Deep sorrow: Mariss Jansons has died

Deep sorrow: Mariss Jansons has died


norman lebrecht

December 01, 2019

Mariss Jansons died last night at his home in St Petersburg.

He was 76.

The cause was a longstanding heart condition.

He had been ill frequently this year, collapsing in the Vienna Philharmonic podium and cancelling a Bavarian Radio concert at Carnegie Hall.

Mariss was a marvellous conductor, a sensitive man and a wonderful friend. The maestro with the sweetest smile.

Eternal rest. May his dear soul recline in peace.

Personal tributes here.

Son of the Latvian conductor Arvid Jansons and his Jewish wife, Araida, Mariss was born in hiding under the Nazi occupation and once shared with me his early forest memories.

While Arvid was assistant conductor of the Leningrad Philharmonic, Mariss memorised his musical library and conducted a trayful of matchsticks. Nobody ever matched his precision placing of orchestra musicians.

Held back by the Soviet authorities for having the wrong ethnic backgrounds, he was  eventually allowed out in the 1970s to Wales, where a stunning Tchanikovsky cycle received a national television broadcast, and to Oslo, where he became music director in 1979. His father Arvid died five years later in the north of England of a heart attack after conducting the Halle.

In 1996 Mariss suffered a near-fatal heart attack there while conducting Bohème in Oslo. Only the presence of a quickwitted doctor and the immediate proximity of a hospital saved his life.

He became music director in Pittsburgh the following year, revivifying the orchestra over half a decade until he wearied of transatlantic flights. From 2002 he headed the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, maintaining its rank as Germany’s finest, outside Berlin. He held a parallel position at the Concertgebouw from 2004 to 2014. His epic recordings include the Mahler and Shostakovich symphonies.

He leaves a daughter, Ilona, from his first marriage, along with his devoted second wife, Irina, who was never far from his side.

I will append some personal memories. We need, all of us, to take time to mourn this life-enhancing human being.


  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    A superb conductor, but so frail in the last few years. Still shocking news.

  • john humphreys says:

    Very sad. A terrible week for the arts.

  • George says:

    How terribly sad. And thank you to the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks for not letting him down but standing by him until the end, even if that meant a lot of re-scheduling. I am sure it meant the world to him.

  • erich says:

    Deepest sorrow. A wonderful human being, a wonderful musician and someone whose credo was musical communication and who never pushed himself forward at the expense the greater whole. My heart goes out to his truly wonderful wife Irina who has supported him in such a perfect way for so many years. The only positive aspect of all this is that future generations will still be able to benefit from Mariss’ art through the very large numbers of video and audio recordings which exist. Rest in peace, dearest Mariss.

  • Jimbo says:

    We knew he’d been ill but this is still Shocking nonetheless. Sad loss for music. RIP.

  • Ken says:

    What can I say? Yes, we need time.

  • Hilary says:

    Another bit of the biog, which I can only assume was something of a catalyst :

    Fond memories of his appearances in London inc.Bruckner 4 and Beethoven Eroica. Very lucid textures, and architectural control.

  • Olassus says:

    Still nothing at either or at 11 a.m. on Sunday morning.

    Either Slipped Disc has better sources or the Bavarians are asleep, or both.

  • John Rook says:

    Ouch, yes; this had been on the cards for a while. Condolences to his family.

  • Fan says:

    Deep condolences to the family. I saw him just a month ago in Paris. Looked so frail coming up on stage….but then when he started conducting, he was like a young boy again…..happy to have seen a legend with my own eyes….

  • Olassus says:

    Finally and posted at 11:40 a.m. — hours behind Slipped Disc.

  • Judy says:

    Indeed the conductor with the sweetest, and most of all sincere, smile. I consider myself very privileged for being his p.a. for many years. The best boss I ever had.

