New Music Director for the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

After months of speculation the CBSO has announced the appointment of the 29-year old Lithuanian conductor, Mirga Gražinyte-Tyla as the orchestra’s 12th Music Director in succession to Andris Nelsons. She will take up the post in September 2016, initially on a three-year contract.

Miss Gražinyte-Tyla made her debut with the CBSO in July 2015 in a programme of music by Barber, Tchaikovsky and Beethoven, Unfortunately none of Seen and Heard’s Birmingham team was able to cover that concert but it was widely reported as a success and the orchestra was so impressed that she was swiftly invited back. Indeed, most unusually, an extra concert was fitted into the CBSO’s already-announced 2015/16 season and in January, Mirga Gražinyte-Tyla was back to conduct Debussy, Schumann and Sibelius. I reviewed that concert and left Symphony Hall that evening with the strong impression that here was a very strong contender indeed for the CBSO job.

The daughter of a choral conductor, Mirga Gražinyte-Tyla studied at conservatoires in Leipzig, Bologna and Zurich. After a spell as a Dudamel Fellow with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in the 2012-13 season, she became Assistant Conductor with the Orchestra in 2014, and was promoted to Associate Conductor for the 2016-17 season. In 2012 she won the prestigious Salzburg Festival Young Conductors Award, Recently she took up the post of Music Director of the Salzburg Landestheater from 2015 until 2017.

Already much in demand as a guest conductor on both sides of the Atlantic the ensembles she has conducted include the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Seattle Symphony, the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra, the Beethoven Orchestra Bonn, the Deutsche Radiophilharmonie, the Choir of the Bavarian Radio, the Danish National Symphony Orchestra, the Camerata Salzburg, and Kremerata Baltica, collaborating with Gidon Kremer. Her operatic experience includes appearances in Heidelberg and Bern, where she served as Kapellmeister, as well as in Salzburg and at the Komische Oper in Berlin.

In the last 35 years the CBSO has developed an enviable reputation for spotting exciting young conducting talents. Sir Simon Rattle was just 25 years old when he became Principal Conductor in 1980. Hs successor, Sakari Oramo, was only slightly older, at 30, when he succeeded Rattle in 1998 while Andris Nelsons followed Oramo at the age of 28. For Mirga Gražinyte-Tyla one imagines that the challenge of following these very successful predecessors must be great; but even greater is the opportunity for she inherits a top-class, versatile orchestra whose home concert hall is one of the finest in the world.

The CBSO say that her programming plans “will range widely from Mozart and Haydn to 20th century classics and works by living composers.” Also there will be opera projects and with the CBSO’s excellent choruses available one imagines that choral pieces will also feature strongly. The announcement of the programmes for her first season in charge will be made in April and details are equally awaited.

The players of the CBSO will have had an important voice in the choice of their new chief. At the January concert it seemed there was chemistry and enthusiasm. This is borne out by the reaction of the orchestra’s Associate Leader, ZoŽ Byers: ‘This is the start of an incredibly exciting time for the Orchestra - to work with someone as talented, vibrant and energetic as Mirga is a dream come true. She is a completely committed and serious musician, but at the same time she manages to convey her enthusiasm and joy in the music to us all on the stage and in the audience. Spirit, dynamism and sincerity - Mirga has all of these qualities in abundance.’

It’s nice to find that one of the first people to send congratulations on the new appointment was Andris Nelsons, who sent his “ very warmest congratulations to Mirga Gražinyte-Tyla on her appointment with the tremendous City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. My time with the Orchestra will always be very special to me, and I am sure Mirga will also be so inspired by the wonderful musical family of the CBSO. Together, with these gifted musicians, an exciting future lies ahead for Birmingham and I wish them all the very best!’

The CBSO is closing in on its centenary in 2020 and it will be Mirga Gražinyte-Tyla who will lead them on the last lap of their first 100 years. She’s clearly enthused at the prospect: ‘Every single musician of the CBSO is an artist with great individuality and sense of responsibility. They are driven to be one of the world’s leading orchestras and their shared spirit for team work helps them to achieve this. I felt so at ease working with the Orchestra at the CBSO Centre and at Symphony Hall and I can't wait to get started and to call these my homes too. I am also very excited about working with the CBSO family including its brilliant choirs led by Simon Halsey, and getting involved with its extensive learning and participation programme both locally and further afield. I believe we will be a great team and really look forward to making music together.’

Readers with access to the BBC iPlayer can hear her talk about her new job in Birmingham. She was interviewed by Suzy Klein during BBC Radio 3’s In Tune programme on 4 February. Click here to access the interview, which starts at 42:48 into the programme.

The CBSO still has to appoint a new leader and Principal Guest Conductor. However, the key appointment to its musical leadership team has now been made. It seems that yet more exciting times lie ahead in Birmingham

John Quinn