Although once described by The New York Times as “one of the world’s fastest-rising conductors,” conductor Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla (pronounced grah-zhin-EE-tay teel-AH) is no hard-nosed careerist. In many ways, she’s the opposite. Deliberately seeking out personal passion projects, styling herself as a “simple freelancer,” scouting her own collaborators, and publicly dismissing the idea that she might one day fill an impending vacancy at a top American orchestra—these are the pillars of Gražinytė-Tyla’s career.
This month on Carnegie Hall+, we shine a light on this precocious and highly sought-after maestro, whose work is now available for premium, on-demand viewing via two performances with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO), where she recently served as music director while still in her early 30s. The position is a prestigious British post, and one that jump-started the careers of Sir Simon Rattle and Andris Nelsons.
Gražinytė-Tyla’s tenure with the CBSO was high-profile from the start: As the ensemble’s first female music director, she was also one of its youngest. But the sheer speed of her ascent forced her to reflect on her priorities as an artist earlier than most.
“I think it is incredibly important to stay very aware of what is happening inside, because a person shouldn’t be a machine, and shouldn’t be a little part of this big mechanism that says, ‘You go this way and this way,’” she told The New York Times. “I think I need time where I am not studying or conducting or traveling or rehearsing to just be a whole human being.”
Born in Vilnius, Lithuania to two professional musicians in 1986, Gražinytė-Tyla found her way to the podium against the wishes of her parents, who’d hoped to shield her from the life of an artist. Ambitious and independent, she enrolled in her school’s choral conducting program at the age of 11.
Beyond some experience singing, she couldn’t play any other instrument, though her talent was undeniable: By 26, she’d won the Salzburg Festival's Young Conductors Award, added Tyla (the Lithuanian word for “silence”) to her professional name, and embarked on a series of career-making international engagements.
After serving as a Gustavo Dudamel Fellow at the Los Angeles Philharmonic for the 2012–2013 season, she was named the orchestra’s assistant conductor the following year and associate after that.
Known for valuing her privacy—she tends to speak obliquely of her home life and has kept her partner’s identity anonymous— Gražinytė-Tyla prefers to frontline her artistic pursuits instead. As a conductor, she has made bold choices. Close to her orbit, she has championed equally dynamic musicians, like Sheku Kanneh-Mason and Yuja Wang.
Shortly after signing an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon in 2019, her first recording with the CBSO featured the long-overlooked symphonies of Polish-Jewish composer Mieczysław Weinberg—a daring venture that took home Gramophone’s Album of the Year prize in 2020.
“It’s a responsibility to have (my recording) contract,” the conductor explained to The Guardian. “It’s important to try to make something which stays for eternity, which has a special message.”
Gražinytė-Tyla has become known for delivering her messages with exuberance, a style that can be athletic and zestful, capricious, even theatrical. Most recently, she’s tried her hand at opera, preparing a new production of Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen with the Bavarian State Opera. But even when handling more traditional symphonic fare, Gražinytė-Tyla brings trailblazing élan to every performance.
“She has this rehearsal technique where you forget you’ve ever played a piece before,” Oliver Janes, a clarinetist with the CBSO, remarked to The New York Times. “And once you’ve completely forgotten how it goes, you feel like you’re starting again.”
Carnegie Hall+ subscribers can experience this freshness simply by viewing Gražinytė-Tyla’s two entries in the catalog, both recorded at the annual BBC Proms festival.
Her 2016 program at Royal Albert Hall features a balletic rendition of Tchaikovsky’s tuneful Fourth Symphony, a brisk take on Mozart’s Magic Flute Overture, and a radiant song cycle by Hans Abrahamsen that features soprano Barbara Hannigan, the work’s dedicatee.
Viewers can also get a sense of her collaborative gifts in a 2019 concert co-starring Kanneh-Mason, who presents Elgar’s passionate Cello Concerto alongside bravura works by Howell, Knussen, and Weinberg.