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, which was then part of the Soviet Union. 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. His grandfather, Georg Bruckner, concertmaster of the Riga Opera, is credited with having guided the development of Kremer's formidable talent. He won the first prize of the Latvian Republic at age 16, and entered the Moscow Conservatory to study under the legendary violinist David Oistrakh.
Oistrakh taught Kremer for eight years, and 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, 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 Oistrakh was launching a conducting career at the time. Around that time, Kremer was denied permission to travel abroad. Finally allowed to leave the country in 1975, 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.
He eventually became one of the proudest advocates for the music of Russian and eastern European composers such as Alfred Schnittke, Sofia Gubaydulina, Giya Kancheli, and Arvo Pärt. 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.
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. 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?" 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 twentieth century's end. His recordings with the group have won numerous international awards, including a Grammy in 2002.
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 Beethoven 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.