Though she isn't yet 30 and has made only a limited number of professional forays outside of Europe, conductor Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla is already creating a stir in the classical music world for her buoyant podium style and intense approach to demanding symphonic works.
The Lithuanian conductor will appear at Walt Disney Concert Hall on March 1 to lead a Los Angeles Philharmonic program of music by Mozart, Stravinsky and Beethoven. In August, she conducted a concert of Brahms and Mahler at the Hollywood Bowl and is an assistant conductor with the orchestra.
Unlike most maestros, who study an instrument before transitioning to the baton, Mirga — as she is becoming known — started in the world of choral music.
The daughter of two musicians, Grazinyte-Tyla went to school in Vilnius and studied voice. "As a teenager, I thought singing might be an interesting option," she recalled. "Then in the last years at school we started to work with a choir and orchestra. I was loving it — being with the music and people at the same time."
She later studied choral music at the University of Music and Fine Arts in Graz, Austria. "I didn't have the idea to go that much toward the orchestra and its repertoire," she said. "Then I had some professors who said you should do that too."
Eventually, she decided to switch to orchestral conducting. "I chose the field that was less known to me at the time. I want to concentrate on that and see how much that could become my homeland as much as vocal music and choir was.
"To do both very well is just difficult," she continued. "There's a big difference about how a choir works. I can't concentrate on both at the same time."
Soon, Grazinyte-Tyla began accumulating prizes and conducting engagements. She was a Dudamel Fellow with the L.A. Phil in the 2012-13 season and has led concerts with numerous European ensembles. She has also been appointed music director of the Salzburg Landestheater.
"I'm still developing my style," she said. "I'm just interested in continuing to explore how clear a conductor should be — how much organizing does an orchestra need, how much inspiration should a conductor give? It's a very interesting subject, and you're never done researching."
In her relatively brief time with the L.A. Phil, Grazinyte-Tyla has already had a taste of the sometimes breakneck speed at which major orchestras work. The conductor filled in for an ailing Ludovic Morlot just one week into her fellowship in 2012.
"I had two hours to prepare, maybe less," she recalled. "In your stomach, you have storms going on, without having done any rehearsals. It's really an adventure."
Conducting at the Phil is not a bad career move, it seems. A previous understudy, Frenchman Lionel Bringuier, stayed on for six years and now leads the well-regarded Tonhalle Orchestra in Zürich.
L.A. is the first American city Grazinyte-Tyla ever visited. "I have a cousin — she is three years younger than me, and she married an American guy who is living in L.A.," she said.
As for her personal life, the conductor said she has "no kids, and I am not married. But I'm not single." She said she makes her home in Heidelberg, Germany, where she lives with her boyfriend, a percussionist in a local orchestra.
The March concert at Disney Hall will feature some crowd pleasers, including Beethoven's Symphony No. 7. "It's quite a big program. And there's not that much rehearsal [time]," she said.
No pressure for a young conductor who seems poised to conquer even bigger, greater challenges.