Watch: Mariss Jansons’ last rehearsal

Watch: Mariss Jansons’ last rehearsal


norman lebrecht

December 03, 2020

BRSO and the Musikverein Vienna have published the last rehearsal that Mariss Jansons conducted, days before his death a year ago.

Marvellous man, always smiling.



  • henry williams says:

    a nice person unlike some of the other conductors
    who are very rude.

    • Player says:

      Mr Williams, I want to point out that as an audience member, you saw one side of Mariss Jansons. I played under him, and he was occasionally rude towards members of the orchestras he conducted, especially when he was upset about being unable to achieve the result he desired. He would get a look on his face like we were all imbeciles.

      • henry williams says:

        if you worked with him you would know.
        i do apologise on tv he seems nice. they say
        when you work with people you see what they
        are like

        • Player says:

          No need to apologise, Mr Williams! I also witnessed his charming, gracious side, which is probably what you observed on TV. Conductors, like all of us, have multiple facets.

      • zergafritz says:

        This is an absurd allegation by someone who couldn’t or wouldn’t give Mariss what he was asking for. I too played under him and the only time he ever challenged a player by expressing his dissatisfaction openly was in such an instance, when the player did not comply because he thought differently about how his part should be played. He never gratuitously excoriated a player, and for him to be upset enough to show it on his face meant you really wouldn’t do what he was asking.

        • Player says:

          It wasn’t about my playing; it was someone on the opposite side of the orchestra causing the problem. If I tell you the orchestra, you’ll probably be able to guess the person who resisted Jansons and his approach.

          I was usually in agreement with Jansons, but he gave a lot of us the impression that he didn’t distinguish between those who were wrecking his vision and those who were on his side, helping him.

      • James Weiss says:

        Did you ever consider that maybe you were imbeciles unable to perform your job to the satisfaction of a kind decent man who you chose to malign after his death?

      • Evan Tucker says:

        Jansons used to have a reputation for being difficult, a profile in the Guardian once was rather pointed about it. That being said, every artist is a human being, and even the nicest have their moments when they melt down – the stress of being a top-level conducto is nearly impossible, and at that period of his life Jansons thought he might drop dead at any moment, so there are circumstances when one has to be forgiving if conductors occasionally freak out. All in all, Jansons was as gentlemanly as a conductor comes, but he was human, and nobody has a perfect record of behavior: not Jansons, not Walter, not Monteux, not Barbirolli, not Giulini or Kubelik or Blomstedt or Haitink or Davis. But that that doesn’t mean they weren’t, all in all, nice people who on the whole behaved extremely well toward colleagues and audience members.

        • norman lebrecht says:

          I knew Mariss for 25 years: he was the sweetest of colleagues and friends, never difficult. Why would you believe a Guardian journalist who met him for maybe an hour?

          • Evan Tucker says:

            I’m on your side here. I think he was not just a great conductor but an exemplary human being and perhaps even a great man, but the idea that in a fifty year career he never had the same occasional temper loss that every other conductor has in the history of the profession strains credulity and if anything makes the extent of his humanity less believable. ‘Reputation for difficulty’ can mean all sorts of things, and conductors can go from being portrayed as saints to being portrayed as tyrants in the blink of an eye, we in Baltimore saw that happen to David Zinman virtually overnight, and it can happen for all sorts of undeserved reasons. But in the case of Jansons, regardless of what he might or might not have been at certain times, he clearly was a mensch of the profession.

      • alexy says:

        Dear Player, I played many rehearsal and concert with Mariss, he always spoke to the musicians (My dear friends…) with utter respect and kindness. I never witnessed any personal attack toward a musician-not likewise some others conductors-. He was of course very demanding and could indeed make a face (very funny like he was watching Martians entering the concert hall) when something he didn’t like happened during rehearsal or concerts, but I can only remember gentleness, generosity warmth and support inside his highest standards.

    • Le Křenek du jour says:

      A great conductor, unlike many others who were just nice. Or maybe not so nice. Who cares. The musical result is what counts.

      Or do we remember and cherish Yevgeny Mravinsky for his easygoing personality and companionable cheerfulness? Don’t think so. We remember Mravinsky for the music he gave us. And if he was a tough cookie, so much the better. A steely character was required to defend and perform Shostakovich and Prokofiev at a time when doing so could easily have sent him logging in the Siberian taiga for a decade.