  • Ronald Valk says:

    Dear Irina, I am so sorry to hear that you’re dear Marris past away….don’t know what to say, my sincere condolences, and much power to handle this terrible loss for you all, lot’s of love Ronald xxx from Amsterdam

  • sycorax says:

    He will be missed.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    Terrible news.

  • Uyen says:

    Woke up to this dreaded, sad news. Mariss Jansons has always been an inspiration to me, such a warm human being and a fantastic musician.

  • homework says:

    There is a wonderful concert where he conducted Yuja Wang in the Shostakovich Concerto 1, after which as an encore she played the haunting Scriabin Prelude for the Left Hand. I just listened to it again as a little tribute to him.

  • Axl says:

    Noooo!!! Shocking news! But this isn’t surpise for me. RIP Maestro Jansons and BIG Thank you for all these years with music!

  • Robert Smith says:

    Deep sadness to hear of his passing. Maestro Jansons was truly one of the greats. R.I.P.

  • Novagerio says:

    He died the same day as Furtwängler. R.I.P. big men.

  • Maurice says:

    A musical giant who will be missed. I’m from Pittsburgh and I missed his music making to this day.
    He brought; honesty, musicianship, feeling of character to every piece he conducted. Goodbye, Maestro…..

  • Anmarie says:

    So sad, and so sorry for your personal loss, Norman.

  • Michele says:

    His music changed my life and many others. Like others I send condolences to his wife Irina who he extolled for her total dedication to him. He was/is loved and will be missed.

  • Jon says:

    His marvellous recordings of Tchaikovsky from Oslo were among my introduction to large scale orchestral music and were treasured.
    But surpassing that was a truly amazing Mahler 6 at the Proms about ten years ago that my wife and I will never forget.
    May he rest in peace and thanks for all the joy he has brought.

  • Edgar says:

    Pain and sorrow. My feelings through which love and appreciation for a great human being and artist express themselves. Mourning, and being deeply grateful for, one whose gift is was to help us hear and listen with ears, mind and heart to Love, through Music. It is our task now to continue sharing humanity and grace with the people around us, through our actions and words – and with a sweet smile.

  • Mark says:

    An outstanding conductor indeed. He seemed frail last month at Carnegie Hall (in what turned out to be his last US concert). May his memory be a blessing !!

  • He was the finest musician and human being.
    I will always remember his wonderful concerts, his smile and caring expression!

  • Schoenberglover says:

    Was lucky to hear him a few times in London and once in Salzburg with a bombastic Lady Macbeth. Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 with Mitsuko Uchida at the Proms a few years ago was the most sublime musical experience I’ve ever had.
    I also remember him at the end of the concert playfully staring at audience members who were about to leave before the encore & he made them stay (with a cheeky grin).
    Thank goodness they did, because what we got was a stupendous rendition of the final movement of Ligeti’s Concert Românesc, which was apparently one of Jansons’ favourites.
    Thank you maestro, RIP.

  • Ken Meltzer says:

    I was privileged to work with Mariss during his tenure at the Pittsburgh Symphony. Mariss viewed and treated everyone as a collaborator and colleague. And what a gifted, passionate musician! I’m glad my wife and I were able to see him conduct one last time, and spend some time with him and Irina, after a Concertgebouw concert in Amsterdam that ended with a radiant Sibelius 2. RIP, Maestro.

  • Victor Yampolsky says:

    Rest in Peace dear Mariss, true pride of St.Petersburg conducting school and our beloved professor Rabinovich.
    For me he was a role model of utmost devotion to Music, to our Russian Culture and Art. Most dedicated and had working professional in my memory and dear friend. You will be sorely missed.

  • ThrownOutOfTheKremlinForSinging says:

    I chorused in the Verdi Requiem, he conducted. This was in Pittsburgh. He was very nice to us.

  • Rob says:

    Oh terrible!!

