Honorary Membership for Mariss Jansons

The Berliner Philharmoniker pay tribute to long artistic friendship

(Photo: Stephan Rabold)

“For many years, the Berliner Philharmoniker and their audiences have enjoyed wonderful concerts with, and thanks to, you. We are all delighted that Mariss Jansons is with us at the moment, as it is our great pleasure to thank him with honorary membership of our orchestra. Thanks for the many years of unique musical collaboration, for unforgettable concerts together – in short: for your wonderful friendship.” With these words, orchestra board member Knut Weber presented the document to the Latvian conductor which named him an honorary member of the Berliner Philharmoniker. The award, whose recipients also include Daniel Barenboim, Bernard Haitink, Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Seiji Ozawa, reflects the high esteem in which Mariss Jansons is held by the orchestra.

Special connection since 1976

Mariss Jansons, who celebrated his 75th birthday on 14 January, is one of those conductors who feel a special connection to the Berliner Philharmoniker thanks to their continuous and long-term collaboration. When the native Latvian stands in front of the orchestra, you can see in his face an enthusiastic sense of expectation, a positive energy that carries all the musicians along. “It’s always a great pleasure to come here,” as Jansons said in an interview at the Digital Concert Hall. “The orchestra is absolutely fabulous. There is a special spirit here. Every musician is not only first-class, but also full of passion and commitment.” The first encounter between Mariss Jansons and the Berliner Philharmoniker was in 1971. The then 28-year-old had won second prize at the “Herbert von Karajan” International Conducting Competition and conducted Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé in the closing concert. “I was very nervous. Karajan was sitting in the auditorium and I was not satisfied with the musical results of my conducting. I wasn’t able to show what I wanted to get out of the work.” The orchestra musicians, however, immediately felt that there was an exceptional talent in front of them. And the press also noted that Jansons, although he had “only” won second prize, made the “most mature impression” of all the winners at this final concert.

Music in his blood

Mariss Jansons was born into a family of musicians: the son of conductor Arvids Jansons and singer Iraida Jansons knew very early that he wanted to follow in his father's footsteps. As a child, he would conduct orchestras of paperclips and buttons, teddy bears and other stuffed toys. The opera house in Riga, his parents’ workplace, became his second home. It was there that he learned early on not only the major operas and ballets, but also how the music profession worked. In 1952, the family moved to Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), because Arvids Jansons became assistant to Yevgeny Mravinsky, the head of the Leningrad Philharmonic. Mariss initially studied violin, piano and conducting at the local conservatory, then later in Vienna under Hans Swarowsky and in Salzburg under Herbert von Karajan. In 1971, the year of his competition win, Mravinsky made him his assistant. From Leningrad, Mariss Jansons launched his global career. After holding leading positions with the Oslo Philharmonic and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, he has been chief conductor of Bayerischer Rundfunk’s symphony orchestra and choir since 2003. From 2004 to March 2015, he also headed the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam in the same capacity.

Lots of Shostakovich

Mariss Jansons made his “official” debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker in 1976. Since 1988, he has been a frequent and regular guest of the Philharmoniker, accompanying them on tours and conducting their Waldbühne and European concerts. His programmes are characterised by unusual selections of works which usually include at least one piece by composers from Northern and Eastern Europe. The works of Dmitri Shostakovich in particular were – and are – very close to his heart. And with good reason: after all, as a child he discovered and learned to appreciate his compositions at first hand from his father, a friend of Shostakovich. In addition, he is regarded as a specialist in the Romantic repertoire of the 19th century. In 2007, he conducted a Mahler work for the first time within the context of his many years’ collaboration with the orchestra. This season too, he appears with a composer he has never conducted with the Philharmoniker before: Anton Bruckner, whose Sixth Symphony he performs with the orchestra in a concert which also includes Robert Schumann’s Piano Concerto with Daniil Trifonov as the soloist. What is it that Mariss Jansons values most about the Berliner Philharmoniker? “The high quality of the orchestra. It makes me happy as a conductor, because I can achieve everything I want.”

1971: Mariss Jansons, one of the winners of the Herbert von Karajan International Conducting Competition
(Photo: Reinhard Friedrich)
2017: European Concert in Pafos
(Photo: Archiv Berliner Philharmoniker)