Lots of Latvian musicians. Why no Lithuanians?

Lots of Latvian musicians. Why no Lithuanians?


norman lebrecht

May 22, 2015

There are times when it seems that classical music is overrun with artists from a state of barely two million souls.

It could almost make a Gershwin patter song:
Jansons, Nelsons,
Skride, Skride, Skride
Galante, Garanca
Kremer, Maisky, Vasks… (to name but a few).

baiba skride

Plenty, too, from Estonia.

But what of neighbouring Baltic state, Lithuania? Why so quiet?


  • Tom Moore says:

    Because Lithuania is/was known for Jewish intellectuals of the Torah and Talmud?

  • Simon S. says:

    Maybe because most Latvians and Estonians are protestants, and Lithuanians catholic? 😀

  • Gennady says:

    Jascha Heifetz is from Lithuania)) from Kaunas city.

    One of the most important names from Latvia is not mentioned – Philippe Hirschhorn.

    • Olassus says:

      Julian Rachlin is (also) from Vilnius.

    • M2N2K says:

      According to all reliable biographers, Jascha Heifetz was born in Vilno (or Vilnius) – not in Kaunas. The reason Hirschhorn’s name was not mentioned is obvious: only living musicians are named in this post.

    • M2N2K says:

      According to all of his biographies known to me, Jascha Heifetz was born in Vilno – not in Kaunas. The obvious reason for not including Philip Hirshhorn is that this post mentions living musicians only.

      • sandy says:

        exactly! Those who misbehave so badly, having died at 50, should not be mentionned anywhere

        • M2N2K says:

          Who said anything about “should”? The post by NK was clearly about living musicians only. Otherwise, I would be among the first to insist that PH’s name must be mentioned. He was a tremendous violinist and his Solo Sonata by Bartok still sounds in my ears nearly four decades after I heard him play it. But NL has chosen to talk about living musicians only here and that is all there is to it.

  • John says:

    Well… this month alone Justina Gringyte is singing Carmen in London, Jurgita Adomonyte is singing Melisande in Cardiff, Ausrine Stundyte is singing Leonore in Florence and Edgaras Montvidas is rehearsing Belmonte at Glyndebourne… And that’s just the first four Lithuanian singers who came to mind…

  • Takis says:

    They shine at basket ball. No time for music.

  • Novagerio says:

    Jascha Heifetz was born into a Polish-Lithuanian Jewish family in Vilno, then part of the Russian Empire.

  • E.Banionyte says:

    Is this news? Is this editorial? Why race-baiting? Why invite religious, ethnic, racial comments? This is offensive, bigoted and racist attitude ungrateful Brits display towards those who work in their stead for too little money.
    Lithuanian musicians?
    What about Violeta Urmana?
    Lukas Geniušas?
    Julian Rachlin?
    Sondeckis, Rubackit….

    • Stick from Heaven says:

      Oh, Lord. The Brits…what a bunch of self-centered bigots spilling venom in Europe since the Middle Ages.
      Is it really all there is to keep around the viewership of Slipped Disc?

  • Malcolm james says:

    Also all of your list, with the exception of Maisky, are ethnic Latvians, who make up less than 60% of the population.

    • M2N2K says:

      With a fully Jewish father and a half-Swedish mother, Gidon Kremer can hardly be called “ethnic Latvian” either.

    • Peter says:

      There is no latvian ethnicity. Basically all Europeans are one ethnicity. Latvia is a country, Latvian is a language. Why people in the 21st century still get stuck with outdated and scientifically disproven concepts of race and pseudo-ethnical divisions is beyond me. Well, people are brainwashed to believe in these divisions, “divide et impera”.

      • M2N2K says:

        If you disagree with the word “ethnic” in this context, feel free to suggest an alternative, but in real world people’s roots still matter and the point made by “malcolm james” here is easily understood by well-informed readers.

  • Anon says:

    Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla, born in Lithuania is currently the assistant conductor of the LA Philharmonic.

  • V.Lind says:

    Al Jolson.

