It is 1996, Mariss Jansons is in the middle of conducting La Bohème at the Oslo Opera when he suffers a heart attack; but in spite of this, he fights his way back to life. Something his father Arvids was unable to do twelve years earlier, having died on the conductor’s podium during a concert.
Mariss Jansons’ musical development is influenced not only by his father; since his mother is a singer, Mariss practically grows up at the opera, knows all the pieces inside out, dances in the kitchen at home, and plays orchestra with building blocks and buttons.
However, his life begins in dramatic circumstances; his mother is Jewish and gives birth to her son in hiding during the Second World War. After Mariss turns thirteen, the family moves to what was then known as Leningrad; the shy Latvian teenager who hardly speaks a word of Russian is heartbroken at having to leave Riga, but soon learns to love the flourishing musical metropolis; to this day, he feels himself at home in Saint Petersburg.
The persistent and humble perfectionist, whose parents intended him to become a violinist, knew from an early age that he wanted nothing more than to conduct. “It’s my profession, but also what I love. And it is this love that prevails,” he says, and conducts each concert like it were his last.
1956 moves to Leningrad, where he studies violin, piano, and conducting at the legendary Leningrad Conservatory
1969 studies with Swarowsky and Karajan in Vienna
1971 first prize at the conducting competition of the Karajan Foundation in Berlin
Positions as principal conductor: 1979-2000 Oslo Philharmonic, 1997-2004 Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, 2004-2015 Concertgebouw Amsterdam
Starting in 2003, director of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus; since then, subscriptions have more than doubled, and Jansons has fought for years for a suitable concert hall, which is now actually going to be built
Guest conductor of many renowned orchestras, including the Vienna Philharmonic, with whom he has already led three New Year’s Concerts (2006, 2012, and 2016)
Countless awards and prizes, including the so-called “Nobel Prize of Music,” the Ernst von Siemens Award
Did you know?
At the age of eight, Jansons wants to become a professional soccer player, and turns out to be very talented at the sport; but his parents, themselves musicians, succeed in preventing this. The maestro is still a soccer fan to this day.
Jansons does not see his childhood full of hard work and little freedom as a disadvantage. He believes comfort is dangerous and adds, “If life is smooth and simple, we don’t learn much. Anyone who wants to become a musician has got to toil and sweat.”
The sixteen-year-old Jansons came to Vienna for the first time as part of the exchange program “Conductors for Ballerinas.” Russian conductors were permitted to attend the Vienna Academy for a year, and Viennese dancers - Leningrad’s Vaganova Academy.
He is not permitted to accept an assistant position in the West, which is entailed by the Karajan Award; an angry letter from Karajan to the Minister of Culture does not help.
Even when he is about to take on his first position as principal conductor - of the Oslo Philharmonic - in 1979, he has to overcome quite a few obstacles; he is not permitted at first to work abroad for more than 90 days per year or to travel to the same country twice in the same year.
His second wife Irina is a doctor and looks after her husband’s fragile health; she attends nearly every concert and forbids him from conducting La Bohème ever again (the work he was performing when he had a heart attack).
He loves fast cars, especially German ones.
When asked, “Mariss, what have you seen of the world?” the well-travelled musician would answer: faces and musical scores.