Renowned conductor Mariss Jansons has died. Born January 14, 1943, Jansons passed away on November 30, 2019 of heart disease in his home in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Jansons lived with a known heart condition for a number of years, and suffered a heart attack while conducting La bohème in 1996 in Oslo. This past summer, he was forced to cancel a string of concert appearances due to his health, and collapsed at the podium in from of the Vienna Philharmonic earlier in 2019. He was 76 years old.
His career spanned the globe, and included the post of music director of the Oslo Philharmonic from 1973 to 2000, and of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra from 1997 to 2004. Jansons also served as Chief Conductor of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra from 2003, and in 2004 added the title of Chief Conductor of Amsterdam’s Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, a dual role he held until 2015.
Jansons was born in Riga, Latvia, to a Jewish mother hiding from the authorities during the Nazi occupation. His father Arvīds Jansons was also a conductor. Mariss Jansons studied in St. Petersburg, and with the Leningrad Philharmonic as assistant to Yevgeny Mravinsky. Later, he worked with Hans Swarowsky in Vienna, and with Herbert von Karajan in Salzburg. He won second prize in von Karajan’s conducting competition in 1971, and the renowned Austrian conductor wanted Jansons to work with him in Berlin as his assistant. The Soviet authorities, however, intercepted the communication, and Jansons never got the invitation.
After a stint as Assistant Conductor of the Leningrad Philharmonic, Jansons took on his first major post as Music Director of the Oslo Philharmonic in 1979. He stayed there until 2000, when he resigned over the city’s refusal to deal with what he felt were substandard acoustics in the Oslo Concert Hall. Along with other posts, Jansons was a regular guest conductor with the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics, and the London Symphony Orchestra, among others.
His musical legacy endures in a number of noteworthy recordings, including a live recording of the Beethoven symphony cycle with the Bavarian RSO that incorporated contemporary responses to each symphony. His early recordings for Chandos, including a Tchaikovsky cycle with the Oslo Philharmonic, helped to establish his reputation. He also recorded extensively under the EMI label, focusing on the work of Russian composers, notably Shostakovich. His Bruckner and Mahler symphonic recordings under Royal Concertgebouw’s own label are also well regarded. Jansons won a Gramophone Award in 2004 for his recording of the Grieg and Schumann piano concertos with Leif Ove Andsnes and the Berlin Philharmonic on the EMI label.
His work as an orchestral trainer was also noted by critics, particularly with the Bavarian RSO. Jansons last visited Canada in 2016, when he conducted the Bavarian RSO in Montreal in a program of Shostakovich and Korngold.