      • William Safford says:

        I dislike the implied congruence of a conductor who treats his orchestra badly, and the creation of great music. It is uncritically repeated far too often.

        I think we should care about the process as well as the final product.

        (This is a general point, not specifically about Mariss Jansons, about whose treatment of orchestras I know nothing.)

      • henry williams says:

        many people disliked karajan because of his past. but a great conductor.

  • I had chance to see in concert one last time Mariss with the Rundfunk and the great Rudy Buchbinder (the two matched perfectly) 4 weeks before he died. He was tired of course but he did a great concert and he insisted to do one more little extra for the public with the Oranges of Prokofiev a pice not very slow… I thought that he needed a pause and I knew his story during an opera at Oslo but I never imagined that he will leaves us one month later.

  • Gustavo says:

    An amazing presence!

    A certain similarity with Jack Nicholson.

  • John Kelly says:

    I was at Mariss’ last concert at Carnegie Hall. He was clearly unwell and the orchestra were very obviously worried about him. After intermission there was a 15 minute additional delay where no-one knew where he was. He was persuading everyone backstage he should conclude the concert with Brahms 4. They called an ambulance over and I saw it parked outside the stage door after the concert. The Brahms was slow but magisterial and had all Jansons’ signatures – manicured textures and a wonderful sense of the piece’s architecture. I was sitting upstairs for best sound but went downstairs for the encore – quite near the front – Brahms’ Hungarian Dance #1 – Mariss was smiling away and clearly enjoying himself. He was a pale shadow of the man I had seen a few years before in Amsterdam and in New York, we had a nice chat about Carlos Kleiber (he was a huge fan) and his Dad who I had heard so many times in my youth (even went to rehearsals). He often used his father’s scores. He had come to Leeds in 1978 with the Leningrad Phil together with their KGB handlers who stood on stage for the first half of the program – he remembered that VERY well! A very nice man and someone I miss very much.

    • NYMike says:

      I had chosen the next night’s concert featuring Shostakovich 10th which ended up conducted beautifully by Vassily Petrenko. Nonethless, my memories of Janson’s/RCO concerts as well as his guesting with the VPO – all @ Carnegie – are still vivid.

    • pjl says:

      yes; his father ARVID(S) was a genius; he was one of my teenage heroes and his concerts were magical events

  • The Ghost of Karlos Cleiber says:

    Bless him. He looks so old and so ill in that footage – yet you can see he’s still totally devoted to the music. I’m glad he managed to keep going right to the end.

  • Jack says:

    Such a shame he had to end his career and life on the Brahms 4th. Zzzzz…..

  • Peter says:

    Was the last rehearsal only three minutes?!

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    Didn’t Toscannini say to his orchestra – ” I hate you for you ruin my dreams”?

  • Melania says:

    I very much doubt he was ever rude towards the musicians: if he had been rude/disrespectful towards them, so would they have been towards him. Which was not the case… Suffice it for me to think of the introductory words by the BRSO staff on the booklet of “His Last Concert”. There, they speak overtly about the mutual respect which connected him and the orchestra (among other things). Incidentally, if I hadn’t known this was his last concert, I would never have guessed, such was the quality of the renditions. It is true, however, that his musicians have reached such a level of perfection, that they could have played by themselves. Which was very close to what I read happened at Carnegie Hall, when violinist Radoslav Sulc took over most of the conducting task, since Maestro Jansons was obviously unwell. It is equally true though that he followed the indications given by the Maestro during the rehearsal(s), so the outcome is worth listening not only with one’s ear, but also with one’s heart, as the parting gift of a passionate musician who was fully committed to his art.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      We can always take words with a grain of salt. Personally I have no reason to doubt the orchestral musicians in this blog who gave a more “nuanced” picture about Jansons’ demeanor: nobody is perfect, we all have our bad sides.

      But if there are no genuinely positive feelings behind this BRSO’s Happy Birthday Variations to Jansons, then all those smiling musicians passed up lucrative PR or acting careers.

  • Kenneth Zimmerman says:

    One of my great regrets is that I never had the chance to see a live performance of this very special conductor. His passion for music radiates from every moment of his interaction with the orchestra. I credit him for converting me from a musical ignoramus to a devotee, not only of Mahler, but Bruckner as well. He is sorely missed.

  • CHUN KEUNG LAU says:

    Dear Maestro, RIP!