  • V.Lind says:

    Al Jolson

  • Ellingtonia says:

    As a regular visitor to Vilnius for the last nine years I have attended a number of performances by Lietuvos Nacionalinis Simfoninis Orkestra at the Philharmoinic Hall under the baton of Juozas Domarkas, Artistic Director and Chief Conductor as well as a number of guest conductors. I have heard excellent performances of Bruckner and Lutoslawski and converted to Elgar’s The Music Makers with some magnificent singing form the soloists and in particular the Kauno Valstybinis Choras who sang in perfect English.
    Virtually ever concert I have been to has been full with a very broad age range in attendance and the quality of the music making is excellent (The Bruckner 4 under Domarkas was outstanding). They may not be the Berlin Philharmonic but they are an excellent orchestra and maintain the cultural heritage of a country of just over 3 million people.
    I also saw a magnificent performance of Madam Butterfly at the National Opera and again the hall was packed.
    There are excellent musicians in Lithuania (as well as opera singers) but why they don’t get more international exposure is a mystery to me.
    Perhaps it is something to do with geography as whenever I tell someone I have been to Lithuania the usual response is “where is that?”
    Perhaps they are a little off the “beaten track.”

  • Vojtech says:

    Interesting. But how many of these does speak Latvian? I would guess the younger generation does, but I doubt people like Jansons, Kremer and Maisky do. In Soviet days, it could be totally random where people ended up. Many of these are Jewish and saw the opportunity to pick up a Latvian passport after 1991, when they realized that would save them some hours otherwise thrown away in various embassies.

    That’s not to say it’s not an impressive list!

  • M2N2K says:

    Other notable Lithuanian-born musicians: Balys Dvarionas, Joseph Achron, Leopold Godowski, Alexander Schneider, David Geringas.

    • sandy says:

      hmmm, what about “living musicians only”?

      • M2N2K says:

        That was a choice made by the blog’s host for this post, but not by me for my comments. In fact, his point is emphasized by the fact evident in my comment that there used to be some great musicians coming from Lithuania, but, as he justifiably wonders, for some reason it does not happen anymore.

      • M2N2K says:

        That was a choice made by the blog’s host for this post, but not by me for my comments. In fact, his point is emphasized by the fact evident in my comment that there used to be some great musicians coming from Lithuania, but, as he justifiably wonders, for some reason it does not happen anymore, while there is no such problem in neighboring Baltic countries of comparable size.

  • Eric Koenig says:

    Cesar Cui, one of the five “Kuchka” musicians and author of the infamous “Conservatory in Hell” review of the world premiere of Sergei Rakhmaninov’s Symphony #1 in d minor, Op. 13 (during the performance of which he was said to have sat “shrugging his shoulders and shaking his head”), which precipitated a severe depression on Rakhmaninov’s part for several years (BOO! HISS!), was Lithuanian.

  • Branimir says:

    Nelsons and Skride are tonight in my town, Zagreb, Croatia. With the CBSO, of course. I will host the post-concert talk with Baiba Skride and David Gregory. The question you posted here was in my mind for days. (Well, not about Lithuania, but about evident excellence richness of Latvian music culture.)

  • Branimir says:

    Yesterday night they both, Skride and Nilsens, shined with the CBSO here in Zagreb. (Mozart Violin Concerto nr. 4 + Bruckner 7th). I had a privilege to host the postconcert interview with Skride and David Gregory (Nilsens declined to participate, but he said enough conducting!). Skride’s answer about obviously very high level of music culture and education in Latvia was as usual: they are singing nation, singing and songs are in their blood, therefore extremely high number of children go to music school, it is considered to be essential part of their intellectual and emotional education and development as human beings. That’s why the music is for so many of them very natural way of expression.
    Just as the CBSO is playing such an important role in the cultural life of their city. David Gregory decided to become a violinist the moment he heard violin playing as a six year old boy when a CBSO musician came to demonstrate it in his school. In a month, he said, he will go back to that very same school to play violin for the next generation of Birmingham kids. It is, indeed, one of the most beautiful stories about a city and its orchestra. Respect!
    (And yes, they still don’t know who will succeed Nilsens in Birmingham. Also, I’ve met a musician with very tight friendly connections with some of the Berliners, and he told me what he heard that the orchestra was actually divided between Thielemann and Nilsens, with most of the strings for the former, and the rest for the latter one.)

  • Saul Davis says:

    Because the Jewish population emigrated or was murdered.