The Latvian conductor Mariss Jansons has died at home in St Petersburg at the age of 76. He was the Chief Conductor of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, a post he'd held since 2003 and for over a decade alongside being Chief Conductor of Amsterdam’s Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (2004-15).
Born in Riga, Jansons’s father was the conductor Arvīds Jansons. He studied in St Petersburg, working as Yevgeny Mravinsky’s assistant at the Leningrad Philharmonic. He entered the city’s Conservatory and studied the piano alongside conducting. He also worked in Vienna with Hans Swarowsky and in Salzburg with Herbert von Karajan, in whose conducting competition he took second place in 1971. (Karajan wanted Jansons to become his assistant in Berlin but the Soviet authorities ensured that Jansons never received the invitation.)
His first major post was as Assistant Conductor of the Leningrad Philharmonic, and his first orchestra the Oslo Philharmonic whose Music Director he became in 1979. He resigned in 2000 in protest at the city’s unwillingness to address the problem with acoustics of the Oslo Concert Hall. In 1997 he became Principal Guest Conductor of the London Philharmonic and the same year was named Music Director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, a post he held until 2004.
His last two roles were with the Bavarian and Amsterdam orchestras, but he was a regular guest with the world’s greatest ensembles, the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics and the London Symphony Orchestra among them.
Jansons’s career coincided with the enormous boom in classical recordings, and he made a large number of CDs for Chandos (his Oslo Philharmonic Tchaikovsky cycle not only established his reputation but also contributed to Chandos’s eminence in the classical recording field) and EMI for whom he recorded extensively, embracing the primarily the Russian repertoire. He also recorded for the Royal Concertgebouw's own label (including Bruckner and Mahler symphonies) and from his BRSO era many live recordings were released by BR-Klassik including a very fine Beethoven cycle where each symphony was juxtaposed with a contemporary response. He won a Gramophone Award in 2004 for the Grieg and Schumann piano concertos with Leif Ove Andsnes and the Berlin Philharmonic (EMI).
A superb orchestral trainer, Jansons's Bavarian RSO was praised in Gramophone by Richard Osborne when reviewing the Beethoven cycle: 'As an ensemble, Jansons’s Bavarian orchestra is in a similar league to the prewar BBC SO under Toscanini or the Berlin Philharmonic at the time of Karajan’s celebrated 1961-62 cycle. The string playing is of superlative quality, its transparency enhanced by the dispensations favoured by Jansons: antiphonally divided violins, double basses to the left, cellos in front of the podium, violas to the right.'