The violinist and conductor, Gidon Kremer, was born in Riga, Latvia, which was then part of the Soviet Union. His father was Jewish, and had survived the Holocaust. His mother had Latvian-Swedish origins. His parents were both professional violinists, and, as with so many virtuosi, Kremer's gift was apparent almost immediately after a violin was put in his hands. He began playing the violin at the age of 4, receiving instruction from his father and his grandfather, Georg Bruckner, concertmaster of the Riga Opera, who is credited with having guided the development of Kremer's formidable talent. Gidon went on to study at the Riga School of Music, where his teacher was mainly Voldemar Sturestep. He won the first prize of the Latvian Republic at age 16, and in 1965 entered the Moscow Conservatory to study under the legendary violinist David Oistrakh. David Oistrakh taught Kremer for 8 years, and eventually offered him a position as an assistant after he graduated. By that time, however, Kremer had already won numerous violin competitions In 1967, he won 3rd prize at the Queen Elisabeth Music Competition in Brussels; then, in 1969, 2nd prize at the Montreal International Violin Competition (shared with Oleh Krysa) followed by first prize at the Paganini Competition in Genoa. Most notably was his winning of the first prize in 1970 at the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, which he won over the also extraordinary Vladimir Spivakov, and his star was rising as a soloist. Indeed, the teacher sometimes served as the student's accompanist, for David Oistrakh was launching a conducting career at the time.
Around that time, Gidon Kremer was denied permission to travel abroad. His first concert in the West was in Viennas Musikverein in the year 1970, where he played with Thomas Schippers and Wiener Symphoniker. Finally allowed to leave the country in 1975, he debuted in Germany at the festival Bachwoche Ansbach and in the Berlin Philharmonie in 1975 and in London under André Previn in 1976, followed by appearances at the Salzburg Festival in 1976 and in New York City and in Japan in 1977. Kremer 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. In 1980 he left the USSR and settled in Germany. 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, with a focus on new and unconventional programming, but ended the festival in 1990, deciding to stop before the task became too exhausting.
Gidon Kremer has established a world-wide reputation as one of the most original and compelling artists of his generation. He has appeared on virtually every major concert stage with the most celebrated orchestras of Europe and America. Also he has collaborated with today's foremost conductors, including Claudio Abbado, Leonard Bernstein, Christoph Eschenbach, Valery Gergiev, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Herbert von Karajan, James Levine, Lorin Maazel, Sir Neville Marriner, Zubin Mehta, and Riccardo Muti, and among others.
In 1996 Gidon Kremer founded the Kremerata Baltica chamber orchestra, composed of young players from the Baltic region. The group's recordings of Arvo 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. He was also among the artistic directors of the festival "Art Projekt 92" in Munich and the director of the Musiksommer Gstaad festival (1996-1997) and Basel ("les musiques") in Switzerland (2002-2006). In 2007-2008, he and Kremerata Baltica toured with the classical musical comedy duo Igudesman & Joo. He also made regular appearances at the Verbier Festival until the summer of 2011, when he withdrew, issuing a public complaint of excessive hype.
Gidon Kremer is known for his wide-ranging repertoire, extending from Antonio Vivaldi and J.S. Bach, through Classical and Romantic literature, to contemporary composers. His 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. He has championed the work of composers such as Ástor Piazzolla, George Enescu, Alban Berg, Sergei Prokofiev, Dmitri Shostakovich, Béla Bartók, Philip Glass, Alfred Schnittke, Leonid Desyatnikov, Alexander Raskatov, Alexander Voustin, Lera Auerbach, Pēteris Vasks, Arvo Pärt, Victoria Poleva, Valentyn Sylvestrov, Victor Kissine, Mieczysław Weinberg, Arthur-Vincent Lourié, Steven Kovacs Tickmayer and John Adams. Among the many composers who have dedicated works to him are Sofia Gubaidulina (Offertorium) and Luigi Nono (La lontananza nostalgica utopica futura), Alfred Schnittke, Giya Kancheli, Victor Kissine. It would be fair to say that no other soloist of his international stature has done as much for contemporary composers in the past 30 years. As a violinist, Kremer has never settled for the status quo. Always a champion of the new and the rare, he has rhetorically asked "Why ride the same old warhorses to success?"
His partners in performance include Valery Afanassiev, Martha Argerich, Oleg Maisenberg, Vadim Sakharov, Mischa Maisky, Yo-Yo Ma, Clemens Hagen, Giedrė Dirvanauskaitė, Yuri Bashmet, Kim Kashkashian, Thomas Zehetmayr, Tatiana Grindenko.
An exceptionally prolific recording artist, Gidon Kremer has made more than 100 albums. He has recorded for the Deutsche Grammophon label since 1978; and also for Philips Records, as well as Decca Records, ECM and Nonesuch Records. Many of his albums brought him prestigious international awards and prizes in recognition of his exceptional interpretative powers. These include the "Grand Prix du Disque", "Deutscher Schallplattenpreis", the "Ernst-von-Siemens Musikpreis", the "Bundesverdienstkreuz", the "Premio dell'Accademia Musicale Chigiana", the "Triumph Prize 2000" (Moscow) and in 2001 the "Unesco Prize". In February 2002 he and the Kremerata Baltica were awarded with the Grammy for the Nonesuch recording "After Mozart" in the category "Best small Ensemble Performance". The same recording received Germany's ECHO prize in 2002. Kremer also played the role of Paganini in Peter Schamoni's 1983 movie, Frühlingssinfonie ("Spring Symphony") and was the music director of the movie Le joueur du violon by Charles Van Damme.
Gidon Kremer is in addition a gifted writer. He is the author of four books in German that reflect his artistic philosophy: Oase Lockenhaus: 15 Jahre Kammermusikfest Musica 1981-1996 (Residenz Verlag GmbH, 1996), Kindheitssplitter (Piper Verlag GmbH, 1997), Obertöne (Residenz Verlag, 1997) and Zwischen Welten: Mit 25 Abbildungen (Piper Verlag GmbH, 2004). Kindheitssplitter has been translated in Russian, Latvian, French and Japanese. . He is also the author of three books, published in German, which reflect his artistic pursuits.
Gidon Kremer enjoys thumbing his nose at conventional wisdom, regularly creating radical reinterpretations of the classics. Sometimes these have created controversy, as in his 1980 recording of the L.v. Beethovens Violin Concerto with somewhat bizarre cadenzas by Schnittke. Whatever critics mey say, Kremer's performances are never boring. 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.
His honours and awards include: Ernst von Siemens Music Prize (1972); Léonie Sonning Music Prize (1989; Denmark); Latvian Great Music Award (1995, 2004; Latvia); Officer of the Order of the Three Stars (March 12, 1997; Latvia); Lithuanian Great Duke Gediminas Medal (2000; Lithuania); IMC-UNESCO International Music Prize (2001, performers category, jointly awarded to Oumou Sangaré); Rolf Schock Prize (2008; Sweden); Grande Ufficiale Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana (December 23, 2011; Italy).
Gidon Kremer plays a "Nicola Amati", dated from 1641