremer on piano at his New York debut performance, although later that year he married pianist Elena Bashkirova who became his regular accompanist until their divorce in the early 1980s. It was a second marriage for Kremer, who was already divorced from violinist Tatiana Grindenko.
Kremer’s 1977 trip outside of the Communist bloc extended through 1979, at which time he applied for permission to remain in the West. The Soviet government conceded to his request reluctantly, and although Kremer retained his Russian citizenship, he was denied permission to perform in his homeland for many years afterward. During the years when he performed exclusively in the West, Kremer’s popularity with the American public blossomed. When he debuted with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in 1980, he proved once again that he was both immensely talented and refreshingly unpredictable. With the spontaneity of an American jazzman, Kremer’s interpretations bordered on musical blasphemy to the trained ear, as he interspersed Schnittke interludes within passages of Beethoven’s most revered compositions. Kremer habitually punctuated his concerts with nontraditional performance posture, including leg stretching while bowing and facing away from the audience. The longhaired Kremer was gaunt in appearance and wore a beard; his eccentricities in concert created curiosity as much as a cultural event.
In the summer of 1981, Kremer founded the Kremerata Musica in Lockenhaus, Austria. Initially a low-budget enterprise, the annual chamber music festival became renowned internationally. In conjunction with the festival, he began a second enterprise, the Kremerata Baltica String Orchestra, which he founded in 1987. It was reputed to showcase the finest orchestral talent in the Baltic region. In 1996 Kremer assumed control of a second music enterprise, the Yehudi Menuhin Gstaad Summer Music Festival.
Kremer’s decidedly eclectic career evolved from classical performances to outright avant-garde music. His collaborations included performances with noted chamber musicians such as cellist Yo-Yo Ma, pianist Martha Argerich, Andria Schiff, and Keith Jarrett. In 1997 Kremer contributed a performance to the film soundtrack Immortal Beloved, a Beethoven biography. Kremer appeared in action in The Winners in 1997, a compelling film directed by Paul Cohen, about four first-prize medal winners at the Queen Elizabeth Competition of Belgium, where years earlier Kremer himself had competed.
During the 1990s Kremer revealed a subtle infatuation with tango music when on occasion, he inserted a dance melody or two into an encore performance after a concert. By 1998 he had released two tango albums on compact disc, and critics repeatedly dubbed Kremer’s new passion “eccentric.” The two albums, Hornmage A Piazzolla and Él Tango, employed arrangements by Leonid Desyatnikov. Also in 1998 Kremer released a well-received anthology of film music, Le Cinema, with Oleg Maisenberg on piano. All Music Guide called the album eclectic and rated the production with three stars. Again in 1998, Kremer directed a production of the late Astor Piazzolla’s unique—and only—tango operita (operetta), Maria de Buenos Aires. Maria, according to Piazzolla, is the tale of an ill-fated young girl who was “born on a day when God was drunk.” In addition to Kremer on violin, the production featured the strings of Kremerata Musica, another Kremer enterprise, along with two vocalists and a narrator.
The program, arranged by Desyatnikov, toured Europe and was subsequently performed at Zellerbach Hall at the University of California, Berkeley campus during an American tour just prior to a tour in Japan. The San Francisco Examinees Timothy Pfaff called the production “engagingly eccentric,” and hailed the Kremerata Musica as “Kremer’s gift to music.” Additionally, the opera was released as a double compact disc package. The recording, of a live performance at Brooklyn’s Majestic Theater in 1998, was described as both brilliant and haunting by Mark Swed in the Los Angeles Times who returned a four-star rating for the Teldec release. Where Piazzolla was universally revered as the king of tango music, Kremer readily inherited the legacy of the deceased tango master’s metaphorical throne. Kremer earned recognition as the premiere interpreter of that sophisticated musical genre since Piazzolla’s death.
Beyond tango, Kremer also presented a concert in 1998 that was dubbed legendary, consisting of Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky trios, recorded live in Tokyo with Argerich and cellist Mischa Maisky. A live recording of the concert was released on compact disc in 1999. The album received four stars from Swed who called the performance “famously flammable,” and “inspired.” In April of 1999, Kremer performed Piazzolla Caldera with Paul Taylor Dance Company. Frequently in his later collaborations, Kremer introduced new artists, such as the guitar duo of brothers Sergio and Odair Assad, and the Hagen Quartet.
Among the most exciting compact disc releases of early 2000 was Kremer’s Eight Seasons from Nonesuch. On the album, recorded with his Kremerata Baltica quartet, Kremer legitimately juxtaposed Vivaldi’s Four Seasons with Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires. Billboards Bradley Bambarger quoted Kremer, who commented on the unique pairing of the two scores with the explanation,” We respect the individual styles, but above all, we try to present the pieces as speaking the same timeless, universal language of the emotions…. A recording should unite different worlds and speak to many hearts.” Kremer and his string players took the Eight Seasons concert on tour worldwide, with a tour of the United States scheduled for the fall of 2000.
Edition Lockenhaus., Vol. 1-2, Polygram.
Edition Lockenhaus, Vol. 3, Polygram, 1990.
Edition Lockenhaus, Vol. 4-5, Polygram, 1990.
Le Cinema (with Oleg Maisenberg), Elektra/Asylum, 1998.
Maria de Buenos Aires, Teldec, 1998.
Shostakovich: Piano Trio No. 2, Deutsche Grammophon, 1999.
Eight Seasons, Nonesuch, 2000.
Arbos (with Arvo Part), 1968.
Tabula Rasa (with Arvo Part), 1977.
Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab (with Claus Ogermann), 1980.
Keith Jarrett at the Blue Note, 1994.
Immortal Beloved (soundtrack), Sony Classical, 1997.
From My Home, 1997.
Lyrical Works (with Claus Ogermann), 1997.
Le Cinema, Ave Maria: The Myth of Mary, 1999.
Britten: “Young Appollo” (with Kent Nagano and the Halle Orchestra), Erato, 1999.
Billboard, January 14, 1995, p. 44; March 25, 2000, p. 38.
Los Angeles Times, December 13, 1998, p. 59; December 19, 1999, p. 68.
Opera News, February 1999, p. 70.
San Francisco Examiner, October 6, 1998, p. B3.
Variety, November 17, 1997, p. 65.
“Gidon Kremer,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (August 16, 2000).
Kremer, Gidon, brilliant Latvian violinist; b. Riga, Feb. 27, 1947. His parents were violinists in the Riga Sym. Orch. He obtained the elements of violin study from his father and grandfather. When he was 16, he won the 1st prize of the Latvian Republic, and then continued professional studies with David Oistrakh at the Moscow Cons. He took part in several competitions, culminating in 1st prizes at the Paganini Competition in Genoa in 1968 and the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1970. Subsequently he appeared in Western Europe to notable acclaim. He made an auspicious N.Y. debut at Avery Fisher Hall on Jan. 14, 1977. In subsequent years, he appeared as a soloist with many of the major orchs. of the world, gave recitals, and performed in chamber music settings. He has won special commendation for his efforts to broaden the repertoire for his instrument; his great contribution to modern music has been the consistent presentation of new violin works, particularly those of Soviet composers, among them Alfred Schnittke and Sofia Gubaidulina. He has also given notable performances of the works of the Estonian composer Arvo Part.
—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire