Baiba Skride has been praised in Bachtrack reviews for her “sweet and cultured tone”, her “rich timbre” and her “earthy and resolute” playing. From Mozart to Mendelssohn, Sibelius to Szymanowski, we’ve reviewed Skride performing violin concertos all around the globe. She was born in Riga, Latvia, just like her great compatriot Gidon Kremer, whom she queued to hear when she was a young player. We ask her why Latvia seems to produce so many exceptional musicians, about her concert day routine and about her musical inspirations.

Baiba Skride © Marco Borggreve
Baiba Skride
© Marco Borggreve
You come from a musical family in Riga. How did you take your first steps into playing violin? When did you develop your love for music?

I was born into a very musical family, so my sisters and I started going to music school very early on. When I was three I started solfege, and violin at four. Our grandmother taught us a song when we were toddlers and that was the beginning of all our musical paths. We were singing together, later starting to play instruments. My father was a choral conductor, so we also sang in several choirs.

For a population of just two million people, Latvia produces some remarkable musicians. How do you explain this?

I think it has a lot to do with the general love of music. We have a very rich history of folk songs, a choral tradition and everyone is just very proud of their Latvian heritage. Also the school system brought to us during the Soviet times gave young talented musicians a more effective way to get through their school years. At least, in my time if you were accepted into one of the special music schools, the music lessons and normal ones were combined in a day, and after a certain age we didn't have to complete certain subjects and could concentrate a lot more on our practising. The main focus was always your musical education, which of course made it easier practically but also more competitive, so you wanted to get better. Of course we also had great teachers, and as a child that's the most important thing!

But generally in Latvia we are very musical people, there are so many choirs, so many concerts every day. In any kind of a gathering, at some point people will start to sing, so I think music is very deep in our souls!

Who were your musical inspirations as you were building your career?

When I grew up in Latvia, we had more access to the recordings of great Soviet artists rather than western players, so I grew up listening to David Oistrakh, Leonid Kogan, Oleg Kagan etc and, of course, every time Gidon Kremer would come to Riga, I would be the first one in the concert hall! Later on, I got to know Nathan Milstein's recordings, Isaac Stern, Itzhak Perlman, then the younger ones – Vengerov, Repin, Zimmerman. So I've always tried to listen to as many different interpretations as I could.

You championed the Nielsen concerto in last year’s 150th anniversary. What is it you enjoy about this concerto? What are its challenges?

Nielsen's Violin Concerto is quite unique in its language and also its form. The first movement is immense, almost like a work on its own which presents a difficulty of getting the whole piece under one big line. The orchestration is quite large as well, so you have to find a good balance. And since it is not very well known, it just takes a little time for everyone to get used to the language he uses. But it is such a rich work, very colourful and diverse. And so inspiring!

What is your routine on the day of a concert? How much rehearsal do you undertake? Is there such thing as “too much” rehearsal?

That really depends on a type of concert I would be doing. If playing with orchestra, there is usually a very steady rehearsal schedule, one rehearsal the day before, a general rehearsal on the day of the concert and then the concert on the evening. If doing chamber music, it mainly depends on everyone's availability, how well you know each other or whether you have played the programme before.

The thing you figure out over the years is how much practising or rehearsal time you feel comfortable with. There is no point in going crazy, let's say, just before a concert. Of course, you need some time for your head to get free and have some room for freedom. But that is different for everyone and you just find out what works the best for you.

You perform Peteris Vasks at Wigmore Hall and the Prague Spring Festival shortly. Which contemporary composers do you particularly enjoy performing?

Vasks is certainly one I perform a lot, I love his music. I play more and more contemporary music. I love the Violin Concerto by Sofia Gubaidulina, which I play regularly. I have some commissions coming up in the next years, and of course I play the older "contemporary" works by Bartók, Stravinsky and Shostakovich quite a lot.

A musician’s life often involves living out of a suitcase. What do you miss most about Latvia when you’re touring?

Well, I have been living more than half of my life in Germany, but of course you are right, I basically live out of my suitcase. But what I miss the most is the warmth of Latvian people, the singing everywhere... and Latvian pickles. I have not yet found some which are as good anywhere in the world!