    I grew up watching his Oslo Phil concerts here in the UK in the late 80s, early 90s on BBC 2. His Shostakovich 10 with the Philadelphia Orchestra is one of my favourites. And a Heldenleben in the promming section of the Albert Hall for a 6th September 1999 Proms concert with the Pittsburgh Philharmonic where a group of German tourists in front of me where crying at the end, is one of my most memorable concert experiences.

  • Willed Philips says:

    One of he greats, unfortunately I’ll for so long. I’m deeply saddened.

  • Music lover says:

    That trip to the US may have cost him his life…a tragic loss.
    But Maestro Jansons left an important legacy of an extensive and outstanding discography, and his successful fight for a new concert hall for Munich will be for the benefit of many future generations of Munchners to come.
    RIP maestro.

  • Kirsten says:

    RIP Mariss Jansons
    My deepest condolences to your family and to musicians all over the world who loved you and your music.

  • RIP Maestro and condolences to your family and friends.

  • Theo Truter says:

    RIP Maris. Thanks for a lifetime giving us fine music.

  • Lois Silverstein says:

    The rain pours down in Northern California as nature’s tribute to a lovely musician and spirit. May his music continue.

  • limingyang says:

    The deepest nostalgia, a great man left us and saw him and his Bavarian orchestra in Budapest this March. His smile will never be forgotten, thank you!

  • operacentric says:

    Such sad news. Such a great loss. I was at a wonderful performance of Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben he gave with BRSO at the Proms. Half way through the very complex battle sequence, the lights in the hall went out and then started some random flash effects. Some 5000 of us held our collective breath – the orchestra played on in near darkness as we waited for the point at which things must surely fall apart – could the musicians see their parts, could they see their conductor? That point never came – lighting was restored just as the sequence reached its resolution. I put it down to sheer willpower and a total trust between orchestra and conductor. I was stunned, watching the TV broadcast later, you would never have known anything was amiss. Masterly

  • CHUN KEUNG LAU says:

    A wonderful person and musician. RIP!

  • Lena Kaplan says:

    Gil loved Mariss, they had a deep and warm relationship. Their shared passion for Mahler was at the center but there were lively conversations about all things important in life. Always when Mariss and Irina were in NY, we would meet for meals filled with intense talks and many laughs. I can see them now, together again, the music plays on.

  • Dan McKinley says:

    I heard him conduct only once, unfortunately, but it was a stunning performance of Shostakovich 10th with Pittsburgh at Symphony Hall in Boston in 2002. R.I.P.

    • Karl says:

      I only saw him once when he brought the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra to Boston in 2008. He lead with great precision and grace: Debussy’s “La Mer” and Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique”.

  • Michael Turner says:

    A great loss. I remember well a programme of Shostakovich, Khachaturian and Tchaikovsky with the Leningrad Phil. in Leicester back in the 1980s. It was extraordinary.

  • Kenneth Zimmerman says:

    Because of his influence, I have learned more about music than I ever thought possible. His unfathomable passion and obvious effect on the musicians in his purview will remain with me forever. Love what you are doing and you will never work a day in your life. He left us too quickly.

  • Bob & Wendy Nichols says:

    Sad to hear of his passing , we met him some 30 yrs ago backstage at Leicesters De montfort Hall , a great conductor

  • Jurgen Stephany says:

    i am deeply saddend and in sorrow for the passing of this great Maestro! May the angles take good care of him.
    god bless him and his familly.

  • Andrew Simco says:

    I hd the honor to perform under Mariss’ direction as timpanist of the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra. Working with him and the orchestra was the highlight of my musical career and the many, many incredible concerts and musical experiences with him will never be forgotten. His Tchaikovsky interpretations are the gold standard even to this day and one of the greatest experieces was performing Strauss’s Eine Alpensinfonie at the 1993 Salzburg Festival and later at the the BBC Proms. All of us were musically on “top of the world”. I am just now listening to his last OPO recording of Mahler 3rd – that same intensity of expression and feeling is present and brings back memories!! Many thanks, Mariss and Godspeed! RIP.