Christopher Morley speaks to violinist Baibe Skride about life at the CBSO and growing up with conductor Andris Nelsons.
Let’s hope that the violinist Baibe Skride and CBSO conductor Andris Nelsons will be talking to each other as they rehearse for next week’s concerts – something they never did when they were at school together back home in Latvia.
“Andris was in my sister’s class, and since it was a couple of years above mine, we didn’t really have much contact then, in school you didn’t really dare to talk to older boys,” Baiba tells me.
“But our families knew each other through work and we always heard of each other. And I will always remember the first time I played with Andris as a conductor, it was in Riga, many years ago. I had to jump in for Gidon Kremer with the Beethoven Violin concerto.
‘‘It was such an experience to hear the orchestral part of that concerto so beautifully worked, so many details I had never heard before. it was an eye-opener.”
Baiba holds a very important place in the cultural life of Birmingham as she was the soloist in the first-ever CD recording Nelsons made with the CBSO in late September 2007 when he and the orchestra fell in love with each other. What are her memories of that occasion?
“I am so happy and lucky to have a good relationship with this wonderful orchestra. Of course also because of Andris Nelsons. He is such an amazing conductor and person.
“I remember the recording very well, it was very intense musically, because we didn’t have much time, but it was so much fun. Everyone was so engaged and giving their best. I was amazed by how quickly the orchestra worked, responded to everything and how musical they were. And already at that time it seemed that the orchestra liked Andris, so I am so happy that it worked out so fantastically for everyone.
“And for me personally this recording was special as well, because I was pregnant with my son then and I think since he heard the Tchaikovsky concerto very much during the recording, it would calm him when he was a baby, he would always become quiet and calm when he heard it later on.”
Baiba is enthusiastic about her working relationship with Nelsons.
“We enjoy very much working together. For me it is very special, it doesn’t matter which repertoire we do, I’m always certain it will be great with Andris. It is such a relaxing feeling to know that you can trust the conductor 1,000 per cent.”
Another strong working relationship Baiba enjoys is with her pianist sister Lauma, even if they do sometimes disagree.
“If we disagree about something then usually we just try to play that particular piece several times until we find common ground. We are sometimes stubborn so if we start to talk about disagreeing it might not end peacefully.
‘‘We have learned that most of the time the music itself takes us in the right direction.”
The great violinist Kremer has given his own wonderful Stradivarius instrument on loan to Baiba, a heartwarming instance of comradeship and solidarity between musicians.
“For the last nine years I had been playing violins from the Nippon Music Foundation, the last one was a Stradivarius “Wilhelmj” from 1725,’’ she said. “By chance I met a violin maker who asked Kremer if he knew where I could find a violin, and he offered me his Stradivarius.”
So many wonderful musicians – composers, conductors, instrumentalists and singers – are emerging from the Baltics. Does Baiba have any explanation for this?
“I think there are several reasons. One is certainly the possibility of early musical education. In every little town there is a free music school and there are still special schools designed for the more promising children where normal school is combined with special musical education. This saves time for practising and also helps children to be motivated because everyone does music.
“Another reason I think is that young people in Latvia want to achieve something. Musicians have a hard life, most have to work two or three jobs just to survive. But I think that motivates people to work harder and get better.
“One more very important reason is the Latvian music tradition. We grow up singing and it is for most Latvians the most natural thing in the world.
Almost everybody I know sings in a choir just because they like it. I think singing is the foundation of a musical feeling and understanding so we Latvians are very lucky that way.”
* Baiba Skride plays Mozart’s Violin Concerto no.4 with the CBSO, Andris Nelsons conducting on November 2 (7.30pm), and November 3 (2.15pm). Details on 0121 780 3333