In an announcement that set the classical music world buzzing, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) has appointed 29-year-old Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla its next music director. What does the hire mean for classical music?
For one thing, it's a positive development for gender equity in classical music, which continues to sorely lag — particularly at the highest levels. Grazinyte-Tyla will be only the fourth woman to lead a major classical music organization in Great Britain; two of her predecessors in that respect were Americans, Marin Alsop and JoAnn Falletta.
Grazinyte-Tyla is Lithuanian, but she comes most recently from an American appointment: she's assistant conductor under Gustavo Dudamel at the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Her age would be surprising at another orchestra, but the CBSO has a history of hiring young talent.
In fact, Grazinyte-Tyla is stepping into very big shoes in that respect. All three of her predecessors were hired in their 20s or 30s and went on to become major stars, most of all Simon Rattle, who left the CBSO in 1998 and went straight to the Berlin Philharmonic.
Grazinyte-Tyla comes well-recommended — by Dudamel, by critics (in 2014, The New Yorker called her "a new star of the podium"), and most critically, by Birmingham players and audiences after her recent tryout concerts. She has a particular background in choral music, so she says she's looking forward to working on choral projects including operas.
Really, then, what's surprising about the hire? Nothing, really — and the fact that a talented 29-year-old woman is now considered a perfectly logical choice to lead a major European orchestra is, perhaps, what's really exciting to know.