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Gidon Kremer

Russian: Гидон Маркусович Кремер
Birthplace: Riga, Latvia
Immediate Family:

Son of Marcus Kremer and Marianne Kremer
Ex-husband of <private> Gridenko and <private> (Bashkirova)

Occupation: Virtuoso violinist
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Gidon Kremer

Gidon Kremer (Latvian: Gidons Krēmers) (born February 27, 1947) is a Latvian violinist and conductor of Jewish-German and Latvian-Swedish origin. In 1980 he left the USSR and settled in Germany.

Gidon Markovich Kremer was born 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.

Professional Career

The Tchaikovsky Competition, the pinnacle of performance for young musicians, established Kremer as 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.

Political Pressures

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.

Tango Revival of the 1990s

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.

Kremer played the role of Paganini in Peter Schamoni's 1983 movie, Frühlingssinfonie [Spring Symphony].

Kremer has numbered in his collection of antique violins a Guarneri del Gesù violin made in 1730; and the Antonio Stradivari violin of 1734 often referred to by its sobriquet, Baron Feititsch-Heermann. His current violin is a Nicolo Amati violin dating from 1641.

Honours and awards

   * Queen Elisabeth Music Competition (third prize) (1967; Brussels)
   * Paganini Competition (first prize) (1969; Genoa)
   * International Tchaikovsky Competition (first prize) (1970; Moscow)
   * Léonie Sonning Music Prize (1989; Denmark)
   * Latvian Great Music Award (1995, 2004; Latvia)
   * Lithuanian Great Duke Gediminas Medal (2000; Lithuania)
   * Rolf Schock Prize (2008; Sweden)

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Gidon Kremer's Timeline

February 27, 1947
Riga, Latvia