LENOX — The first time Andris Nelsons and Baiba Skride performed together, he was 21 and she was 19. Their families knew each other — the fathers were both choral conductors — and Nelsons and Skride had gone to the same music school at the same time. But he was two years ahead of her and they barely knew each other.
They arrived late to an early start, you could say.
That initial collaboration was 20 years ago in Riga, their hometown. Skride played the Beethoven Violin Concerto with the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra under Nelsons. The debut launched a musical partnership that has taken them to orchestras around the world — most recently, the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood last Sunday, July 11, in the Sibelius Violin Concerto.
“It’s just an amazing connection to get with Andris,” Skride said. “I think we think the same way. I can trust him like a million percent. There’s never any question, and he’s been very loyal and very generous to me.”
“She’s one of my favorite soloists,” Nelsons said. “She is a wonderful, natural musician, a nice person.”
The fateful first collaboration, in 2000, almost didn’t happen. Skride recalls “jumping in” to play when the scheduled soloist canceled.
“I will never forget that day,” she said. She was impressed by how Nelsons worked with the orchestra. “A lot of time conductors, they don’t care that much about, let’s say, accompaniment. He was really, really working, and it was so amazing to see what he made out of that concerto.”
She added, “It felt so natural and so beautiful, and later on when Andris started to go to these really big orchestras he always took me with him as soloist, which was really generous of him — to Boston, to Berlin, to Leipzig, to here [Tanglewood]. I’ve experienced all these orchestras basically through him. So I’m very, very thankful in my career for his help.”
Nelsons introduced Skride to Boston and the BSO in 2013, a year before he officially became BSO music director. Under him, she made her Tanglewood debut in 2015 in Mozart’s Concerto No. 5 and returned in 2018 in Bernstein’s “Serenade (after Plato’s ‘Symposium’)”, bringing fellow members of her Skride Quartet with her for a chamber concert.
Beyond its technical difficulty, the Sibelius concerto poses a special challenge, Skride finds. The winding melody of the slow movement is so beautiful that you can’t let your emotions get in the way of the music, she said: “Just keep control when you’re playing.” (A video of Sunday’s performance will be available for streaming at www.bso/now.)
Poised onstage, Baiba Skride is animated in conversation. In an interview at Tanglewood, she glowingly described her love for her two sons, ages 13 and 8, and gratitude to her husband, Christian Mekle, who works in real estate but loves music, for “letting me have a career, plus having a family.” They live in Germany.
Skride started out playing the piano – “I loved it, because of the sound you could get out of it without practicing,” she once joked – but gave it up in favor of violin. She remembers her father’s community choir – he also had church choirs – from when she was growing up. It was a typical Latvian choir, she said, “really young kids to their grandparents. Everybody was together.”
She said music school was also typical, though in Europe as in America there’s been a decline in music education.
“In every little village there is a music school. And it’s just very normal for young kids to go to music school in the afternoons. And many of them are really good and have great teachers, and that’s how this music system still works.” Even if kids don’t become musicians, she said, music is “good for any kind of brain.”
The Skride Quartet consists of strings and piano, with Lauma Skride, a sister, as pianist. Fitting quartet rehearsals and concerts into the schedule requires tricky planning but chamber music is “absolutely necessary,” Baiba said. The intimacy with other musicians gives you confidence to stand before 100 in an orchestra, she said, and in chamber music you get to play “amazing repertory.”
Accompanying the BSO on its 2018 European tour, in which she played the Bernstein serenade, was another plus in her growth. It was a great bonding and learning experience “to see them like that every day and to play the same piece in different halls.” The two pursuits — solo and chamber — have enriched each other, she said.
A not-so-secret secret about this violinist: Like many other musicians, she doesn’t like to listen to her own recordings. She has moved on and hears things in the recordings she wishes she had done differently or better.
As an interview bonus, Skride explained the seemingly strange formation of Latvian names. Women’s names end in a or e, men’s in s. And there you have Baiba Skride and Andris Nelsons.