Gidon Kremer's technical brilliance, inward but passionate playing, and commitment to both new works and new interpretations of old works have made him one of the most respected violinists in the world today.
Kremer was born on February 27, 1947, in Riga, Latvia, then part of the Soviet Union. His parents were both professional violinists (his father, a Jew, survived the Holocaust), and, as with so many virtuosi, Kremer's gift was apparent almost immediately after a violin was put in his hands. His grandfather, Georg Bruckner, concertmaster of the Riga Opera, is credited with having guided the development of Kremer's formidable talent. Kremer won the first prize of the Latvian Republic at age 16, and entered the Moscow Conservatory to study under the legendary violinist David Oistrakh, who eventually offered him a position as an assistant after he graduated. By that time, however, Kremer had already won numerous violin competitions (most notably the 1970 Tchaikovsky Competition), and his star was rising as a soloist. Kremer had been denied permission to travel abroad, but was finally allowed to leave the country in 1975, and became a sensation in the West, when the German conductor Herbert von Karajan in 1976 proclaimed Kremer the greatest violinist in the world, after recording the Brahms violin concerto with him.
A remarkably versatile player, Kremer's repertoire encompasses the standard Baroque, Classical and Romantic literature, as well as new works by composers such as Stockhausen, Henze, Nono, and Adams. Always a champion of the new and the rare, he has rhetorically asked "Why ride the same old warhorses to success?" He also enjoys thumbing his nose at conventional wisdom, regularly creating radical reinterpretations of the classics, as in his 1980 recording of the Beethoven Violin Concerto with somewhat bizarre cadenzas by Schnittke. He disdains virtuosity for virtuosity's sake, but is nonetheless one of the most technically proficient violinists in the world. His playing tends toward a thoughtful austerity rather than the extroversion of a Jascha Heifetz, but when he is in top form he is a mesmerizing performer.
Kremer has kept apartments around the world, but became particularly fond of the Austrian town of Lockenhaus. He founded the Lockenhaus Chamber Music Festival there in 1981, but ended the festival in 1990, deciding to stop before the task became too exhausting.
In the late 1990s, he created the punningly named Kremerata Baltica with a group of young Latvian players; the group's recordings of Pärt and Astor Piazzolla placed them out in front of two of the hottest trends of the 20th century's end. His recordings with the group have won numerous international awards, including a Grammy in 2002. In the early 2010s, Kremer withdrew from several high-profile appearances, citing weariness with the machinery of musical celebrity. His recording career, however, has possibly become even more prolific, encompassing chamber music, recordings of mainstream repertory, and continued exploration with Kremerata Baltica, on the ECM label, of contemporary music from the Slavic countries, his native Baltic region, and the Russian sphere. He has devoted a pair of albums to Shostakovich's protégé Mieczyslaw Weinberg; one was honored with a Grammy nomination in 2015, and a second, devoted to the composer's chamber symphonies, appeared in 2017. Kremer's more mainstream recordings, such as a 2012 album devoted to Vivaldi's Four Seasons, have appeared on Deutsche Grammophon and Decca.