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Mariss Jansons. (1943-2019)

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« on: December 06, 2019, 02:41:43 pm »

 Mariss Jansons (1943 - 2019)
by Chris O'Reilly

Mariss Jansons

The Latvian conductor Mariss Jansons died at home in St Petersburg last night after a long struggle with a heart condition. He was 76.

Jansons was born in Riga in 1943, whilst his mother (the Jewish mezzo Iraida Jansons) was in hiding after her father and brother were murdered by the Nazis; when the family were reunited after World War Two he received his first violin lessons from his father Arvīds, a conductor who had worked as assistant to Yvgeny Mravinsky and Kurt Sanderling at the Leningrad Philharmonic and later became principal guest conductor of the Hallé. Mariss enrolled at the Leningrad Conservatoire in his early teens, studying piano and conducting, and subsequently trained in Austria with Hans Swarowsky and Herbert von Karajan (whose invitation to Jansons to work as his assistant the Berliner Philharmoniker was intercepted by Soviet authorities).

Following a stint as Associate Conductor of the Leningrad Philharmonic, Jansons became Music Director of the Oslo Philharmonic in 1979, and remained in the position for over twenty years, eventually resigning after long-term friction regarding the poor acoustics of the Oslo Concert Hall. (Jansons would go on to campaign tirelessly for a new concert-hall in Munich during his tenure as Chief Conductor of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, a post which he held from 2003 until his death). During his time in Oslo, he made a huge number of recordings with EMI and Chandos, including the complete Tchaikovsky and Brahms symphonies, and music by Bartók, Stravinsky, Richard Strauss, Wagner and Sibelius. (It was during a return to Riga with the orchestra that Jansons first came across a young trumpeter by the name of Andris Nelsons, who stepped in for a performance of Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique at very short notice, and impressed the maestro so much that he became Jansons’s only private pupil).

Though Austro-German and Russian orchestral repertoire was the main focus of Jansons’s career, he also enjoyed considerable success in the opera-house, guesting regularly at Salzburg, the Dutch National Opera, and at home in Riga. In 1996, Jansons suffered a near-fatal heart attack whilst conducting a performance of La bohème in Oslo (twelve years after his father died on the podium with the Hallé in similar circumstances); he was subsequently fitted with a defibrillator and resumed a busy but carefully-paced career. The following year he was appointed musical director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, and in 2002 he succeeded Riccardo Chailly as Chief Conductor of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra; after taking up the BRSO job a year later, he stepped down from his position in Pittsburgh and divided his time between Amsterdam and Munich, recording extensively with both orchestras on their own labels. Highlights from his discography with the BRSO include a complete Beethoven cycle (interspersed with ‘reflections’ on each symphony by composers such as Jörg Widmann, Giya Kancheli and Raminta Šerkšnytė), a ‘superlative performance’ (Gramophone) of Rachmaninov’s The Bells which was nominated for a Grammy this year, and a hugely acclaimed recording of Tchaikovsky’s Pique Dame which won the complete recording category at the International Opera Awards in 2017 and was nominated for the both BBC Music Magazine and Gramophone Awards.

Jansons had taken a break from conducting over the summer for health reasons, but had a busy schedule planned for 2020, including concerts with the violinist Lisa Batiashvili, who was among the many artists who paid tribute to him today on social media; he is survived by his wife Irina and his daughter Ilona (a repetiteur at the Mariinsky Theatre) from his previous marriage. His many awards and honours include the Bavarian Order of Merit, the Royal Philharmonic Society Gold Medal in 2017, the Herbert von Karajan Prize at this year’s Salzburg Easter Festival, and the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Opus Klassik Awards this September.
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